Josh Nussbaum, Civic Hall Organizer-in-Residence
“When you look at the evidence we have regarding the efficacy of various campaign tactics, the results are somewhat bleak. A soon-to-be-released meta-analysis of internal and external studies of the persuasive effect of campaign tactics on candidate choice found a net effect of zero.”
Meet Josh Nussbaum. Josh is an organizer who works across the intersection of technology, data, and politics. (He also has a formidable grasp of political theory and philosophy.) He began his career working on campaigns for political candidates and has since transitioned into supporting movements building towards structural solutions to issues including LGBTQ justice, electoral reform, gun violence prevention, and public safety for women. Josh is a Civic Hall Organizer-in-Residence (CHOIR). You can connect with Josh on LinkedIn.
What Does He Do?
Josh is currently acting as a data and technology advisor to Indivisible Guide where his remit is to build out their technology and data infrastructure and systems, not only increase the impact of the new opposition movement but to create long-term and sustainable political power.
Additionally, he is spearheading these two projects:
1) The Movement Cooperative is an organization created to facilitate opposition group cost-sharing best-in-class technology, resources, and technical expertise;
2) The Dialogue Project is an effort springing from the thesis that the tactics currently deployed by progressive electoral campaigns don’t work. You might want to sit down for this:
“When you look at the evidence we have regarding the efficacy of various campaign tactics, the results are somewhat bleak. A soon-to-be-released meta-analysis of internal and external studies of the persuasive effect of campaign tactics on candidate choice found a net effect of zero. We do know how to expand the electorate and turn out supporters who wouldn’t otherwise have voted, but these efforts typically result in an increase of 3 – 4% in vote share. When you look at a project like winning back Congress in 2018, the math is pretty scary.”
Josh calculates that — looking at 2016 vote shares as a baseline — we could increase Democratic turnout by 23% across the board, and still not win back Congress. That even if Trump’s ratings remain subterranean, we don’t yet have the tools in our toolkit to make up the likely difference.
“The thesis of the Dialogue Project, then, is that given this reality, we should dedicate grassroots capacity to generating, refining, validating and measuring, and then scaling new, more impactful methods of campaigning. This may not be successful, but I argue that it’s the only logical thing to pursue given our current position.”
How might we pursue this, you might ask? “We’re currently running a pilot through SwingLeft that is focused on combining two methods of persuasion that have been proven effective in other scenarios — moral foundations theory and “deep canvassing.”
How Did He Get Into This Work?
Josh recalls a suburban Chicago upbringing where discussion of politics was part of his family’s kitchen table routine. His parents, however, weren’t activists, rather, Josh qualifies them as “passively Democratic.” Josh’s first exposure to activism was… to impress a girl, he acceded to her request to help organize a student walkout in protest of the second Iraq War. While his motives weren’t pure, he “fell in love with the experience of organizing an idea into reality with a group of like-minded people.” Shortly after he found himself on the ACLU’s website – largely attracted to their robust stance on civil liberties – and came across a toolkit for starting a local chapter. And so he did.
Josh’s first political campaign was as an organizer in rural Minnesota for Al Franken’s 2008 senate run. After the long recount he was asked to run the organizing efforts for Minnesotans United, one of the four ballot campaigns in 2012 that succeeded in defeating an anti-same-sex marriage initiative — and did so for the first time. Through a connection from that campaign, he was invited to Mumbai where he worked for Haiyaa which focused on helping women in urban areas build neighborhood watch groups, or Braveheart Clubs, to stop sexual assault and harassment. One of the leaders has since taken Safecity, an app that was developed around this and shared it with cities around the globe. Haiyaa represented Josh’s first exposure to “amplifying the power of technology in movement work while using digital technology to scale community organizing campaigns.”
Over time, Josh pivoted into Movement Politics, which he defines as “building long-term political power,” first working on marriage quality, then sensible gun control for Everytown, and over the summer he joined Indivisible.
How Did He Come to Civic Hall?
Josh had several people he highly respects recommend he apply to Civic Hall’s newly launched Organizer-in-Residence program (CHOIR), and he heeded their advice.
“I’m honored and grateful to be part of CHOIR’s inaugural cohort, and have already been astounded by the amount of help and support the Civic Hall community and the broader network has given to my various projects.”
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
The Movement Cooperative is looking to expand the amount of participating organizations. If you represent or know of a national network or organization that would be in need of resources as a national voter/consumer file for 2018 electoral work, please reach out.
The Dialogue Project, as described above, is an attempt to generate and refine new approaches to leverage grassroots networks to impact electoral results. If you are working in this area, make yourself known!
As part of his work at Indivisible, Josh is talking to all of the various stakeholders at the national organization while surveying various groups and leaders around the country to assess where the organization wants to go; evaluating where there are technology gaps or opportunities to use technology to accelerate or amplify what the organization wants to do; and then scoping out and implementing those solutions. If anybody in the Civic Hall community has thoughts to share or would like to contribute towards that project in any way, he’d love to speak with you.
Josh hopes to schedule a brown bag lunch to meet with the community, listen to their ideas, and forge relationships. Look out for a “save the date” announcement in the near future.
— The Dialogue Project, Empire State Indivisible and The Movement Cooperative at Civic Hall.