the whitestick papers

looking at politics from a different perspective

So, why should I vote for you?

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Everyone talks about “message” but most people don’t really understand what that means.  To put it simply, it’s a short statement that answers the question “Why should I vote for you?” and is the touch point for every position taken, every ad run, every piece of literature printed and every speech given.  Generally speaking, a challenger’s message will be that things need to change and/or why while an incumbent will focus on stability, experience and accomplishment.

A message is not the same as an identifier or “tag line” a short, memorable, often humorous or pithy phrase that most people will remember; this is often unnoticed in the general scheme of the campaign but is actually its heart.  It’s the difference between the images of good-looking  people enjoying a meal and the tag line “I’m loving it” – the message is what those people look like, what they’re doing and that they’re obviously enjoying themselves while the tag line helps you remember it’s McDonalds.   Political campaigns work essentially the same way; the message connects with voters’ issues and concerns while the tag line helps them remember which candidate connected with them.

Everyone remembers Barack Hussein Obama’s tag line – “Yes, we can!” but less memorable is his message, “Change we can believe in”.  But that was at the heart of everything he said and did – and, for the most part, continues with messages and statements made even now, over a year after his election as President.  Bill Clinton used a similar message, “Change or more of the same” to unravel the 70+ point lead George H. W. Bush had going into his re-election.  The message usually doesn’t appear on bumper stickers or lawn signs – the tag line is used for that, if at all – but a version of it will be found in nearly everything the campaign produces and the candidate says.  It is endlessly repeated until it becomes just part of the background noise, at which point it gets past the filtering process and into the thoughts and attitudes of most voters.

Obviously, finding and articulating a message is critical.  In the current political climate in America, there is a strong and growing sense that we’re going in the wrong direction, which is tailor-made for the candidate who champions change.  At the same time, a promise of change is how most of those in power got there, so a promise of even more change can make people uncomfortable.   One of the best solutions I’ve seen to this is for the candidate mention they are there to make changes – and then, with a wry comment and self-deprecating humor, apologize for talking about change.  A message of change, or even a message of stability, can be made stronger or milder depending on the specifics of the race; a lot depends on who your candidate is, what he or she represents and what’s expected from an opponent.

To make your message matter, you’ll want to figure out your core message  and then how to present it to the folks you want to persuade to vote for you.  They’re going to have issues that are important to them; all you need to do is find where your message matches their issues and you’re likely to get their support.  Support from enough voters results in a win.

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Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

15 June 2010 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Insights

Tagged with ,

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