Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections

(Con­text: there is a long-run­ning de­bate within the EA com­mu­nity about whether or not effec­tive al­tru­ists should seek to avoid get­ting caught up in party poli­tics. I have writ­ten a com­pan­ion post to this one ex­plor­ing some of these is­sues. What fol­lows is in­tended to be of ser­vice to those who, like me, be­lieve strongly that the cur­rent elec­tion cy­cle in the US rep­re­sents a uniquely im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity for effec­tive al­tru­ists and are look­ing for the best ways to get in­volved.)

Since early Au­gust, a giv­ing cir­cle en­ti­tled the Land­slide Coal­i­tion has been re­search­ing time-sen­si­tive, ne­glected, and (where pos­si­ble) ev­i­dence-based op­por­tu­ni­ties to max­i­mize elec­toral vic­to­ries for Democrats in the cur­rent elec­tion cy­cle. While not op­er­at­ing offi­cially un­der the ban­ner of effec­tive al­tru­ism, Land­slide Coal­i­tion has drawn roughly half of its mem­ber­ship from the EA com­mu­nity, makes sig­nifi­cant use of con­cepts from EA char­ity anal­y­sis, and is ex­plic­itly mod­eled af­ter an EA giv­ing cir­cle that drove mil­lions of dol­lars to ne­glected global coro­n­avirus in­ter­ven­tions ear­lier this year.

Cur­rently, we are a group of 35+ in­di­vi­d­u­als and fam­i­lies who are con­cerned about the fu­ture of the United States un­der Don­ald Trump and his al­lies. Thus far, we have di­rectly moved more than $315,000 to recom­mended char­i­ties and cam­paigns and in­di­rectly in­fluenced an­other $1.1 mil­lion in gifts and grants, while vol­un­teer­ing more than 200 hours of our time to date. We offer both dona­tion and vol­un­teer­ing recom­men­da­tions, and we are con­tin­u­ing to wel­come new mem­bers through Elec­tion Day.

In keep­ing with our name, our pri­mary goal is to en­sure as wide­spread and de­ci­sive a vic­tory as pos­si­ble for Democrats in 2020. Our rea­sons for pur­su­ing a land­slide, rather than a nar­row fo­cus on win­ning the pres­i­dency, are as fol­lows:

​To achieve a land­slide vic­tory, we need to throw ev­ery­thing we have at this elec­tion, even if the race seems to be trend­ing in Democrats’ fa­vor at the mo­ment. We are cur­rently fo­cus­ing on ne­glected op­por­tu­ni­ties for im­pact in the fol­low­ing the­matic ar­eas:

  • Max­i­miza­tion of net Demo­cratic votes in bat­tle­ground states, e.g. cost-effec­tive get-out-the-vote and per­sua­sion cam­paigns in places most likely to de­cide the gen­eral election

  • Elec­tion cam­paigns that are un­der­funded rel­a­tive to their sig­nifi­cance, such as state house races that have a chance of flip­ping a cham­ber and pre­vent­ing Repub­li­can con­trol of redistricting

  • In­tegrity and se­cu­rity of the up­com­ing elec­tion against threats such as hack­ing, dis­in­for­ma­tion, equip­ment failure, and COVID-re­lated staffing shortages

  • Prepa­ra­tion for the pos­si­bil­ity that the elec­tion will be dis­puted and en­sur­ing mas­sive re­sis­tance to any at­tempts to un­der­mine the will of the peo­ple af­ter Novem­ber 3

Our cur­rent top recommendations

Note: the fol­low­ing recom­men­da­tions are the product of ap­prox­i­mately 350 hours of re­search (in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous con­ver­sa­tions with fel­low fun­ders, cam­paigns, and or­ga­ni­za­tion lead­ers) by mem­bers of our group since early Au­gust. The poli­ti­cal giv­ing space is highly com­plex and there are surely gaps in our knowl­edge still, but we have con­fi­dence that the recom­men­da­tions be­low are sig­nifi­cantly higher-qual­ity than what we would have been able to come up with sim­ply by fol­low­ing the news and pub­li­cly available com­men­tary dur­ing this time.

Donating

  • Work­ing Amer­ica, an af­fili­ate of the AFL-CIO, has iden­ti­fied through re­peated RCTs sev­eral tech­niques that greatly out­perform tra­di­tional per­sua­sion tac­tics with un­com­mit­ted and even Repub­li­can-lean­ing vot­ers. Es­ti­mates sug­gest in­vest­ing in these tech­niques will be roughly 8 to 10 times as cost-effec­tive as donat­ing to the Bi­den cam­paign, with the po­ten­tial to net hun­dreds of thou­sands of votes across key states.

  • Be­cause we are a donor net­work, we of­ten learn about con­fi­den­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties that, whether be­cause of con­cerns about tip­ping trade se­crets to the other side or the fast pace at which the efforts need to be stood up, are not be­ing shopped around to the gen­eral pub­lic. We are cur­rently aware of a num­ber of un­funded efforts brought to us by trusted ad­vi­sors that cover ar­eas such as per­sua­sion cam­paigns tar­geted at very spe­cific tar­get pop­u­la­tions in key states, efforts to build pub­lic trust in the elec­tion re­sults and vote count­ing pro­cess, and more. If you are con­sid­er­ing a last-minute dona­tion of at least $10,000 and would like to learn more, feel free to write us at land­slide­coal­i­tion@gmail.com for fur­ther de­tails.

  • Flip­ping the Texas State House is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity to break up Repub­li­can con­trol be­fore states draw new dis­trict maps for the next ten years, as Texas has by far the most Con­gres­sional dis­tricts of any state whose leg­is­la­ture is in play. You can donate to the Lone Star Votes pooled fund for high-im­pact races, or to in­di­vi­d­ual cam­paigns di­rectly us­ing Prince­ton Elec­tion Con­sor­tium’s Money­ball vote vi­su­al­izer as a guide.

Ad­di­tional dona­tion recom­men­da­tions are available at our web­site. We ask that donors get in touch with us at land­slide­coal­i­tion@gmail.com be­fore donat­ing to Work­ing Amer­ica so that we can help you en­sure the money goes to the right pro­grams. We also very much ap­pre­ci­ate it when donors tell us how much they gave to our recom­men­da­tions so that we can track our money moved.

Volunteering

Note: we re­cently over­hauled our vol­un­teer­ing recom­men­da­tions to fo­cus on efforts that would be most valuable over the last two weeks of the cam­paign. Read­ers are in­vited to check out the slides from a briefing we held this week to go over the recom­men­da­tions; if you would like to view the record­ing of that event, please write land­slide­coal­i­tion@gmail.com.

Below is a “de­ci­sion tree” in­tended to provide guidance for how you can choose to vol­un­teer your time dur­ing the last stages of the elec­tion:

Re­gard­less of other ac­tivi­ties, ev­ery­one seek­ing to help should pick three (or more) friends in swing states who they’re go­ing to ask to be vote triplers (i.e., re­mind three friends to vote). If pos­si­ble, pri­ori­tize friends and fam­ily in small states with com­pet­i­tive Se­nate races like Mon­tana, Alaska, Iowa, Maine, and Kansas, but any swing state is bet­ter than none. Ev­i­dence in­di­cates that these asks are most effec­tive when you reach out in­di­vi­d­u­ally—don’t just post on Face­book!

Then...

Make a plan for the next two weeks and de­cide how you’re go­ing to spend the time:

If you only have a few hours to spare be­tween now and Elec­tion Day, try one of our textbank­ing recom­men­da­tions.

If you par­tic­u­larly en­joy (or are just good at) talk­ing to strangers, try deep can­vass­ing with Work­ing Amer­ica or Peo­ple’s Ac­tion.

If you can put in at least ten hours a week but pre­fer to work from home, sign up to sup­port Fo­cus 2020′s “deep vol­un­teer­ing” work to ed­u­cate and pro­tect vot­ers in Philadelphia and the Up­per Mid­west.

If you’re will­ing to vol­un­teer in per­son, do it! The top recom­men­da­tion here would be the par­ti­san or non­par­ti­san Pol­ling Place Vote Tripling pro­grams, but your time would also be of value as a poll mon­i­tor na­tion­wide or a GOTV can­vasser in Philadelphia. For effi­ciency rea­sons, we recom­mend that any in-per­son work be di­rected to­ward densely packed ur­ban ar­eas in swing states.

Fi­nally, if you have spe­cial­ized skills or tal­ents, use them. For ex­am­ple:

  • If you speak Span­ish, sign up to phonebank with the Bi­den cam­paign here, or to send texts with the Texas Democrats.

  • If you’re a lawyer, sign up with We the Ac­tion.

The Land­slide Coal­i­tion web­site has more de­tails on all of our dona­tion and vol­un­teer­ing recom­men­da­tions. We do not an­ti­ci­pate any more ma­jor up­dates to these recom­men­da­tions be­fore Novem­ber 3, but may make small tweaks in re­sponse to new de­vel­op­ments.

Is it bet­ter to donate or vol­un­teer?

It de­pends on whether you per­son­ally have more time or money to spare. While there are un­cer­tain­ties and vari­abil­ity as­so­ci­ated with our cost-effec­tive­ness es­ti­mates, a good rule of thumb is that if you think it’s more re­al­is­tic for you to vol­un­teer for at least five hours than it is for you to give $1,000, then you’re bet­ter off do­ing the former. In light of the limited time re­main­ing be­fore Elec­tion Day, any­one in a po­si­tion to give over $50,000 is al­most cer­tainly go­ing to ac­com­plish more by donat­ing than by giv­ing their time, even at this late stage.

Com­par­ing our recom­men­da­tions to others

There are a num­ber of giv­ing guides and pooled funds cur­rently mak­ing the rounds in pro­gres­sive cir­cles (al­though there were a lot fewer when we got started). EAs might rea­son­ably ask why they should trust our analy­ses over these other op­tions. Below are a few thoughts on com­par­a­tive ad­van­tages and ar­eas of over­lap:

  • Most ex­ist­ing analy­ses we’ve seen have fo­cused on dona­tions to poli­ti­cal cam­paigns, with rank­ings of the Se­nate races a par­tic­u­larly crowded space. Notably, none of the rank­ings we have seen (in­clud­ing Blue Se­nate Pro­ject, David Shor’s recom­men­da­tions, Prince­ton Elec­tion Con­sor­tium, as well as the opinions of ex­perts with whom we’ve spo­ken) agree ei­ther with each other or with our own anal­y­sis. While we stand by our cur­rent pri­ori­ti­za­tion of the Iowa race as #1, the most log­i­cal take­away is prob­a­bly that the differ­ence in ex­pected marginal im­pact be­tween sup­port­ing differ­ent Se­nate races is no longer as dra­matic as was once the case.

  • By con­trast, many of our dona­tion recom­men­da­tions are for char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions and poli­ti­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees whose work is not widely known. We have vet­ted most of these fairly in­ten­sively given the time con­straints and have ac­cess to sub­stan­tial de­tail on how marginal dol­lars will be used. Where pos­si­ble, we have tied recom­men­da­tions to an in­creas­ingly ro­bust ev­i­dence base for the effec­tive­ness of var­i­ous cam­paign tac­tics as chron­i­cled by or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the An­a­lyst In­sti­tute.

  • In ad­di­tion, as far as we know we are the only group pub­li­cly offer­ing ev­i­dence-based vol­un­teer­ing recom­men­da­tions for the cur­rent cam­paign cy­cle. Vol­un­teer­ing can be eval­u­ated through the same cost-effec­tive­ness lens as dona­tions, but for what­ever rea­son it ap­pears that few have at­tempted to syn­the­size and com­pare op­por­tu­ni­ties in this way.

Land­slide Coal­i­tion has not at­tempted an anal­y­sis of how poli­ti­cal dona­tions stack up against other EA pri­ori­ties, so if you are already di­rect­ing sig­nifi­cant sup­port to GiveWell-recom­mended char­i­ties or longter­mist pri­ori­ties, our in­ten­tion is not to sug­gest you do oth­er­wise. If the funds would oth­er­wise go to­ward per­sonal con­sump­tion or other non-es­sen­tial spend­ing, how­ever, you may wish to con­sider how far you can rea­son­ably stretch your bud­get in light of the stakes cur­rently at play. Fur­ther­more, if donat­ing is not an op­tion for you, there are many op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a highly-lev­er­aged differ­ence with your time in this elec­tion.

UPDATE LOG:

  • 11/​15: See the com­ments for recom­men­da­tions re­lat­ing to the Ge­or­gia Se­nate runoffs and other post-elec­tion work.

  • 10/​23: Posted com­plete over­haul of vol­un­teer recom­men­da­tions for the fi­nal two weeks.

  • 10/​15: Re­moved Theresa Green­field from top-level recs (Se­nate cam­paigns gen­er­ally very well-funded now), re­placed with writeup on con­fi­den­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties.