This is Field 101.
This is what 101? What's "field?"
Did you get a phone call over the past few months? Did someone knock on your door? That's part of some campaign's field program.
Field is how campaigns refer to that direct outreach to voters. Work out in the field, as compared to television ads or sending direct mail.
Oh, you mean like lawn signs?
Some people consider lawn signs and passing out leaflets on the street and waving signs at cars part of a field campaign. Those people are wrong. Lawn signs and flyering are referred to as "visibility," getting the candidate's name out there. Visibility is demonstrably useless and annoying to voters. So why does it still happen? Because political consultants can make a good profit designing and printing those materials, and because candidates adore seeing public displays of support. (Remember how I said running for office was tedious?)
You know who helped lead the charge on dumping lawn signs? Rick Perry. If something is too stupid for Rick Perry, well… just think about that.
Visibility isn't targeted. And as you'll see, targeting voters is the heart of a field campaign.
OK. So what's "good" field?
A field program is meant to do two things: persuade likely voters to vote for your candidate and convince potential supporters to actually go out and vote.
To identify those two groups of voters, campaigns poll. They test persuasion messages (and counter-arguments to their opponents' persuasion messages) and, to a lesser extent, likelihood of voting. The results of the poll are matched demographically (and with varying sophistication) to the voter rolls, publicly-available lists of who has voted and when and where they live.
Campaigns come up with a profile of likely and possible voters based on that voting history. This year, for example, I'd call a likely voter someone who voted in November of 2004 and 2008, in the primary this year (if Republican), and in November 2010. A possible voter might be someone who only voted in 2008. An unlikely voter is someone who voted in 2004 but not 2008, or, sad as it is to say, someone newly registered to vote. (This is partly because new voters have no voting history, so it's not smart to bank on their getting to the polls.)
Once voters have been sorted into those pools -- likely to vote but not yet supportive; supportive but not yet likely to vote -- the campaign begins its field work.
For the early part of the campaign, the emphasis is on persuasion, on what are called IDs. Voters are called or reached at their doors, given a quick (poll-tested) rap, and asked if they will vote for the candidate. A "yes" respondent goes in the bank to be turned out on Election Day. An "undecided" may get another ID call later in the cycle. A "no" respondent is crossed off the list.
When polling opens, field switches over to turnout -- to GOTV, or "get out the vote." All of those "yes" respondents are now encouraged to actually cast a ballot, and are hassled -- er, encouraged -- until they do. Campaigns will also do a "blind pull," turning out voters who haven't been ID'd but who polling suggests are likely to support the candidate. For the Obama campaign, for example, it makes sense to encourage African-Americans to vote no matter what, since they support his candidacy so strongly.