Ron Nehring

RNC Admission: Precinct Organizations Are Important After All

The Republican National Committee is finally going to catch up with the grass roots.

In a report to be released Monday, the RNC will declare that “the new political geographical center of the political infrastructure will be precinct organizations.”

Well, well, well – it’s about time.

This isn’t some minor tweak.  It’s a tacit admission that the “preferred” method of voter contact, forced upon the grassroots of our party for a decade, has been a flop – a gigantic failure that has resulted in more defeats than we can calculate.

In 2004, my county party was pressured by an RNC employee to, in effect, dismantle the strong precinct organization we had built in San Diego County, and in effect turn all of our volunteers over to the RNC/Bush campaign so they could be pulled out of the precincts and herded into phone banks.

RNC staffers were being evaluated by the number – not the quality – of “voter contacts,” and a phone bank can generate a lot more contacts per hour than a precinct walk (the fact most of those contacts have zero impact on voter behavior was conveniently overlooked).

Apparently, no one had bothered to read the mountain of research that demonstrates how personalized voter contact (such as a neighbor visiting another neighbor) has a much bigger impact on voter behavior than some stranger in a headquarters calling another stranger on the phone.

As a county chairman, my first responsibility was to the committee that elected me, and we had set out on our own three years earlier to build a world class precinct organization that reached into literally thousands of neighborhoods across my county.  We weren’t going to dismantle what we had just built.

Besides, the RNC was wrong, and its heavy-handed staff was, in effect, attempting to force my county party to dial down a more effective program in favor of a less effective one.

Changes in how people receive and value information makes the giant-anonymous-phone-bank approach even less effective: 26.6% of American households are now wireless-only, and caller ID results in ever larger numbers of people sending unrecognized calls straight into voicemail purgatory.  Any pollster relying on phone surveys can tell you this trend is creating big challenges.

The Republican Party is strongest when it is built from the ground up.  Unfortunately, programs imposed by the Republican National Committee and presidential campaigns in the past either discouraged or destroyed the kinds of precinct organizations that today are more important than ever to driving up voter turnout, especially in non-presidential cycles.

It’s encouraging to see the RNC is now on the right page.  RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is a former state chairman and understands the importance of grassroots organization.  With no consultant-laden Presidential campaign throwing its weight around, the Chairman has the freedom to put the party on the right track, and I’m enormously pleased to see this new direction coming from 310 First Street.

Ron Nehring served as California Republican Party Chairman from 2007 to 2011, and Chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County from 2001 – 2007.  He hosts a strategy and political technology site at RonNehringLabs.com.