In 2016, Donald Trump won the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin with a total of just 77,744 votes — less than a one percent margin in each state. These slim statewide margins were a result of much larger margins coming out of rural areas — 1,254,158 votes combined. To ensure history did not repeat itself in 2020, we needed to make corrections on those margins.
The “Take Back Control” (TBC) program was launched in mid-April 2020 to eliminate Trump’s advantage in 214 target counties in these three states. In early March as the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in full force, we took a calculated bet that it would continue to be the defining theme of the cycle while pivoting to a remote organizing structure.
Our program was broken into three phases with distinct strategy and goals:
(April – May): Build a trusted brand in an era of incredible distrust by providing localized information and resources to those in need; lay the groundwork for future communications
(June – mid-August): Develop and collect qualitative and quantitative research about methods and messages to communicate with voters
(mid-August – Election Day): Use data collected in previous phases to build models and universes, communicate with an express advocacy message to persuade and turn out targeted voters
Program elements and toplines included:
According to AP VoteCast data, Trump’s exurban and rural performance improved nationwide by 5 points from 2016. But in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Trump’s 2020 performance is down by 4% overall, and by as much as 16% in TBC’s target rural and exurban counties: