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David Plouffe on Grassroots Networks

Houston hosts the 2nd Annual UP Experience today, an opportunity to hear from experts in topics ranging from the Generation Y mindset to cosmic exploration. President Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe will talk about building grassroots networks. As Houston’s own Election Day approaches, KUHF’s Melissa Galvez spoke with Plouffe about how campaigns have changed.


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You’re going to be appearing at the UP experience here in Houston tomorrow. What were you asked to talk about?

“So, it was how we used the digital tools available to build the campaign. It was how we built our grassroots organization, some of the tactics that we used and the strategies that we deployed.”

So this is a really relevant topic for us in Houston because as you may know we’re having a mayoral election, very soon. But it’s a bit of a strange one. It doesn’t seem to have attracted as much public energy and attention as other years. Do you think the strategies you used are replicable in local campaigns?

“Well it’s a great question. I think you’ve got to remember that the tools that we had and the technology we used, those are really available to everybody. The difference maker was Barack Obama. What we did was I think provided good strategy to overlay on top of that. First of all, the belief that a grassroots effort matters is important. And that you need to give them great tools; you need to give them responsibility; you need to treat your grassroots organization not as kind of off to the side, as a nice addition, but core to who you are, and that’s what we did.”

Can you talk a little bit more specifically about how you use online tools, like Facebook or Twitter?

“You want to ask your volunteers to become heavily present and involved on these social networking sites. So they’re posting information about elections and information about new positions candidates are taking, so that… and I think the most important think is to ask other people to get involved. As you get people involved, you want them to kind of spread out, and spread their tentacles, and grab more people, so that you’re building the base of people that you’re communicating with.”

Are there other examples of how campaigns have changed in recent years aside from social media tools?

“Well, I think that is probably the big change. And not just social media, in general, the whole digital space, the ability to send text messages out very quickly so that you can get information to people, where to vote, or voter registration ends tomorrow, or a candidate is going to be in your neighborhood at this time and this place so please attend. I mean, we used to have to build crowds by making phone calls and sending out postcards. Obviously people get information now, a lot of it online, so you’ve got to do online advertising. Campaigns used to put most of their money on television, and television advertising is still important, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle now.”

What about messaging? Do you think about “branding” a candidate differently nowadays?

“I don’t think that’s changed. A good campaign is all about the candidate knowing exactly why they’re running for a certain office. They know what they want to offer the city or the state or the country, and they’re very clear about that.”

Now, I want to ask a little bit about Texas. From your experience in last year’s presidential primary, what did you learn about campaigning in Texas?

“I think that there is an enormous amount of volunteerism down there. Texas, even though it’s a enormously large state, I think there’s a tremendous amount of ability to put together a great grassroots campaign. Which is a little unique, because normally in a big state it’s hard to do, but in Texas there’s just a lot of great activism.”

David Plouffe will speak more about grassroots networks today at the UP experience in Houston.