Want to flip the House in 2018? Don’t just vote – volunteer

There are less than a week until the midterm elections. From now until Nov. 6, our emails, text messages, and social media newsfeeds will deliver a familiar refrain: that voting is the best way to make our voices heard.

Voting is integral to our democracy. This is the most important midterm election of our lifetime; is there still more we can do to ensure that Democrats win back the house?

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The answer is yes. Progressives must do more than vote this year; we must volunteer.

Our democracy is under threat. The Trump administration is taking a wrecking ball to health care, clean air and water regulations and reproductive freedom. Eight of Trump’s closest associates have been convicted or plead guilty in connection with Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation.

There’s good news: since launching Swing Left in 2017, we’ve registered more than 600,000 people and our volunteers are reaching out to hundreds of thousands of potential voters every week through canvassing phone calls and door knocks-- nearly half a million last week alone and millions more expected this weekend. 

And the motivation is there: Since President TrumpDonald John TrumpReturn hope to the Middle East by returning to the Iran Deal Government shutdowns tend to increase government spending 'Full Frontal' gives six-bedroom house to group that works with detained immigrants MORE’s election, millions have taken to the streets to protest his policies. We haven’t seen activism like this since the Iraq or maybe even Vietnam War.

Democratic candidates have also dramatically over-performed in special elections, including Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and Doug Jones in Alabama. Headlines tend to focus on big money from Super PACs, but it was the grassroots volunteers who traveled to battleground races and called and donated from all across the country that fueled these victories.

But for Democrats, winning in the midterms requires closing the yawning turnout gap in non-presidential elections years.

In 2014, just 36 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, the lowest turnout rate in 70 years. Meanwhile, the Tea Party – a conservative movement born from the backlash against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama urges people to sign up for health insurance after ruling striking down law The 2020 Democratic nomination will run through the heart of black America Gillibrand says she's worried about top options in Dem 2020 poll being white men MORE’s presidency – successfully mobilized Republican voters, giving the GOP a majority in both the House and Senate, not to mention a grip on 33 governorships across the country.

Republicans have changed the map of America, making it harder for us to punch back. As more people move to cities — and as Republicans gerrymander Democrats into fewer districts — our congressional elections have become less representative of the will of voters. Carrying a big blue Democratic seat in Philadelphia or Los Angeles by 20 points won’t get us any extra seats in Congress.

Getting fired-up Democrats to volunteer for canvassing in swing districts across the country is how we turn the tide. For those of us who live in deep blue districts, that means hitting the road.

Most Americans live less than 50 miles from a swing district. Instead of talking to our neighbors who already vote in blue districts, we need to convince our neighbors to join us in swing districts and connect with progressive voters who will determine control of the House.

The Brookings Institute analyzed decades of available data and found that talking to voters in person or over the phone is the most effective way to increase turnout on Election Day. On average, for every 15 people a canvasser talks to, one more will vote. Well-trained, passionate volunteers have even higher success rates. In close races, like Lamb’s, every phone called and door knocked counts.

Some would argue that momentum is already in Democrats’ favor. More than half of the country disapproves of our president; two thirds disapprove of the job Congress is doing; and Democrats are up by nine points on the generic ballot. But at the end of the day polls don’t vote; just look at the 2016 election. Moreover, thanks to aggressive gerrymandering, Democrats need to win the popular vote by 7 points to win a bare majority in the House.

An engaged electorate has the power to change the political reality in a functioning democracy. On the most basic level, this means voting in every election. But, it also means volunteering to make sure your friends, neighbors, and even strangers you’ve never met are voting too. Of all the items on your political to-do list, committing not just to vote, but to volunteer, should be task number one.

Ethan Todras-Whitehill is the founder and executive director of Swing Left.