Recommendations for prioritizing political engagement in the 2020 US elections

post by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-14T13:52:23.564Z · score: 36 (22 votes) · EA · GW · 17 comments

Contents

  Our current top recommendations
    Donating
    Volunteering
    Is it better to donate or volunteer?
  Comparing our recommendations to others
      UPDATE LOG:
None
17 comments

(Context: there is a long-running debate within the EA community about whether or not effective altruists should seek to avoid getting caught up in party politics. I have written a companion post [EA · GW] to this one exploring some of these issues. What follows is intended to be of service to those who, like me, believe strongly that the current election cycle in the US represents a uniquely important opportunity for effective altruists and are looking for the best ways to get involved.)

Since early August, a giving circle entitled the Landslide Coalition has been researching time-sensitive, neglected, and (where possible) evidence-based opportunities to maximize electoral victories for Democrats in the current election cycle. While not operating officially under the banner of effective altruism, Landslide Coalition has drawn roughly half of its membership from the EA community, makes significant use of concepts from EA charity analysis, and is explicitly modeled after an EA giving circle that drove millions of dollars to neglected global coronavirus interventions [EA · GW] earlier this year.

Currently, we are a group of 35+ individuals and families who are concerned about the future of the United States under Donald Trump and his allies. Thus far, we have directly moved more than $315,000 to recommended charities and campaigns and indirectly influenced another $1.1 million in gifts and grants, while volunteering more than 200 hours of our time to date. We offer both donation and volunteering recommendations, and we are continuing to welcome new members through Election Day.

In keeping with our name, our primary goal is to ensure as widespread and decisive a victory as possible for Democrats in 2020. Our reasons for pursuing a landslide, rather than a narrow focus on winning the presidency, are as follows:

​To achieve a landslide victory, we need to throw everything we have at this election, even if the race seems to be trending in Democrats' favor at the moment. We are currently focusing on neglected opportunities for impact in the following thematic areas:

Our current top recommendations

Note: the following recommendations are the product of approximately 350 hours of research (including numerous conversations with fellow funders, campaigns, and organization leaders) by members of our group since early August. The political giving space is highly complex and there are surely gaps in our knowledge still, but we have confidence that the recommendations below are significantly higher-quality than what we would have been able to come up with simply by following the news and publicly available commentary during this time.

Donating

Additional donation recommendations are available at our website. We ask that donors get in touch with us at landslidecoalition@gmail.com before donating to Working America so that we can help you ensure the money goes to the right programs. We also very much appreciate it when donors tell us how much they gave to our recommendations so that we can track our money moved.

Volunteering

Note: we recently overhauled our volunteering recommendations to focus on efforts that would be most valuable over the last two weeks of the campaign. Readers are invited to check out the slides from a briefing we held this week to go over the recommendations; if you would like to view the recording of that event, please write landslidecoalition@gmail.com.

Below is a "decision tree" intended to provide guidance for how you can choose to volunteer your time during the last stages of the election:

Regardless of other activities, everyone seeking to help should pick three (or more) friends in swing states who they're going to ask to be vote triplers (i.e., remind three friends to vote). If possible, prioritize friends and family in small states with competitive Senate races like Montana, Alaska, Iowa, Maine, and Kansas, but any swing state is better than none. Evidence indicates that these asks are most effective when you reach out individually -- don't just post on Facebook!

Then...

Make a plan for the next two weeks and decide how you're going to spend the time:

If you only have a few hours to spare between now and Election Day, try one of our textbanking recommendations.

If you particularly enjoy (or are just good at) talking to strangers, try deep canvassing with Working America or People's Action.

If you can put in at least ten hours a week but prefer to work from home, sign up to support Focus 2020's "deep volunteering" work to educate and protect voters in Philadelphia and the Upper Midwest.

If you're willing to volunteer in person, do it! The top recommendation here would be the partisan or nonpartisan Polling Place Vote Tripling programs, but your time would also be of value as a poll monitor nationwide or a GOTV canvasser in Philadelphia. For efficiency reasons, we recommend that any in-person work be directed toward densely packed urban areas in swing states.

Finally, if you have specialized skills or talents, use them. For example:

The Landslide Coalition website has more details on all of our donation and volunteering recommendations. We do not anticipate any more major updates to these recommendations before November 3, but may make small tweaks in response to new developments.

Is it better to donate or volunteer?

It depends on whether you personally have more time or money to spare. While there are uncertainties and variability associated with our cost-effectiveness estimates, a good rule of thumb is that if you think it’s more realistic for you to volunteer for at least five hours than it is for you to give $1,000, then you’re better off doing the former. In light of the limited time remaining before Election Day, anyone in a position to give over $50,000 is almost certainly going to accomplish more by donating than by giving their time, even at this late stage.

Comparing our recommendations to others

There are a number of giving guides and pooled funds currently making the rounds in progressive circles (although there were a lot fewer when we got started). EAs might reasonably ask why they should trust our analyses over these other options. Below are a few thoughts on comparative advantages and areas of overlap:

Landslide Coalition has not attempted an analysis of how political donations stack up against other EA priorities, so if you are already directing significant support to GiveWell-recommended charities or longtermist priorities, our intention is not to suggest you do otherwise. If the funds would otherwise go toward personal consumption or other non-essential spending, however, you may wish to consider how far you can reasonably stretch your budget in light of the stakes currently at play. Furthermore, if donating is not an option for you, there are many opportunities to make a highly-leveraged difference with your time in this election.

UPDATE LOG:

17 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-23T19:38:26.425Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

All: I've updated the post to reflect the fact that we've thoroughly overhauled our volunteer recommendations in anticipation of the final two weeks. Our top recommendation for people who don't have a lot of time to spare is to spend a few hours textbanking with one of our recommended campaigns, and we have lots more suggestions for those who can commit more time or have specialized skills to offer. If you'd like to see the recording or deck from the briefing we held on these earlier this week, feel free to get in touch. In addition, there were some minor changes to the donation recommendations last week.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-10-14T22:35:05.202Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

In accordance with the Forum's policy on political posts [EA · GW], I'm keeping this one in "Personal Blog." 

However, as a citizen of the U.S. and the world, I deeply appreciate the Coalition's work, and I hope you can draw a lot of readers to this post by linking to it elsewhere.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-16T01:16:15.993Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do you see as the case for political volunteering, as opposed to trying to use time to earn/save money to donate more instead?

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-16T02:29:53.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The best volunteer opportunities we've seen in terms of cost-effectiveness cash out to the equivalent of about a $150-200/hr rate if you were going to donate that money to our top recommendations instead. So if you can earn more than that OR if you have spare money lying around OR if you can raise more than that easily from others, then donating/raising is a better use of your time. Otherwise, volunteering is great at this stage. As mentioned in the post, we'll be rolling out a curated list/calendar of recommended & evidence-based textbanking events in the next few days, so watch this space.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-16T02:40:49.293Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The best volunteer opportunities we've seen in terms of cost-effectiveness cash out to the equivalent of about a $150-200/hr rate if you were going to donate that money to our top recommendations instead

I find that very surprising! Couldn't a campaign hire a person to do these top volunteering opportunities for ~$20/hr? Presumably that would cap the value of volunteering at ~$20/hr?

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-16T03:05:21.851Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interestingly, the "typical" volunteering opportunity is in fact worth more like $20/hr. You only get into that 10x range by using a very specific combination of techniques and targeting that we're trying to incorporate into our textbanking recommendations. So I think this is partly an arbitrage opportunity due to the market not yet catching up to the research on a widespread basis.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-16T05:43:27.764Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps you are right, but my outside view would suggest some skepticism that professional campaigns haven't identified these winning techniques that you have. Perhaps they have some reason for doubting them?

Relatedly, do you worry about optimizers curse when identifying top opportunities?

(FWIW my personal experience does suggest campaigns can be shortsighted at times... I recall volunteering for Hillary in 2016 and spending an unfortunate amount of volunteer time being directed to make calls in Iowa)

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-23T20:18:22.844Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sorry for the delayed response -- the past week has been pretty crazy as you might imagine! 

I think we're both falling prey to a tendency to oversimplify things in this thread. The reality is that the value of a volunteer hour is highly context-dependent. Textbanking is a lot more efficient than phonebanking because you can reach more people in a given amount of time. However, textbanking is also a lot less neglected than phonebanking this year because it's easier to do. In-person canvassing is probably the least efficient of all, but you can reach people in person that you can't reach by either phone or text -- so it doesn't make sense to abandon it entirely. And regardless of the mode, if a campaign hasn't done a good job of curating its list, a volunteer's efforts are going to be pretty ineffectual.

We've put a lot of research into trying to identify high-impact volunteer opportunities, but honestly what we've done is just scratching the surface of what it would really take to get to a confident answer. Campaigns don't say on their websites, "hey, sign up to volunteer and by the way what we REALLY need is phonebankers who can speak Spanish." Because they don't want to alienate anyone who could be a productive volunteer and they want to make it as easy as possible for people. Because of that, finding out what the actual needs are takes a lot of shoe-leather investigation: talking to knowledgeable people in the field, analyzing the kinds and frequency of voter contact that's taking place across all campaigns to assess the level of saturation in different geographies. This kind of real-time cross-campaign landscape analysis simply doesn't exist at scale right now, so the best we can do is look at what the research says about the cost-effectiveness of different methods in terms of converting volunteer hours into net votes and try to make holistic judgments about where additional efforts would have the most value.  What I can say is that I'm confident that the suggestions we've offered a) will be helpful rather than harmful and b) are substantially better than just randomly signing up for a volunteer opportunity.

As a side note, you seem to have a lot more faith in the efficient markets hypothesis as it applies to organizational behavior than I do! I don't think I have ever encountered an institutional ecosystem that was unburdened by poor strategic thinking, inefficient legacy practices, and failure to coordinate complementary or duplicative efforts. In that regard, I've actually been pleasantly surprised with how high-functioning the progressive organizing space seems to be on the whole.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-26T14:26:06.724Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

 What I can say is that I'm confident that the suggestions we've offered a) will be helpful rather than harmful and b) are substantially better than just randomly signing up for a volunteer opportunity.

 

I agree that's totally fair! And I appreciate you doing that work.

As a side note, you seem to have a lot more faith in the efficient markets hypothesis as it applies to organizational behavior than I do! I don't think I have ever encountered an institutional ecosystem that was unburdened by poor strategic thinking, inefficient legacy practices, and failure to coordinate complementary or duplicative efforts. In that regard, I've actually been pleasantly surprised with how high-functioning the progressive organizing space seems to be on the whole.

I'm not sure this is a side note... this might be the main crux of our disagreement!

My prior is that a team of smart non-experts uncovering some large tactical error in large well-funded groups that are highly incentivized to not have errors of that type is certainly possible and actually quite achievable, but probably takes on the order of >4K hours of work. I also think it is easy to think you have found an error that is not in fact an error. I'm not sure how much time you've spent on this?

I do have massive uncertainty about how true the efficient market hypothesis is, for a variety of domains.

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-26T18:35:44.357Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My experience has been that across most domains, there is kind of a Pareto-optimality to coming in as an outsider and trying to find superior giving or intervention opportunities. It usually takes only a few hours of research to determine an approach that will be above average. It may take a couple hundred hours to find opportunities that will be in the top 10-20%. And unless you get lucky early on, it can easily take more like the 4k  you're describing to find the very best that's out there. So it depends on what your standard for excellence is and the opportunity cost of the time you're willing to put in.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-16T01:14:27.173Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Estimates suggest investing in these techniques will be roughly 8 to 10 times as cost-effective as donating to the Biden campaign, with the potential to net hundreds of thousands of votes across key states.

Can you offer more detail on this? I would probably consider donating to it if I understood it better.

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-16T02:24:51.067Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Peter, anyone who would like to learn more about the Working America program is welcome to email landslidecoalition@gmail.com to receive additional materials about it.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-10-22T00:18:51.679Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is Future Forward on your radar? It has support from a couple people associated with EA, including Moskovitz. Although maybe they'll hit diminishing returns with such large donors?

https://www.futureforwardusa.org/

https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/10/20/21523492/future-forward-super-pac-dustin-moskovitz-silicon-valley

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/us/politics/future-forward-super-pac.html

Also,

Other significant Moskovitz bets this cycle have included millions to the Voter Participation Center, a voter-turnout organization that has been supercharged by tech money over the last two years, and Vote Tripling, a “relational organizing” approach to encourage friends to vote.

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-23T19:42:41.966Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yep, that was one of the "confidential opportunities" mentioned in the recs, that is before it became, uh, not confidential. :) In any case, the funding deadline has long passed on that one. In addition, Vote Tripling was one of our recommendations very early on and we've been working with them closely this past week as we've developed our textbanking recommendations.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-16T01:13:26.780Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty undecided on how to give to pro-Biden/Dem efforts (as well as undecided on how pro-Biden/Dem efforts compare to other opportunities), but I wanted to give a small amount (as I no longer earn-to-give), so here is my giving:

My top idea right now is this campaign, that put together by a strong EA-aligned progressive-aligned data scientist with strong expertise in helping Democrats win and seems like a better bet than solely focusing on Theresa Greenfield. I haven't vetted it but I put $250 for it based on my intuition. (EDIT: I notice you mentioned this in your post, so I guess we'd either have to agree to disagree or have a longer discussion. My guess is that your analysis may be missing marginal media market costs?)

Worth keeping in mind that (as you probably know) due to FCC rules, donating directly to candidates seems like a stronger bet than donating to any other PAC, because candidates (a) get guaranteed minimum advertising rates and (b) get direct access to the candidate (more persuasive).

An honorable mention is this ad campaign, which feels strong and is also backed by strong message testing by people with a good track record for this sort of thing. I donated $100 to it.

I also think state legislature races are important, so I donated $100 to this impact-focused list that was also put together by people with a strong track record of putting together this sort of thing.

I like the idea of flipping Texas, so I donated to the Swing Left campaign for it. I don't know how that compares to Lone Star Votes or the Princeton Election Consortium. I also don't know the track record of Swing Left. This is the idea I feel least confident about, so I only donated $50.

Of course I also donated $100 to Biden directly following the logic that due to campaign finance and FCC rules, it is good for small donor individuals to donate directly to candidates.

And I gave $10 to ActBlue for facilitating all of the above.

Ideally I would've liked to have done more research and focused more money on one campaign I feel best about (and to have donated more money overall), but I don't think I'll ever get to that point, thus this scattershot giving approach.

(Obvious disclaimer: These are purely personal opinions and doesn't reflect any policy or position of Rethink Priorities.)

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2020-10-16T03:08:10.999Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Peter, just FYI, the Senate campaigns are now pretty much all getting a lot of  money and also outpacing their Republican counterparts, so we've decided to demote Theresa Greenfield from our top-level recs. But if you still want to give to the Senate, I think David's pooled fund is a good option. As I stated in the post, there's likely not a ton of difference at this point between the most competitive races in terms of one being better/more important than another. Just avoid McGrath, Kelly, and Harrison as they have all the money they could ever use.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-10-16T05:42:15.186Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree it is definitely not a neglected issue but [per this table](https://mediaproject.wesleyan.edu/releases-101520/#table5) there is still definitely room for Dems to increase their advantage... some races (e.g., GA, MI) aren't even 2-to-1 in favor of Dems yet.