Thursday, November 8, 2012

Community Organizing and the 2012 Elections

Before November 6th, one of the big stories of the 2012 U.S. election season was the potential influence of millionaire-funded Super PACs. The unrestricted influx of money from wealthy individuals and corporate donors to supposedly independent political action committees seemed like the big X factor in this election. Yet, while money certainly played an undeniable role in this election, there was another crucial factor whose importance was barely mentioned until Tuesday night: community organizing. 

Of course, political pundits didn't actually call it community organizing, they called it Obama's "ground game." But the fact is that the Obama campaigns approach, which at times entailed reaching out to barbershops and churches throughout battleground states, clearly hearkens back to his early days as a community organizer. The success of the "ground game" was as undeniable as it was unexpected, at least by the opposing political party. Projections that showed Obama losing typically assumed that the Democratic base would be less motivated to turn out in 2012, and counted especially on the false assumption that the large turnout among minority voters in 2008 was just a one-time occurrence. 

Yet the results showed just the opposite: the number of African-American voters in the hotly contested state of Ohio actually increased, making up 15% of the voting electorate in 2012 vs. 11% in 2008. Though the effects of big money and TV ads could not be denied, it may have been one party's superior ability to reach out at the community level that proved decisive in this election. This is good news for community psychology practitioners. And if this ability to effectively mobilize communities to take action for the common good can continue beyond the election season, it's even better news for the country. 

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