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Archive for May 2010

Making your message matter

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Having worked with political campaigns since I was in high school – a period of time measured in decades – I have yet to meet a candidate who didn’t think they knew what was important to the people they wanted to represent, whether they were running for School Board or US Senate.  However, when they’ve taken the time to actually ask those constituents what issues are important to them, they’re always surprised.

If you stop and think about it, that makes sense.  The average person spends almost no time thinking about politics unless and until an election is forced on them.  Meanwhile, the candidate has been immersed in the issues or is inspired to run because of a personal experience or having been directly involved with an issue or, maybe, two.  The natural tendency is for people to think everyone knows what they know and, more or less, thinks like they think.  Anyone who’s had a political discussion with a spouse, child, parent or neighbor knows that simply isn’t true.  So there’s often a disconnect between what a candidate thinks are important issues and what’s really on the top of the voters’ minds.

Combine this with the research you need to do to find those precincts you need to make sure are in your column on Election Day (see my post, “Drilling for voters”), and you’re at the beginning of the process of crafting an effective message.  You need to know what’s important to the voters in those key precincts and how to persuade them you have the right answer.   Now, you must be honest with them and with yourself – people don’t respond well to candidates who change their position based on who they’re talking to – but you do want to focus on where your perspectives match up with theirs.

The easiest way to find out what’s important in those swing precincts is to ask them.  You can hire a professional pollster and work with them to find out the key issues in those targeted precincts, but that’s often expensive and, if you’re running for a local non-partisan office, probably beyond your budget.  You can also get the information by going door to door or calling into the precincts, but that takes time and people.  The good news is that, during the time between the Primary and General Elections, there’s usually several months when nothing much else is going on politically.  That gives you time to check things out, even if it’s just you, your family and your dog walking or calling.

When you’re done doing this research, you should have what you need to craft your message.  We’ll focus more on that process in a later post but, for now, there’s still one more piece of information you need to know; where do these folks get their information?  Is there a popular local radio and, in particular, talk show that covers some or all of your district?  Is the local newspaper respected, reviled or just ignored?  Is this a computer-friendly area where everyone’s on Facebook and Twitter or would they’d need  their grandkid come in to program the clock on the DVR?  So, when you do your survey, it should include questions that will help you figure that out.   And you’ll want to get a phone number if you don’t have it, either by using online resources or by simply asking them, as that’s critical information for inexpensively getting your message to them later as well as for get out the vote efforts.

The key to making your message resonate with the people you’re trying to persuade is to know what’s important to them and how to get that message to them.  That takes more than a little time and effort but will pay off on Election Day.


Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

8 May 2010 at 11:25 am

Posted in Insights

Tagged with , , ,

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