Most candidates agree that “grass-roots engagement” and a good ground campaign matter, but too often candidates misunderstand what actually makes them work.

People power is not a spigot that can be turned on and off with fancy technology. Instead, it depends on interwoven human networks through which people learn to work together on things they care about, even when the electoral spotlight is not on. Campaigns, and political parties, can help build these networks — or make them wither away. In 2009, national Democrats opted to let them wither. They’re back at that crossroads today.

Authors: Hahrie Han & Lara Putnam, April 2019