Real Voter Voices: MoveOn’s Secret Weapon in 2018

4 min readNov 5, 2018

In an era of intense partisan polarization, filter bubbles, increasing dishonesty and division from the White House down, and endless negative political advertising, it’s no surprise that trust in media, government, politicians and most large institutions has never been lower. Yet, while that’s the reality the punditry focuses on, there’s another reality on the ground all across the country, which is that most Americans have a thirst for a different, more authentic, less combative politics — one grounded in authentic relationships and community, and facts and values instead of attacks, division, and mischaracterizations.

That’s why MoveOn made a significant bet this election cycle on our Real Voter Voices program, which has the potential to sway control of the House of Representatives if it’s determined by a handful of close races Wednesday night, and could have a big impact in other close elections as well.

Real Voter Voices is a groundbreaking new approach to mobilizing and persuading voters. It involves voters connecting via video with neighbors in their state or congressional district and sharing why they support their preferred candidate. It’s a bet on the power of small ‘d’ democracy to transform this country — authentic, unscripted 1:1 conversations between real voters having real impact — and it’s poised to result in hundreds of thousands of additional votes for Democratic candidates November 6.

It’s a bet on the power of small ‘d’ democracy to transform this country — authentic, unscripted 1:1 conversations between real voters having real impact — and it’s poised to result in hundreds of thousands of additional votes for Democratic candidates November 6.

We developed and experimented with this approach in several important elections last year — the Virginia governor’s race, the special election for Alabama’s Senate seat, and the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Everywhere we ran it, we found it had a significant, measurable impact on the election’s outcome, generating substantial numbers of votes for Democratic candidates at an extremely low cost compared to other approaches.

So we scaled it up and are now running Real Voter Voices in 89 House races, 10 Senate races, and 10 gubernatorial elections — and are poised to reach more than 25 million voters.

Real Voter Voices innovates in several ways: combining sophisticated analytics, new approaches to texting and social media, as well as new technology for mass video collection, vetting and production. Here’s how it works:

  • We collected more than 2,400 unscripted videos of MoveOn members and activists from partner organizations including For Our Future, iAmerica Action, People For the American Way, SEIU, Indivisible, and Planned Parenthood Action. In each video (most of which are between 30 seconds and two minutes long), the participant or participants explain why they are supporting a particular candidate.
  • We then used a new approach to testing the videos that our analytics team invented, showing more than 700 videos to representative samples of voters who reflect the composition of the electorate, and following up to survey them to see if watching the video made them more likely to turn out and vote to support a Democratic candidate. We were able to determine which videos were most persuasive to which audiences.
  • Finally — and this work began a few weeks ago and is ongoing until polls close — we are in the process of delivering more than 260 of the most persuasive videos to the voters most likely to be persuaded by them via a combination of Facebook ads as well as text messages sent by MoveOn volunteers.

Here’s what some of our Real Voter Voices ads look like on Facebook:

Screenshots of Real Voter Voices ads from the Facebook ad archive.

Facebook is the primary platform for this campaign (in addition to peer-to-peer text messaging) because it is where so many Americans now get their news and information about politics, but the fact that MoveOn is using Facebook, including millions of dollars of ad buys, doesn’t mean that we still don’t see significant problems with the company’s practices, related to its monopoly status, the filter-bubble, the way it’s still used to spread misinformation, as well as the privacy threats that it poses. Even though we’ve made this significant investment in Facebook ads, we’re fully committed to running aggressive campaigning calling on aggressive remedies to the problems present in the platform. You can see an example of that campaigning here.

We’ve also gone to great lengths to be transparent about Real Voter Voices — all of the ads are clear about who’s running them, and even before Facebook launched its ad archive, we made a commitment to make the videos we run in our target districts visible to the public by posting them in our gallery at Our videos are also 100% vetted for factual accuracy.

We are extremely proud of Real Voter Voices and the ways it differs from other forms of political advertising and technology. We believe this is a model for what political ads should look like — the real, unscripted voices of voters — and not the cliche, ominous negative TV ads that so many campaigns continue to run even though voters mostly tune them out, or the often false and misleading dark money and Russian government troll ads and posts that were so prevalent online in 2016.

Based on our testing in elections over the last year, we are confident this program will lead to hundreds of thousands of additional votes for Democrats on November 6.

UPDATE: See Wired’s scoop about this program here:




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