With Trump even more embattled than he was a year ago, these voters who approve of Trump on the economy but not on much else are even more crucial in November. Opportunity Wisconsin saw this as a classic chance to attack an opponent’s strength, rather than his weakness.
Read: Wisconsin's warning for the November election
“There was this perception that the president’s economic strength was based on the stock market or jobs numbers, but when you drilled down a little more and had conversations with people about their own experience, they did not see any benefit from the president's tax law or his opposition to raising the minimum wage,” Roh says.
The plan was to figure out how to convince voters in Wisconsin, on a large scale, that Trump’s handling of the economy was actually worse than they thought. Opportunity Wisconsin and the Hub Project started with a survey of 27,000 voters, designed to identify persuadable Wisconsinites.
Then Opportunity Wisconsin conducted focus groups around the state, trying to identify voters who might be persuadable and the values that mattered to them. They zeroed in on people who were sympathetic to conservative economic ideas but also concerned about what they saw in their own families and communities. For example, some participants talked about the importance of low taxes and reducing regulation, but also complained that the cost of living was rising too quickly and the economy was working only for the wealthy.
Drawing on this research, the Hub Project selected roughly 500,000 voters to target in a larger push, using voting history and consumer data in addition to standard demographic data. For the purposes of measuring how effective its work was, it split the whole into a treatment group, which would receive targeted messages, and a control group, which would not.
Identifying a group of persuadable voters is not the same as knowing both what messages to send them and how to send them. Opportunity Wisconsin found messengers who could speak to local issues around the state—meatpacking in Green Bay, farming in the Driftless Area. A man in Green Bay described being unable to make his rent, even as the company whose factory he worked in got big tax breaks under the 2017 tax cuts. A Wauwatosa woman recounted how she got a second job to pay off her student loans, but then lost both of her jobs due to the pandemic. “President Trump only started to acknowledge this crisis after Wall Street started to suffer,” she said.
Then Opportunity Wisconsin launched a big effort to push these messages out from February to May. The group featured the stories it gathered in videos posted on social media and in paper fliers sent to mailboxes—roughly one a week for 11 weeks, an unusually large volume. Some of the messengers told their stories at gatherings, alongside officeholders such as Senator Tammy Baldwin and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, both Democrats. (These gatherings were planned to be held in person around the state, but most of them had to be switched to digital because of the pandemic.)