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Groundbreakers: How Obama's 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America

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Much has been written about the historic nature of the Obama campaign. The multi-year, multi-billion dollar operation elected the nation's first black president, raised and spent more money than any other election effort in history, and built the most sophisticated voter targeting technology ever before used on a national campaign. What is missing from most accounts of the Much has been written about the historic nature of the Obama campaign. The multi-year, multi-billion dollar operation elected the nation's first black president, raised and spent more money than any other election effort in history, and built the most sophisticated voter targeting technology ever before used on a national campaign. What is missing from most accounts of the campaign is an understanding of how Obama for America recruited, motivated, developed, and managed its formidable army of 2.2 million volunteers. Unlike previous field campaigns that drew their power from staff, consultants, and paid canvassers, the Obama campaign's capacity came from unpaid local citizens who took responsibility for organizing their own neighborhoods months--and even years--in advance of election day. In so doing, Groundbreakers argues, the campaign engaged citizens in the work of practicing democracy. How did they organize so many volunteers to produce so much valuable work for the campaign? This book describes how. Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han argue that the legacy of Obama for America extends beyond big data and micro-targeting; it also reinvigorated and expanded traditional models of field campaigning. Groundbreakers makes the case that the Obama campaign altered traditional ground games by adopting the principles and practices of community organizing. Drawing on in-depth interviews with OFA field staff and volunteers, this book also argues that a key achievement of the OFA's field organizing was its transformative effect on those who were a part of it. Obama the candidate might have inspired volunteers to join the campaign, but it was the fulfilling relationships that volunteers had with other people--and their deep belief that their work mattered for the work of democracy--that kept them active. Groundbreakers documents how the Obama campaign has inspired a new way of running field campaigns, with lessons for national and international political and civic movements.


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Much has been written about the historic nature of the Obama campaign. The multi-year, multi-billion dollar operation elected the nation's first black president, raised and spent more money than any other election effort in history, and built the most sophisticated voter targeting technology ever before used on a national campaign. What is missing from most accounts of the Much has been written about the historic nature of the Obama campaign. The multi-year, multi-billion dollar operation elected the nation's first black president, raised and spent more money than any other election effort in history, and built the most sophisticated voter targeting technology ever before used on a national campaign. What is missing from most accounts of the campaign is an understanding of how Obama for America recruited, motivated, developed, and managed its formidable army of 2.2 million volunteers. Unlike previous field campaigns that drew their power from staff, consultants, and paid canvassers, the Obama campaign's capacity came from unpaid local citizens who took responsibility for organizing their own neighborhoods months--and even years--in advance of election day. In so doing, Groundbreakers argues, the campaign engaged citizens in the work of practicing democracy. How did they organize so many volunteers to produce so much valuable work for the campaign? This book describes how. Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han argue that the legacy of Obama for America extends beyond big data and micro-targeting; it also reinvigorated and expanded traditional models of field campaigning. Groundbreakers makes the case that the Obama campaign altered traditional ground games by adopting the principles and practices of community organizing. Drawing on in-depth interviews with OFA field staff and volunteers, this book also argues that a key achievement of the OFA's field organizing was its transformative effect on those who were a part of it. Obama the candidate might have inspired volunteers to join the campaign, but it was the fulfilling relationships that volunteers had with other people--and their deep belief that their work mattered for the work of democracy--that kept them active. Groundbreakers documents how the Obama campaign has inspired a new way of running field campaigns, with lessons for national and international political and civic movements.

30 review for Groundbreakers: How Obama's 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joel D

    invaluable resource. while it doesn't teach skills as such, it is formidable in giving an understanding of how to do electoral organising. invaluable resource. while it doesn't teach skills as such, it is formidable in giving an understanding of how to do electoral organising.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence Thompson

    Good anatomy of the modern grassroots campaign, and a narrative on shared responsibility and the mutual relationship between HQ and ground. Lots of things you need to know to structure volunteers is in this one. It's also somewhat quaint to read a book about Federal Elections that is pre Bernie, Hillary, or Trump. If it weren't for their seeming inability to craft a compelling case for reelection, if I were the Biden Campaign, I would be very worried that the Trump campaign is reading this. Still Good anatomy of the modern grassroots campaign, and a narrative on shared responsibility and the mutual relationship between HQ and ground. Lots of things you need to know to structure volunteers is in this one. It's also somewhat quaint to read a book about Federal Elections that is pre Bernie, Hillary, or Trump. If it weren't for their seeming inability to craft a compelling case for reelection, if I were the Biden Campaign, I would be very worried that the Trump campaign is reading this. Still worry, actually.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    While the partisan bias existed throughout the book, there can be no mistake in seeing the value that this provides in breaking down the key features of the OFA model that was created for 2008 and 2012. The key feature of focusing on capacity building is one of the main reasons that this model was so successful and more importantly why it is so difficult to replicate.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Beaudet

    A suitable overview for anyone wanting to learn more about the organizing strategy of the Obama campaign and how it differed from previous efforts.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chet

    Surprisingly readable for a work-recommenced book written by academics. Would have been a good book were it instead written by an English-speaker

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A brief study on Obama For America- their history, methodology, etc. It does its job, but it doesn't describe some sort of election panacea. The Field Organizer "Snowflake" model worked for Obama's campaign. Your milage will most certainly vary. It got me thinking about how to staff, structure, and run an organization. Read if that's what you're after. A brief study on Obama For America- their history, methodology, etc. It does its job, but it doesn't describe some sort of election panacea. The Field Organizer "Snowflake" model worked for Obama's campaign. Your milage will most certainly vary. It got me thinking about how to staff, structure, and run an organization. Read if that's what you're after.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Surprising how little their story corresponds to my experience.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

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    Carolina Portela-Blanco

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    Juan Macias

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    Ryan Uhlmeyer

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kashiff Thompson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Isabel Bozada-Jones

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Sinclair

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ariane

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Popovich

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Huxley

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    Ellen

  20. 5 out of 5

    James

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  22. 4 out of 5

    Breana

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    Luiza

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

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    Kenny Torrella

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    Marcus Wallin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bridget Murphy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Cole

  29. 5 out of 5

    Irina Nanca

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sathya Narayanan

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