It's a brisk and foggy February day in Iowa and Houra Sadeghi walks down a quiet tree-lined street toward a house with a Bernie Sanders sign in the front lawn. The Iowa Precinct Caucuses will take place later today and Sadeghi is knocking on doors to encourage people to participate. She knocks on the door and speaks with a man who says he is a Sanders supporter and will definitely caucus later in the day. She smiles. For the first time in more than 20 doors, she's encountered a human. Sadeghi, who was born in Iran, spent more than 3 months knocking on doors and making phone calls as a volunteer for Bernie Sanders. "Obama talks about this a lot how Muslims are part of the community, but if these people don't witness that, then they feel like ‘What is Obama talking about?’" she said. "I feel like it's important to show that Muslims aren't a representation of ISIS. No, they can actually be educated. No, they can actually be politically involved.”
Shot in the month before the Iowa caucuses, this film aims to provide viewers with a deeper understanding of what happened in the 2016 Democratic primary campaign by following six campaign volunteers. The vast majority of media coverage in this election cycle focused on the candidates and campaign strategy. With a moment-driven approach, this film instead focuses on the important personal stories of six campaign volunteers and explores why these people are willing, without pay, to put their lives on hold in support of a candidate. The audience sees what these volunteers actually do when they volunteer and learns about why they choose to participate. The common thread among these campaign volunteers is that they believe their work can make a difference. The film’s title, Believers, is an homage to that common thread.
We now live in an environment that has become both increasingly saturated and segmented. People are exposed to thousands of messages that compete for their attention. People cannot consume all of these messages and often attempt to ignore them, especially advertisements. As such, it has become more difficult to communicate with voters through mass media as opposed to before the mid-1990s, when mass-media messages like TV ads, radio ads and mail were much more successful.
Recent social science data provides evidence for the claim that face-to-face communication is the most effective way of turning people out to vote and getting them to vote for a specific candidate. Green and Gerber have led the way in this research and their experiments have demonstrated that face-to-face communication is efficient, effective and economical.
Volunteers give campaigns a scientifically-backed means to connect with voters despite the oversaturated and segmented media environment that Americans live in. It is an opportunity to further the core needs of campaigns, convincing and turning out, in ways that mass-mediated communication like television, radio and mail used to achieve in the pre-1990s era.
"The volunteers are the validators. They are the living commercials," said Gina Baldwin, an organizer with Hillary for Iowa. "What the volunteers make possible is a real person who they know who lives by them who is affected by things who can be a validator for the campaign. They have a relationship that no staff nor candidate can ever have with every single voter. They have validity to them. These are everyday people whose lives will be affected by the candidacy of the next president and who have something to say about it."
Volunteers: Vikki Brown, Travis Shephard, Susan Vallem, Greg Middents, Houra Sadeghi, Bridget Saffold, Frantz Whitfield, Marvin Innes, Steven Fox
Thesis Committee: Steven King (chair), Daniel Kreiss, Ed O'Keefe
Campaign Staff: Gina Baldwin, Pavitra Abraham, the entire Hillary for Iowa team in Waterloo, IA, Chris Klarich, Tavis Hall, the entire Bernie for Iowa team in Waterloo, IA
Family: Jay, Patty and Sarah Whitehouse
Partner: Carolyn Van Houten
Advisors: Pat Davison, Lisa Krantz, Chad Stevens, Dustin Chambers, Ash Adams, Ross Taylor, Tegan Johnston, Heidi Hennick-Kaminski, Chad Stevens' Spring 2016 Narratives Class
Lodging and Moral Support: Grant Uding, Michael Zamora, Brian Powers, Bob Moore
Financial Support: UNC, Yunghi Kim, The Park Family
Logistics and Information: Jason Noble, Dave and Deb Nagle, Carl Busch at UV Films, Mark Morris at KXEL