Reporting Back

On Wednesday, you got my short but sad email about the tough night that Tuesday was. I promised we would dig into the data to see what the numbers showed. Since then, our team has been crunching an analysis.You can find the first release here.
As I’ve said from the very start, our aim is to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform in the way campaigns are funded. As a first step to that goal, we set out in this election cycle to run a series of campaigns to demonstrate that voters care about the corruption of their government, and would vote to change it. Conventional wisdom says we’re wrong about that: Everyone knows our government is corrupt, the pundits say. But, the pundits insist, voters don’t care enough about that corruption to do anything about it.
We think the pundits are wrong, and we had hoped that Tuesday would prove it. A couple of upsets would have gotten the attention of even the most committed conventionalist. While we did help elect some reform champions — Democratic Rep-elect Ruben Gallego (AZ-7) and Republican Rep. Walter Jones (NC-3) — we also bet on those upsets. But in 2014, they didn’t come through.
However, the data we’ve collected is pretty clear about the fundamental point: A significant chunk of actual voters rank our issue as the most important. These voters are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And in the right context, we believe the data show that they can be rallied to the cause.
The important qualification in that sentence, however, is also the most important lesson that this cycle taught me: “in the right context.” What 2014 shows most clearly is the power of partisanship in our elections. Whatever else voters wanted, they wanted first their team to win.
We saw this most clearly in Kansas, as well as New Hampshire. Going into Tuesday, the polls showed our candidate, Greg Orman, the Independent, in the lead. But on election day, many of the Republicans who had considered voting for an Independent had second thoughts when they realized that decision my affect whether Republicans controlled the Senate. The same was true in the New Hampshire Republican primary for Senate in September: We moved our candidate, Jim Rubens, significantly in the 3 weeks that we had for that race. But in the end, most Republican primary voters were focused on what was the most important issue to them: Picking the Republican candidate they thought most likely to win.
This partisan reality suggests an obvious strategic response: Rather than battles that force supporters of reform to betray their party loyalties, we need to focus on races where a partisan battle is not an issue. We need to engage in more primaries. The data supports the idea that we could move partisan voters towards our issue in safe seats more easily than contested seats. And that means supporting candidates in primaries in safe seats who would make our issue central, so we give voters a chance to vote for reform without worrying that they would weaken the chance that their party would win.
That’s just one of the lessons we’ve discovered so far. There’s more in this memo. By the end of the month, we will release our final data analysis, along with all the data we have used to make that analysis, so that others can crunch the numbers and draw their own conclusions.
There is no hiding the fact that Tuesday will make it hard to convince the skeptics. The “moonshot” that we launched in May assumed the only way that we’d win over the skeptics was if we did what they said couldn’t be done. We didn’t. They remain skeptical. And the ultimate question for us will be whether that skepticism makes our plan just too ambitious.
At this point, I am unsure. I have been overwhelmed by the emails from many of you, pledging continued, even greater support for our cause going forward. Thank you for that. But my commitment from the start was not to waste your time or money. And so we will study carefully what next steps make sense, given the lessons we have learned.
There’s no question about whether we’re giving up. We can’t give up. You know that we must win this fight, and I continue to believe that when voters see that victory is possible, their love of country will inspire them to act.
We need to show them victory is possible. Because it is. And because of your commitment and support, we are one critical step closer.
Thank you for all that you have done. And thank you especially to the leaders who have had the courage to take our issue up. Your work as a MAYDAY supporter has made it easier for them to be leaders. Their leadership will inspire many more. And that convinces me more than anything that victory will be ours.
– Lessig