The REACH app was fundamental in getting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) elected in the 2018 midterm elections by promoting a new political organizing strategy. This campaign was for a seat from New York in the U.S. Congress.
Problems and Purpose
This case analyzes the use of a new canvassing technique by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political campaign for U.S. Congress in 2018 in New York, USA. This canvassing involved using a new tech app designed to efficiently find new donors and keep records of existing ones.
Prior to using this app, AOC’s constituent base of supporters wasn’t growing fast enough to allow her to defeat incumbent Joe Crowley. The majority of her base were low-income and middle-class residents of the district; she did not have funding from the Democratic Party, from PAC’s, or from wealthy donors.
Background History and Context
AOC was a novice political candidate associated with a group in the party that is substantially to the left of the party leadership. Her group encourages grassroots political fundraising and criticizes the role of wealthy donors in the party. As such, she had very little money and few or no paid staff members. She ran an insurgent primary campaign against Joe Crowley, and as such did not have party funding or access to party resources.
During her 2018 campaign, volunteers began to grow weary of traditional canvassing tactics, which felt incredibly slow and ineffective (for instance, knocking on doors and making phone calls). Two newcomers to politics, Jake DeGroot and Leo Sussan, recognized this problem and determined to create a digital alternative to this form of canvassing. 
Historically, political campaigns reached out to voters through a process called “canvassing”, where they would make direct contact with people door-to-door. While apps did exist that gave volunteers a way to access a list of voters compiled by the Democratic party, these didn’t particularly help volunteers reach new voters, given the list of potential voters was always built based on historical voting data and voter registration. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
No funding was received in the making of the app, nor was it backed by any entities. It was solely developed by Jake DeGroot and Leo Sussan during what they describe as a long “all-nighter”. 
The app was then used for organizing by members of AOC’s campaign team. It allowed them to look up a voter and record survey responses in real time which could then be used for future canvassing and campaigning efforts.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The app didn’t change the amounts of people involved in the campaign itself, so it didn’t affect campaign participant recruitment so much as voter participant recruitment (see more below). It ended up accounting for 10% of those who voted, despite the fact that it was only deployed for three weeks with volunteers. 
Methods and Tools Used
What differentiated REACH from previous political apps was its ability to add in information in real time about new voters by recording details of conversations. It allowed canvassers to branch out of their usual routes and go to open spaces where voters congregated: bars, cafes, etc. Canvassing was one of the main methods used.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
AOC’s campaign used the app for the three weeks remaining between its creation and the Primary, cumulating on November 5th, 2019. Canvassers would go to public spaces (bars, cafes, restaurants), engage in conversations, and then immediately upload the information into the app. They could then easily follow up with people they had met through relational organizing techniques. 
Canvassers could also use social media to find potential voters, who they could then reach out to via social media through a platform integration.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
REACH allowed AOC’s campaign to expand beyond what traditional canvassing methods allowed. Despite the fact that it was only created three weeks before the June primary, it accounted for 12% of total voter contacts during AOC’s yearlong campaign, and 15% of the voters reached out to by the Primary had been contacted through the app.  It helped AOC gain celebrity status and word of the app spread quickly among progressive campaigners.
Since its creation, REACH has been passed along to several other progressive campaigns, eventually servicing 14 campaigns across 8 states. The app also now has investors and a full team of engineers, and has been used by multiple Democratic campaigns (Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign is currently using it). The company is structured today as a public-benefit corporation, and focuses on helping Democrats who don’t accept corporate money. After AOC’s success with REACH, one of the next political candidates to jump on board its use was Shaun Scott, a current candidate for Seattle City Council who started using the app in January of 2019. It has also been used by the Warren campaign for President, the Jamaane Williams campaign for NYC Public Advocate, and the Tiffany Caban campaign for Queen’s District Attorney.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
AOC remains very connected to the App founders and invested in how they are using it, even though the app is now its own entity. This brings up questions about political control over technology and where this landscape is headed in the future. Will digital tech replace campaign finances as an arbiter of power and influence, as well as an outcome indicator, in the future of politics?
The overwhelming success of the app showcased an increasing need in liberal politics for this type of campaign tool, as well as the little room there is for any form of innovation in politics in general.
 Green, J. (2019). AOC’s organizing app is spreading to democratic socialist campaigns. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-26/aoc-reach-app-helps-build-voter-support-for-democratic-socialists
 Nickelsburg, M. (2019). The app that helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez get elected is spreading to progressive campaigns across the country. Retrieved from https://www.geekwire.com/2019/app-helped-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-get-elected-spreading-progressive-campaigns-across-country/
 Binder, M. (2018). How an app developer helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made history. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/article/reach-alexandria-ocasio-cortez/
 Reach website. Retrieved from https://www.reach.vote/
The first version of this case entry was written by Abigail Carlson, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.