Over the course of the past decade, digital marketing and social networks have completely disrupted the traditional approach to running for office — from Obama’s massive success leveraging viral online media in ‘08, to the 2016 election cycle’s Twitterer-in-Chief Donald J. Trump, social platforms have transformed the way candidates reach voters. Still, while these platforms are hugely impactful, traditional strategies are still fundamental to the process but are in desperate need of a reboot. In response, Kendall Tucker ‘14CC created Polis, a canvassing app that makes door-to-door outreach “as easy as driving for Uber.”
Tucker’s education in political science at Columbia taught her that in every election, no matter its size or location, the ground game played at the local level plays a critical role in getting your candidate elected. But it wasn’t always easy. “When I started out, consultants would want to run TV and radio ads because they make 15% commission on the ad buy” she recalls. “It’s very frustrating to be an empowered college student who knows how to win and then get pressured to run ads that aren’t measurable or proven effective.”
Kendall took a break from politics to spend a few years in management consulting where she realized that part of the problem was technology. No one had figured out how to make the canvassing process more effective or efficient. “The system pretty much involved looking at Google Maps and having a staffer outline routes for people to go knock on doors,” says Kendall. “As you can imagine, that created a lot of stumbling blocks for the staffer: the paths might not be anywhere near volunteers, it might go over highways or waterways, and it would have to be sent back.”
The app works by simply asking for your campaign credentials and generating an easy route for volunteers to work. Kendall’s team was able to convince seven Boston-area campaigns to use the app in their outreach effort, and the results were astounding: all of the campaigns were successful, winning by an average margin of 10%.
Since the app has officially launched in October of 2015, it’s quickly become a major success. It’s being used by 63 separate campaigns, including that of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. After the burst of attention Polis received thanks to successful campaigns and a Today Show appearance, Kendall says the company started receiving inbound leads from for-profit businesses. “It turns out there is this tremendous number of industries who still go door-to-door for sales or lead generation,” she says and they really looked at the political market as their model.”
Kendall says it’s exciting to branch out into new spaces, but she remains committed to her original vision of encouraging more personal interactions between political candidates and their electorates. “It’s so exciting to see people get passionate about door knocking when they really couldn’t before,” she beams.