Alabama Case Study: Terri Sewell's Historic Campaign
WOMEN VOTE! targeted African American women voters in Alabama’s 7th congressional district, helping push Terri Sewell over the finish line to become the first African American woman elected to Congress from the state of Alabama.
Just over a month from the primary election, WOMEN VOTE! polling showed Terri Sewell was in third place with only 10% of the vote, behind her two better-known primary opponents. Despite the fact that she was so far behind, voters had a dramatic, positive response to simply hearing about Terri’s background and her plans to create opportunity and restore hope to Alabama’s 7th district (one of the poorest in the country). In particular, African American female Democratic primary voters, who comprised the largest share of the electorate, responded to messaging about Terri’s story, and her image as a role model for Alabama’s children for what is possible with a good education and determination to succeed.
WOMEN VOTE! targeted 35,061 African American primary voters with four pieces of direct mail and corresponding phone calls, educating them about Sewell’s background and her plans to work with President Obama to bring opportunity and jobs to the 7th district. With the help of a robust WOMEN VOTE! project, Terri Sewell came from third place to finish first in the primary with 37% of the vote and was headed to a July 13th runoff.
Right after the primary, WOMEN VOTE! polled again and found that Terri Sewell was leading her opponent by 11 points. However, with a July runoff and an opponent whose base was the most populous part of the district, turning out Terri’s supporters would be essential to victory.
WOMEN VOTE! launched an aggressive field campaign, going door-to-door in Birmingham, targeting households with African-American women who voted in the primary with a persuasion message. We recruited students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, knocked on nearly 9,000 doors in the weeks leading up to the runoff, and made approximately 15,000 live calls to identify supporters and persuade primary voters in Jefferson County. In the days leading up to the election, we expanded our canvass to Selma, Terri’s hometown and knocked on the door of every person who voted in the June 1st primary.
Over the last three days before the runoff, WOMEN VOTE! knocked on almost 12,000 doors of Sewell supporters, urging voters to get out to the polls and creating a buzz in the communities, using local staff to conduct our voter outreach.
The Alabama WOMEN VOTE! project also utilized some of the research that we’ve done over the years at EMILY’s List to make sure that we used the most effective tactics to mobilize women voters. One of those tactics is “plan making”: when our canvassers talked to a supporter at their home, they asked them exactly when they would be going to vote and how they would get there, because research has shown that the more specifically a voter thinks about voting and builds it into their schedule, the more likely they are to vote.
In the runoff, Terri Sewell won with 55% of the vote (by 5,874 votes). Only 58,792 people voted in the election, and WOMEN VOTE! had personal, one-on-one conversations with nearly 25% of those voters.