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Topics: 2018 Election, U.S. Senate, Case Study, The Prosper Group

Digital Forefront: How the #CruzCrew Won in 2018

The Challenge
 

In 2018, United States Senator Ted Cruz of Texas - a leading voice of America’s constitutional conservative movement - faced his first re-election test.

The Democrats found “star” power in their candidate, liberal Congressman Beto O’Rourke. This race became a national focal point, with left-of-center organizations and grassroots backers across the country pouring in financial support behind his campaign. In the 3rd quarter of 2018 alone, Beto for Texas raised a record-shattering $38 million.

As summer came to a close, strong momentum behind the O’Rourke campaign led to tightening poll numbers.

 


The Cruz for Senate campaign’s challenge was clear. With the countdown to Election Day on, they needed to raise as much money as possibly - as quickly as possible - and put every dollar to work where it would make the greatest impact to win votes.
 

Strategy & Tactics
 

The Prosper Group set to work in the summer of 2018 to rapidly launch a comprehensive overhaul of the campaign’s digital growth, voter persuasion, and online fundraising programs, designed to set the Cruz for Senate campaign up for success on November 6th.  
 
Among our more notable efforts:

  • We worked closely with our data partner to identify and engage key audiences of persuadable voters; then put advanced segmentation and messaging to work as we appealed to individuals to vote for Senator Cruz against Congressman O’Rourke or even join the #CruzCrew grassroots army as a financial supporter and/or volunteer.

    Through testing we identified key issues to drive conversions and commitments - including Congressman O’Rourke’s anti-Israel, anti-border wall, pro-amnesty, and anti-gun positions. With the large and increasing voting bloc of limited-English speakers in Texas, we targeted those audiences appropriately with bilingual and Spanish-language advertising.
     


 

  • On social media, we put some of the latest tools to use to drive engagement; most notably, a chatbot on Facebook and conversation cards on Twitter.

    The chatbot we developed allowed us to put automation to work through Facebook Messenger, to drive real time interaction with Cruz for Senate Facebook fans (such as quizzes), with the ultimate goal of driving action, collecting voter information, and delivering rapid-response replies to common keywords such as “volunteer”.

    Every touchpoint was important in this race - and we achieved a high level of engagement through these campaigns, with a nearly 94% open rate and a CTR of more than 25%. It proved to be an effective and cost-effective way to reach key audiences.

    Our use of Twitter conversation cards gained a massive amount of attention during the final months of the campaign. Organic (and cost-free) engagement with these cards was so strong that many erroneously accused them of being driven by bots!

    Conversation cards allow Twitter users to share a photo or video, with a button allowing other users to quickly share a pre-written tweet (written by the card’s creator). When a user shares that tweet, others users can click to share - and on and on.
     


 

  • We knew an aggressive digital GOTV campaign would be critical to the campaign’s success - with a strong focus on early voting, which has been on the rise in Texas.

    This focus was not misplaced. Early voting in 2018 ultimately increased by 236% over the previous mid-term election in 2014.

    Our polling-driven GOTV messaging focused on Congressman O’Rourke’s more unpopular policy positions, executed through a coordinated and sustained multi-channel campaign including advertising, email, and social media on the digital front.

    Our chatbot campaign, which included a strong GOTV component and featured prompt to RSVP to a Facebook event to vote on Election Day, earned a finalist spot for the 2019 Reed Award for “Best Use of Technology for GOTV”.
     


 

  • With the Cruz for Senate campaign being massively outraised we knew it was imperative to ramp up small-dollar online fundraising, to ensure the campaign had the resources it needed to compete during the final weeks leading up to Election Day.

    The primary focus of our multi-channel online fundraising campaign was email house file engagement. Through extensive testing we identified key issues and techniques that delivered a strong increase in fundraising performance, including a “record haul” for the campaign on an email focused on the real possibility of a Beto O’Rourke victory.

    We also raised money online through display and social media advertising, organic posts, our chatbot, and other digital mediums.

    This work was recognized by our industry peers in February 2019 at the Reed Awards & Conference in Austin, TX - where our fundraising work took top honors in the overall “Best Online Fundraising Program - Republican" category as well as “Best Fundraising Email Creative/Copy for a US Senate Campaign - Republican”.

 

Results
 

Senator Cruz won on Election Day 2018, making history - at a factor of 3-to-1, no candidate for office in U.S. politics has been more vastly outspent at this level and won their race.

It is also worth noting that in this same election cycle, the shifting political landscape did indeed result in a number of losses across Texas. These loses included two U.S. House seats, two Texas State Senate seats, and a dozen Texas State House seats.

The Prosper Group is proud to have helped raise $11.8 million online during the critical final months of the 2018 race - a total of 169,537 donations. And we are proud of the advanced data-driven digital growth and persuasion campaigns we designed to reach and move voters, which empowered the campaign to put its digital resources where they would make the greatest positive impact.

Senator Cruz won this race 50.9 to 48.3 percent - making it the closest U.S. Senate race in Texas since 1978. Even Democrat-aligned PAC Battleground Texas described the margin of defeat as “four times closer” than they had thought possible.

Every dollar raised, every voter touched, and every single vote cast counted.

This race - like many others in 2018 - highlighted the importance and outsized impact of an aggressive, smart, and sophisticated data-driven digital campaign.

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