Case Study

Combatting 2016 Trump Voters


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:

Phase One

(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

Phase Two

(June – mid-August): Develop and collect qualitative and quantitative research about methods and messages to communicate with voters

Phase Three

(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:

  • 20,277,286 total contacts and datapoint collected
  • 63 million digital impressions served, with a CTR of1.16% (six times the industry standard)
  • 8.5 million social media engagements
  • 468 call and text-bankers hired
  • 103 callers and text-bankers (per day) during Phase 3


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:

    • In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Trump’s margins decreased 4 points overall in TBC’s targeted exurban and rural counties compared with 2016.
    • Trump received 194,650 fewer votes in exurban and rural counties in MI, PA, and WI than he did in 2016. Had he performed as well in TBC targeted counties as he did in the rest of the country, this margin would have been eliminated.
    • Four targeted counties swung toward Biden by more than 10 points, and 36 counties swung toward Biden by 5 or more points.