We created the GRIP research in 2013 to determine trends in grassroots influence tactics, and most important, what’s working (and not) regarding those tactics. This research is important because it provides the pulse of grassroots advocacy tactics —– what worked in 2016 may not be effective today. It’s also important because we know that you are evaluated in part on your advocacy results. It helps you educate your board, advocacy committee, or government relations committee on the most effective grassroots advocacy tactics, which allows you to then measure what matters.
Measuring Which Grassroots Tactics = Legislative Success
In each of the research iterations, our dependent variable (DV), the effect we are looking for, is “legislative success.” We defined that as a combination of the following legislator behaviors and legislative results: getting your legislative priorities enacted, legislators being more open to persuasion, more legislators who publicly support your issues, and legislators who vote with your organization more than the previous legislative session (even if your legislation wasn’t enacted).
Advocacy professionals from over 100 associations, corporations, and non-profits participated in the GRIP®. The survey had 26 questions, and we calculated the option of having a combination of over 101 different variables and 5,000 correlations – so we must winnow the findings with our Velocity Research® methodology, which is a predictive analytic tool to determine the grassroots tactics that lead to success. New for 2023 was our inclusion of questions regarding PAC participation and candidate contribution amounts. The research had surprising, but not counterintuitive, findings regarding how PAC’s predict legislative success (it’s not just the amount of money you contribute to candidates).
For a full topline report that includes descriptive data results, as well as our findings on regulatory agency influence, you can request the GRIP® report here: https://showaltergroup.com/research-reports-books/report-grip-4-report/
First, let’s look at a few of the descriptive data points.
Trends in Legislator Behavior
We asked several questions regarding specific legislator behavior. Only 4% of the respondents said that legislators are “much more open to persuasion” than they were in the previous legislative session. In 2019, only 8% said that they were “much more open to persuasion,” so the downward trend is going even lower.
The bottom line: I believe this tells us that we need to examine how we are preparing advocates for legislator conversations. Do you prepare them for skeptical and hostile interactions, or do you “prepare” them based on an idealized scenario? We do a disservice if we don’t empower them to engage with skeptical, and even hostile, legislators.
Grassroots Mediums: Remote Tactics Used the Most, but Least Effective
We asked respondents what grassroots mediums they most frequently encourage people to use when communicating with lawmakers versus what’s most effective. This is the sad part of the story. They most frequently encourage the use of emails (90%) video meetings (72%) and social media campaign messages (65%), but when asked what has been most effective for them, “face-to-face meetings” are the most influential.
The bottom line: So, we have the remote influence tactics being used quite frequently, when the respondents admit that the face-to-face contact is most effective. This makes us ask the question why we don’t do what we know is effective.
Grassroots Messengers: More Relationships Needed
This is the first year we asked about specific grassroots messengers because we have held that access to legislators, despite all the social media tools and remote communications options, is, becoming winnowed, not broadened. Only 15% of the respondents said that they have “many more advocate-legislator relationships” than in the previous year. We also asked them to think about the lawmakers they most need to influence for legislative success (those with jurisdiction over their issues, those in leadership positions, etc.), and what percent of them have relationships with key contacts from their organization – only 45% have relationships with these priority legislators; that doesn’t even count relationships with all legislators.
The most frequently mobilized messengers were ally groups and third-party stakeholders. However, the most persuasive messengers were stakeholders who have relationships with elected officials.
The bottom line: Again, the respondents admit that the most persuasive messengers are organizational stakeholders with legislator relationships. They also admit that they are mobilized less than other stakeholders. This again leads us to ask why certain tactics are used, if the respondents themselves admit that they aren’t effective.
Tactics that Attained Significance (but don’t predict legislative success)
“Significance“ means that the independent variables (IV) obtained statistical significance with our DV, legislative success (Another way to think of it is that if we ran the same algorithm 20 times, the results would only differ one time out of 20). The significant IVs don’t predict success, but can be associated with success, and we advise clients to view them as an “early warning system.” They are worth noting, but correlation isn’t causation—the logistic regression informs us about causation. 15 independent variables attained significance and were inserted into the logistic regression to determine the predictive factors. Positive correlations include:
- Greater number of advocate – legislator relationships
- Ease of recruitment aided by “issues”
- “Issue success” >>>>>> momentum
- Phone calls
- F2F meetings
- Engaging third-party stakeholders
- Engaging members* of an advocacy program
- Engaging all organizational stakeholders**
- Conducting advocacy training
- State advocacy teams
- Gain in number of PAC contributors
- Personal, non-form emails to regulators
- Larger PAC contribution
Some IVs were negatively correlated with legislative success; in other words, those who reported using these tactics were less successful in their legislative pursuits:
- Halting PAC contributions after January 6, 2021
- Difficulty in recruiting due to “toxic political environment”
- Difficulty in recruiting due to “crisis”
*individuals who have formally joined an advocacy program / “permission marketing”
**organizational stakeholders defined as those who may or may not have formally joined an advocacy program
What Predicts Legislative Success?
Of the 15 variables above entered into the logistic regression, three were predictive of legislative success:
- Net gain of PAC contributors
- More face-to-face advocate meetings with legislators
- Larger PAC contributions
My takeaway is that the organizations with a net gain of PAC contributors have a more robust and active political engagement culture. Gaining PAC contributors in divisive political times is especially impressive and informs me that their stakeholders are what we call “politically mature:” they may not approve of each candidate who receives a PAC check from their organization, but they understand the need to separate their personal preferences from the political needs of the organization.
Face to face meetings are still the platinum standard of influence. This predictive factor has not changed through four GRIP® research projects since 2013. Meeting face to face signifies that you are wiling to make the effort, and that amplifies your voice to an elected official.
What didn’t matter for this edition of the GRIP®? These IVs were neither positively nor negatively associated with predicting legislative success:
- Number of records in database – quantity not vital to success
- Number of grassroots mobilizations
- Social media messages to lawmakers
- Emails to lawmakers
- Text messages to lawmakers
- Video meetings with legislators
You’ve heard the adage that “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” If you want different grassroots results, you can examine your most utilized grassroots tactics and compare them to what predicts success. Determine what you can change and proceed accordingly.