Association Leaders: Look, Listen, Learn

Alex Steele, of Battleground Texas
Alex Steele, of Battleground Texas

From Bloomberg comes this story about how Democrats are taking a run at Texas, the home of Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. Personally, since I’m a conservative, I will be doing what I can to make sure that Battleground Texas fails, and fails miserably. But that isn’t the point of this post.

The point of this post is that the Democrats are trying at all. There is a major lesson here for REALTOR Associations to learn.

The New Nature of Political Power

If you haven’t seen my presentation at AEI this year, you can go check it out here.

The point I was making there — that the reason why Obama won in 2012 was that he had the Narwhal system, and Mitt Romney did not — is being reinforced by Alex Steele and the folks at Battleground Texas.

In the old ways of doing politics, which involved very expensive advertising, legions of lobbyists, and a centralized, top-down approach to get your message out, something like Battleground Texas would be a giant waste of time and money. Even national parties do not have unlimited funds. Pouring in money to try to get a Republican elected in Berkeley, CA, for example, is just like piling it up and setting it on fire.

In the new way of doing politics, driven by technology and grassroots empowerment, there is no such thing as impossible. From the article:

Steele uses a small projector to beam a slide show on a pale yellow wall of the community center’s Room 101. He explains how Battleground Texas will use the exponential power of voter contact in the same way that Obama did, enhancing traditional methods with a technological tour de force.

Rather than having 250 paid organizers each make 50 contacts and yield 12,500 voter touches, their goal is to have 250 field organizers overseeing five teams of volunteer neighborhood leaders who use their own Facebook Inc (FB)., Twitter Inc. and e-mail accounts to make 500,000 contacts.

Yep, that’s right. Instead of 12,500 voter contacts, Battleground Texas will shoot for 500,000 contacts. That is exponential, all right. And it is made possible by technology like the Dashboard that the Obama campaign used to such effectiveness.

Like I said, even as I disagree with these guys politically, I have nothing but professional admiration for their awesomesauce in technology and social know-how.

REALTORS: Evolve or Die

One of the effects of Normalcy Bias on the part of REALTORS is that they just can’t imagine a world where government turns on them. For generations, NAR and its state and local affiliates have been such political powerhouses that REALTORS simply take for granted that they will win every fight even as the vast majority of the members could give a crap about political issues.

Since NAR has never lost, it can never lose, right? That’s Normalcy Bias for you: the idea that since something has never happened before, it can never happen. Have you seen some of the proposals in Washington DC as the country’s fiscal problems show no sign of going away?

Meanwhile, REALTOR Associations spend a ton of money bribing political campaigns, assuming that those strategies will continue to work as they have for decades.

But the political landscape has changed. How much has it changed?

So much that Battleground Texas is a real effort to be taken very seriously, rather than a joke by a couple of kooks. The power of the Web, and of social networks, is being harnessed today by the most sophisticated political organizations. Tomorrow, it will be as commonplace as the fundraising letter.

Where are the Associations on this evolution curve?

I know from speaking with Dale Stinton and others at AEI that NAR is making enormous strides and pivoting its tactics to be more effective with technology. Those efforts will pay dividends, if properly executed. But the nature of new political power is precisely that it cannot be top-down. The local and state Associations have to not just buy in, but actually do the work to implement the new tools and new strategies that they enable.

The amazing thing is that of all of the trade groups out there, REALTOR Associations are literally the best positioned to leverage the new techniques of political power. Your members are social by their very nature and by their profession. They have trust relationships with homeowners. Fully leveraged, the power of REALTOR Associations could be unmatched in the history of interest groups.

So if you are in any position of leadership or responsibility at your local, state, or even national Association… look, listen, learn. The nature of political power has changed. Evolve.

The alternative of course is….

-rsh

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