Insights from the 2020 US Elections: Webinar Report

In a highly attended and engaging Paddy Ashdown Forum / Liberal Democrats Overseas webinar, on Monday, January 18th, 150 participants heard presentations and discussed insights and lessons for Lib Dem campaigning from the 2020 US elections.

You can watch the video of the webinar HERE

After opening remarks from Nasreen Davidson, Vice-Chair, Liberal Democrats Overseas, and Robert Woodthorpe Browne MBE, Chair, The Paddy Ashdown Forum, John Surie shared insights from the recent study conducted by the LDO North American Branch.

John’s presentation focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital strategies and tactics by the Biden For President team, extending reach, frequency and impact while differentiating their approach. Virtual campaigning benefits to complement physical campaigning were emphasised throughout the presentation, including the ability to target national resources to local contests, more creative fundraising, and providing voting guidance at scale to get-out-the-vote. John concluded by discussing the importance of getting the message right, pointing out that negative advertising attacking Trump’s character alone turned voters off, including the Democratic base.

In the next presentation, Rebecca Straley, Director of Client Services, Organizing, at NGP VAN / EveryAction, provided a deeper dive into the challenges of organising this new landscape, especially the resurgence of phones and the ‘Zoom Boom’. Rebecca overviewed some of the phone banking, mobile messaging and Zoom tools that had allowed the Democrats to take a multi-channel approach, enabling volunteer and voter contact efforts to continue online anytime, anywhere.

“I think from what we’ve seen in conversations we’ve started to have with folks, post-election, I don’t think we’re going to go back to normal in terms of campaigning. Do I think we expect to have field offices again? Yes. But I think now that people have seen, this is easy, I can do these things from home. I think we’re going to see digital organising continue. I’m hopeful that we’re able to marry the two together and see the impact we can have, while still getting to enjoy a field office and have bad pizza.”

Mark Pack, President of the Liberal Democrats, summed up some of Lib Dem campaigning’s most relevant learnings and opportunities.

  • An entrepreneurial culture – “Being willing to try new things, but also not being too scared if they don’t work.”
  • Sustained long-term development of infrastructure in terms of grassroots organising technology, data and digital tools.
  • The importance of targeting and message testing – “What people thought might work for the swing voter often turned out in testing not to be true. There’s a big lesson for us in the Lib Dems; we under-tested some of our messages in 2019.”
  • Social media amplification – “How do we get another 2000 effective Twitter accounts from councillors, who are brilliant at reaching voters?”

Mark concluded by stressing the need for ongoing engagement with voters: “The answer is not to say, we need to do even more in the last four weeks. It’s about that long-term activity… how do we get people as motivated to be out campaigning through this year as they would be if it were a general election year, because that is, I think, the real secret to our long-term success.”


* George Cunningham is Chair of the Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee Twitter: @GFCunningham

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  • Richard Underhill.. 27th Jan '21 - 9:47am

    Joe Biden’s opinion poll rating is now 55% according to the BBC tv Katie and Christian show, He has spoken to President Putin about Navalny, which Donald Trump would not have done. Hopefully Angela Merkel will also say something, such as Release his wife and perhaps 100,000 others across the continent from Moscow to Vladivostock

  • Kevin Fowkes 27th Jan '21 - 1:32pm

    I wish the Lib dems the best of luck in May’s local elections in the South of England especially Mid Sussex.

  • James Moore 27th Jan '21 - 3:44pm

    Yes, this is an important discussion.

    At the last two general election Labour were very effective with highly-targeted Facebook advertising and in 2019 the Tories were very good on personalised direct mail organised from regional and national centres. Sadly, the Lib Dems are very far behind in both these two areas and I think these must be the priority, especially if traditional campaigning is effectively banned for 2021.

    Grassroots organising tools are great, but they should not be an excuse for the lack of a sensible central strategy for key seats and councils.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that no party machine will make up for a weak message or brand. More refined messages and a national rebranding needs to be a major priority too.

    Twitter is very over-rated. It tends to reach a much smaller social group than Facebook and these tend to be the already politically committed – people who have already decided how to vote.

  • Paul Holmes 27th Jan '21 - 5:57pm


    In 2017 Corbyn/Labour’s remarkable turn around from Polls at the start, to actual votes at the end, was attributed by some to a brilliant Social Media campaign. Yet in 2019, the same Campaign Team spent more on Social Media adverts than any other Party and Labour got its worst result since the 1930’s.

    The Lib Dems in 2019 were not far behind the Conservatives in total Social Media spend but well behind in results.

    So simple correlations between Social Media activity and results doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Mind you the Lib Dems in 2019 also spent unprecedented amounts on all forms of campaigning and ended up down from 12 to 11 MP’s!

    I do agree with the rest of what you say.

  • @ James Moore, “More refined messages and a national rebranding needs to be a major priority too”. Absolutely.

    A clear rebranding as : ‘The Liberal Party’ would signal a break from the legacy and reputation of 2010-15 and it’s association with austerity measures, welfare and disability cuts, VAT rises and broken promises etc.,

    It could be so announced by the Leader of the party if it was also reflected in a specific portfolio of progressive radical policies to tackle inequality and poverty in this country.

  • Peter Watson 27th Jan '21 - 6:35pm

    @Paul Holmes “Mind you the Lib Dems in 2019 also spent unprecedented amounts on all forms of campaigning and ended up down from 12 to 11 MP’s!”
    A bigger drop than down from 12 if you include the MPs that were new to the party in December 2019.
    I certainly noticed the spending here in Eddisbury where I seemed to receive more Lib Dem leaflets than in the previous few elections combined. Given that my Lib Dem candidate was my Tory MP before the election, I wondered how the leaflets would defend the record of someone the party had unsuccessfully opposed twice, but I wasn’t sufficiently interested to interrupt their journey from doorstep to recycling bin.

  • Daniel Walker 27th Jan '21 - 7:31pm

    @David Raw “A clear rebranding as : ‘The Liberal Party’

    While I appreciate the sentiment, that name’s in use:

  • Daniel Walker 27th Jan ’21 – 7:31pm:
    While I appreciate the sentiment, that name’s in use:

    Indeed, and by a party who advocated a Leave vote in the EU Referendum…

    The Liberal Party: International Issues: European Union:

    The Liberal Party opposed the European Union as currently constituted. In particular, we opposed the concept of a Single European Currency, harmonisation of taxes and any move towards a Single European Army. […]

    Having had the referendum in 2016 we believe all MPs should ensure the outcome of the referendum be respected.

  • @ Daniel Walker I’m sure for a small fee they could be persuaded to change their name to ‘The Flat Earth Society’.

  • Paul Fisher 27th Jan '21 - 9:48pm

    An existential crisis methinks.

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