Columbus, OH — Electoral campaigns can’t do it all, we need permanent rural civic infrastructure, that’s what we discovered when we conducted 70 “2020 Exit Interviews” with progressive rural organizers, candidates, and civic leaders. Between December 01, 2020 and March 01, 2021, RuralOrganizing.org carried out a campaign to capture, analyze, and share the lessons learned by rural engagement leaders from 2020 campaign trails. Then, compiled our qualitative data into the set of conclusions and recommendations contained in this report. Today, we held a discussion of our findings on Facebook at 4 PM ET. A recording of the video is now available.
After months of research, we were left with three key findings:
First, electoral campaigns are hamstrung by a lack of permanent rural civic infrastructure.
Second, local issue campaigns in off-years are the best way to build that infrastructure.
Third, in order to leverage new rural civic infrastructure, candidates must incorporate those local issues in their platforms, outreach, and messaging.
The full report is available here for download.
The following is a statement from Kellon Patey, Lead Organizer at RuralOrganizing.org:
The purpose of this research campaign was to ensure essential lessons learned by rural organizers on the front lines of the 2020 election cycle were collected, catalogued, and shared with rural progressive stakeholders—everyone from grassroots volunteers, to progressive philanthropic institutions, to the Democratic National Committee.
Typically, organizers and local candidates spend months accumulating valuable insights, but campaigns typically close up shop before collecting the valuable feedback from the field about tactics, platform, and messaging. These critical real world experiences are excluded from the post-election analysis and future strategy. I want to thank my colleagues, Blanca Soto and Anderson Clayton, for their contribution to this project.
The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org:
In 2020, RuralOrganizing.org did extensive research of rural voters to get a better understanding of their needs and concerns. After the election, we wanted to know how campaigns dealt with rural voters. There was no better place to find that out than with the people who were on the front lines talking to those voters. They have given us vital information that should guide our work moving forward.
Without heeding the advice of those closest to rural voters, national progressive leadership will jeopardize Democratic control of the Senate in 2022 and beyond. Key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia all have populations that are over 40% rural and exurban. Ultimately, our research indicates that Democrats would be wise to invest early and intentionally in local issue campaigns and leadership development through 2021 so our movement is ready to mobilize a well-nourished progressive civic infrastructure in 2022. Our report articulates specific recommendations that we hope candidates, campaigns, civic organizations, and philanthropists will find valuable.
The sample of interviewees for this project was comprised of 70 individuals who were active across 31 states. These individuals represented 32 electoral campaigns, 18 501c4 organizations, 17 501c3 organizations, five PACs, three volunteer clubs, and two unions. Additionally, 30% of our sample were rural organizers and candidates of color. There are three times as many people of color as there are farmers in rural America, and it was important to reflect that commonly overlooked reality in our sample.
The mission of RuralOrganizing.org is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.