David Plouffe

‘Unsettled and fluid’ primary in store

Campaign tactics have changed how candidates interact with voters.

January 29, 2020

With the 2020 presidential primary season about to begin, much remains to be decided about what the ballot will look like in November.

David Plouffe, president, policy and advocacy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will address the 2020 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C.

By the time Plouffe speaks at GAC, three states will have completed their caucuses and the presidential primary will take place in South Carolina days later. Then, a clearer picture will emerge of whose name will appear on the ballot in the fall.

Until then, much remains up in the air.

“It’s definitely one of the most unsettled and fluid primaries the Democratic Party’s ever had,” he says. “The general election is also remarkably fluid and hard to predict.”

While the Democratic nominee has yet to be determined, Plouffe says several things stand out to him about the campaigns so far:

The candidates. Plouffe has been impressed with the candidates who have exceeded expectations so far, such as Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar. And he is surprised Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders still have the same strength, momentum, and support they had a year after entering the race.

Other candidates who have “looked strong on paper,” such as Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, are no longer in the race.

“We’ll know a lot more once people start voting and caucusing, and we see who can execute and produce the votes they need to win the nomination,” Plouffe says.

‘The general election is also remarkably fluid and hard to predict.’
David Plouffe

Social media. Social channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have changed how candidates campaign because there are no state lines on social media, he says.

Candidates can no longer focus their message or spend all of their time in a single state as in previous elections, Plouffe adds, because “it all matters now.”

Social media also has changed how candidates present their message.

“The top of the totem pole has to be Facebook and Instagram,” he says. “If you’re trying to reach actual voters, your speech is secondary to the content you put on Facebook and Instagram. The interview you do with a newspaper or television station is secondary.”

Television ads. As the use of social media grows, candidates have  questioned how effective it is to spend large amounts of money on television ads. But Plouffe notes Pete Buttigieg and Sanders have gained strength in the election cycle with early television ads.


“There was a belief that this was the election cycle where television ads outlived their usefulness, but we see how important they still are,” Plouffe says. “Television is still the quickest way in the shortest amount of time to reach people.”

Citizen involvement. With the increased use of social media, voters can now organize and support a candidate merely by posting content on their social media channels, such as selfies taken with candidates during campaign events.

“Social media has put a lot more power in the hands of individual citizens to get involved and recruit others,” Plouffe says. “You’re seeing that intensify in this cycle.”

Plouffe was the campaign adviser for President Barack Obama in 2008 and served as a senior adviser to the president from 2011 to 2013. He’s also the former chief adviser at Uber and is a best-selling author.