the whitestick papers

looking at politics from a different perspective

Archive for the ‘Insights’ Category

47 Percent

with one comment

There was a time in this country when people were embarrassed to admit they needed help. They wouldn’t accept charity because they believed it was their personal responsibility to provide for themselves and their family and that to accept help from others was to admit failure.

But today, things are different.  If someone points out that a certain political party gets a lot of its support because it promises not only to keep current “entitlements” flowing that certain party cries foul.  Since Mitt Romney has recently done that, the Democrats have decided to use the statements as a way to rally their supporters, as in this recent email direct from the Obama campaign:

From: Stephanie Cutter, []
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 8:35 PM
Subject: “Personal responsibility”

 If you’d like to receive more emails like this, join the Truth Team.

Yesterday, a leaked video from a closed-door fundraiser showed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney telling a room full of big-money donors that Americans who don’t support him think they’re “victims” who don’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

So rarely over the course of this campaign have we gotten to hear Mitt Romney say what he believes in such a revealing, unfiltered manner. This is one of those moments. It’s important that we make sure that the people in our lives who are just tuning into this election know what disdain and contempt Romney has for half of the citizens of this nation he wants to lead. Take a look at the items in this tipsheet, and then share them with others.

#1 What Americans think of Romney’s comments
The secret video shows that Romney believes nearly half of all Americans won’t take responsibility for their own lives and don’t pay taxes. Watch this video of Americans listening and reacting to Romney’s shocking comments, and make sure others do too:

#2 Who Romney is writing off?
It’s worth taking a second to look at some of the people who make up the nearly half of the country that Romney has so much disdain for. Who exactly are these people that Romney rips for not paying income taxes? The overwhelming majority are seniors, students, people with disabilities, or working families. They pay payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and more. Those working families include U.S. soldiers in combat, receptionists, firefighters, and clergy, just to name a few. Certainly, those folks aren’t short on personal responsibility. Read this blog post highlighting some of the Americans that Romney has written off, and share it with others:

#3 Romney’s responsibility map
Romney has said that “my job is not to worry about” the people who don’t support him. But America needs a president who will stand up for all Americans, not just the half of the country who agrees with him. Take a look at this graphic about Romney’s idea of “responsibility” and post it to your Facebook wall.



Stephanie Cutter
Deputy Campaign Manager
Obama for America

P.S. — Another way to fight back against Romney and his divisive politics is to chip in and help fund our grassroots campaign. Romney has big-money donors at closed-door fundraisers, President Obama has you. Chip in $25 or more today.

Paid for by Obama for America

Contributions or gifts to Obama for America are not tax deductible.


You should also note Mitt Romney owned up to the statement.  He could have, like President Obama with the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya, try to deflect attention away from the main issue by pointing out the clip ,ay have been obtained  illegally.  Or, again like President Obama with the “you didn’t build that” quote, try to weasel out of the statement and claim it was taken out of context, even though the clip on Mother Jones is clearly edited.  Instead, he stood up, admitted it could have been said better but the statement itself is fundamentally true.  That shows strength of character not seen in many political leaders, and most certainly not from the present Administration.

Founding Father James Madison said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents…”.  We’ve wandered from from the principles of the Constitution, and have gotten to the point where many Americans – and 47 percent is not an unreasonable percentage – not only accept the slavery that comes with government benevolence, but crave and demand it.  Many politicians on both sides of the aisle seem content to not rock the boat and, in fact, work to make it ever larger.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve found one who will not only rock it, but sink the boat.


Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

20 September 2012 at 6:20 am

A game of inches

leave a comment »

Political campaigns can be compared to a complex game; one with multiple levels of presentation, interaction and involvement, all with the end goal of seeing your guy elected and your opponent losing.  In simple terms, it has three basic layers, and each layer has its own strategies, approaches, ways to win and ways to lose.

The biggest and most expensive is also the most visible – the air war.  This is where the candidate is the most involved; the radio spots, the TV commercials, the interviews, the debates, the rallies and the visits to late night shows are all a part of this.  This is a game of miles and acres, seeking to blanket the electorate with the reasons to vote for your guy and vote against the other guy.   Few people are involved in this process, but they tend to be the folks closest to the inner circle and, except for the candidate, they have little, if any, direct contact with the people casting ballots.

Then there’s the ground game; the lawn signs and bumper stickers, the phone banks and neighborhood walks, the voter-ID and get-out-the-vote operations.  This is a game of feet and meters; putting a human face on the campaign, a local voice on the issues.  This consumes a lot of manpower and volunteer time, and these are the people touching other people, usually for a limited time and with limited contact.  It’s where candidates tend to forget to put time and money as it’s not as flashy or obvious, but it’s probably the most critical element to success as it brings the big effort down to the streets.

Finally, there’s the game of inches.  Many campaigns don’t even bother with it but, if the race is close, it can be the difference between a win and a loss.  It’s not involved with facts but with feelings, not with ideals or issues but with confidence and commitment.  At the same time, it’s something anyone can do and, in fact, it’s almost impossible not to do it if you’re informed and willing.

It’s simply a matter of influencing your friends and family.

This year, the Presidential race is one of the closest in recent memory – easily closer than the 2008 race and possibly closer than 2000, which came down to the difference of less than one vote in each of Florida’s precincts.  Every single vote in this election is critical – and anyone can influence one or two votes, which could make the difference between one candidate or another winning the election.

With the advent of social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, texting and the like – that ability to influence others, which used to be limited to lawn signs and bumper stickers, has taken on a whole new level.  So, the challenge is whether you are part of the game of inches or just let the opportunity –and, with it, the election – pass you by.

As the election enters into its final days, you’re probably getting political bits constantly.  To be part of the game of inches, all you have to do is pass them on.  If you get a statement by Reagan or Romney, Rush or Clint or Newt or Glenn that just says it well, whatever “it” is, re-tweet it.  If you get a photo or video that makes the point, “Share” it so your Facebook friends can see it, too.

Interestingly, this works best to undercut the opposition more than promote a candidate, so even those not all that found of Mitt can forward a chart showing Obama’s failure to grow the economy, a video demonstrating Obama’s saying the same things now that he said in 2008, or an article exposing his socialist policies or general disconnect with the American people.  You don’t have to support the Republican candidate; you can support a third-party candidate and still find value in targeting the flaws and failures of Barack Obama.

The amazing thing is anyone can do this.  If you want to add a comment, fine; it often makes the point all the sharper.  But it’s not necessary; all you really need to do is pass on something that comes across your computer screen to influence the vote of one or two other people.  The more that do it the better; the impact of getting the same information from two or three friends can change a vote or, at least, keep someone you know from voting for the wrong person.

The power is in the personal element; that friend knows you and your opinion makes more of an impact than all the fancy TV ads they’ll see during the election.  This election may come down to a game of inches, and anyone can play on that field.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

18 September 2012 at 11:57 am

An effective plan to end the deficit – well, maybe

leave a comment »

The following, an unusual twist on email chain letters, showed up in my Inbox this morning.  Usually someone who treats such things as spam, this one sparked enough interest that it was not only read but passed on.  The legitimacy of the Buffet quote is questionable as it doesn’t seem to fit his political ideology  – remember, he’s the source of Obama’s so-called “Buffet Law” based on the claim he pays a lower percentage of his income than does his secretary.  It’s uncertain whether the ideas proposed could be put into law or, if they were, whether they could be enforceable or pass the Constitutionality test.

At the same time, this touches a chord common to both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street crowds – that the powerful enjoy privileges the common man doesn’t share, and pass rules they don’t have to obey.  The core concept – that public pressure can change even Congress – is valid.  And so, this idea is offered up for consideration and discussion.


 “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,”

Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling:

 “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election”

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971…before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land…all because of public pressure.

Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.


*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*

  1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
  2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.  Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
  3. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  4. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  5. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
  6. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Maybe it is time.


Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

22 October 2011 at 9:35 am

Posted in Insights

So, why should I vote for you?

leave a comment »

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.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

15 June 2010 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Insights

Tagged with ,

Making your message matter

leave a comment »

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 , , ,

Drilling for voters

with one comment

Part of the research process is figuring out where to focus your attention.  As much as any campaign would prefer otherwise, it’s time, money and other resources are limited.  That’s why you need to have a plan; to determine the best way to use the people and funds in the way that gets you the most return on investment.

The primary purpose of a campaign is to persuade people to vote for your candidate.  It sounds a little cold, but it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of effort trying to convince folks who will tend to vote either for or against you.  Of course, you can’t just ignore them, but it’s also a waste of resources to focus on them.   What you need to find are those folks who sometimes vote conservative and other times vote with a more liberal bent.  Because ballots are secret, you can’t find these “swing” voters (as they’re called) on an individual basis, but you can figure out where they are on a precinct by precinct basis and focus your efforts there.

The first step of this process is to figure out how many people you need to persuade.   That, of course, is how many votes you need to get to win, which is usually just over half of the votes cast but can be a plurality (more than anyone else running) in some cases.  By having researched the election rules (see my article, “The key to a successful campaign” you know what’s true in your case.  Now, you need to find out just how many people you need to reach out to and convince you’re their candidate.

In Oregon, you should visit the Elections Division on the Secretary of State’s website ( and find out the voter turnout in past elections that are similar to the one you’re facing.  The site may be different in other states but there is a central archive of election results in each state, going back several years.  A recent election can tell you approximately how many are currently registered so you can figure out how many you need to get behind you.  Since the average household has two people in it and, by persuading one you’ll usually convince both, you can generally cut the number of targeted voters in half to decide how many doors you need to knock on.  This, of course, is a much more reasonable number than trying to reach and persuade everyone in the district.

I’m going to use Oregon House District 32 as an example.  This, like many of our Legislative Districts, was gerrymandered after the 2000 census and is made up of precincts in four different counties.  This makes it harder to research when we get down to the precinct-by-precinct part of this process, so it’s probably more difficult than the average non-partisan race is going to face.  But what works for it will work on anything from a water district or city council race up to a statewide or federal contest.  First, let’s look at the overall results for the last several elections:

13920 12331 7320 1012 34,583
Meyer * Hepburn Misc
County Joe  (R ) Elaine M. (D) Turnout
Clatsop 3,567 4,778 26 8,371
Columbia 265 234 1 500
Tillamook 5,165 4,028 33 9,226
Washington 2,048 1,638 1 3,687
TOTAL 11,045 10,678 61 21,784 63.0%
15,051 13,584 8,514 1,192 38,341
Olson Snodgrass *Boone Misc.
County Douglas S. (R) Ben (C) Deborah (D) Turnout
Clatsop 4,767 336 6,505 42 11,650
Columbia 351 20 312 3 686
Tillamook 6,388 352 6,487 33 13,260
Washington 2,972 210 2,122 11 5,315
TOTAL 14,478 918 15,426 89 30,911 80.6%
13,870 12,516 7,887 1,081 35,354
**Boone Myers Misc.
County Deborah (D) Norm (R) Turnout
Clatsop 6,127 2,907 15 9,049
Columbia 287 244 5 536
Tillamook 6,456 3,902 33 10,391
Washington 2,006 2,059 8 4,073
TOTAL 14,876 9,112 61 24,049 68.0%
15,342 12,299 7,668 1,487 36,796
Bero **Boone Misc.
County Tim (R) Deborah (D) Turnout
Clatsop 3,075 7,526 40 10,641
Columbia 257 328 6 591
Tillamook 3,637 8,315 27 11,979
Washington 2,191 2,433 19 4,643
TOTAL 9,160 18,602 92 27,854 75.7%

These charts are based on what you’ll find on the Oregon Election Division website and show the total voter registration by political party (NAV means “Not Affiliated” and “Other” means the total of minor parties such as Libertarian, Constitution, Independent, Socialist and Pacific Green).  Under those registration numbers you’ll find the vote breakdown for each candidate in each of the election cycles this past decade.  It’s pretty easy to see the Democrat incumbent’s strength is in Clatsop and Tillamook counties, which would imply that’s where a Republican candidate will need to put most of their effort.

Since 2010 is a non-Presidential election year, the ones that most closely match it are the 2002 and 2006 elections, so we’d estimate the turnout for this year will be close to what was the case then.  It’s best to be conservative when estimating votes, so we’d project a 70% voter turnout in the 2010 General Election.

Oregon had a special election in January 2010, which gives us the most recent voter registration numbers for the district.  When we have our Primary Election in May, we may want to revise the estimate but, since the population has stayed fairly stable over the past ten years, that probably won’t be necessary.  Taking the registration levels noted in January, we come up with the following:

2010 (As of 26 January) 70% 24,637
D R NAV OTHER Total 50% 12,319
14,607 11,812 7,195 1,582 35,196 plus 25% 15,399
households 7,500

With this information, we can take the 70% voter turnout expected and divide it by two (50%) to come up with the approximate number of votes needed to win.  We’ve added 25% to give us a buffer and then divided that by two (50%) to come up with the number of households.  No matter who you are, 7,500 is a lot less daunting than 35,000 plus.

So, the next thing to do is figure out where to direct our attention.  As mentioned, the Democrat incumbent has been elected largely due to the votes she’s gotten from the coast counties so that’s where we’ll probably need to direct most of our attention.  But, while we can do some general media efforts throughout the district (signs, mailers and radio, for the most part), you want to do candidate walks, coffees, meet and greets and other personal contacts in those precincts which sometimes vote Republican and other times vote Democrat.  To find them, you need to go to the county websites and find the abstracts for the precincts in your district.  You can get as detailed as you want, checking every election, including those for ballot measures and other candidates but, for our example, we’re limiting it to those for the years most like this one and the recent special election, which had to do with taxes.

Some of the precincts will tend to vote heavily Democrat:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Clatsop Precincts Meyer Hopson Calc Myers Boone Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/-
26 – HAMLET 59 92 -21.9% 29 119 -60.8% -39.0% 53 99 -30.3% 8.4% 56 93 -24.8% 3.0%
47 – WARRENTON 478 629 -13.6% 454 783 -26.6% -13.0% 506 674 -14.2% 0.6% 510 673 -13.8% 0.1%

Some of the precincts tend to go more Republican:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Tillamook Precincts Meyer Hopson Calc Myers Boone Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/-
3 BEAVER 253 194 13.2% 211 263 -11.0% -24.2% 261 186 16.8% 3.6% 260 187 16.3% 3.1%
14KILCHIS 203 133 20.8% 118 207 -27.4% -48.2% 150 163 -4.2% 25.0% 148 164 -5.1% 26.0%

While most will sometimes go one way and other times go another:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Clatsop Precincts Meyer Hopson Favorable Myers Boone Favorable +/- No Yes Favorable +/- No Yes Favorable +/-
21 – CHADWELL 159 227 -17.6% 141 293 -35.0% -17.4% 231 186 10.8% 28.4% 233 182 12.3% 29.9%
31 – LEWIS & CLARK 199 285 -17.8% 181 314 -26.9% -9.1% 254 194 13.4% 31.2% 257 191 14.7% 32.5%
36 – OLNEY 113 119 -2.6% 96 165 -26.4% -23.9% 145 110 13.7% 16.3% 152 103 19.2% 21.8%
46 – WALLUSKI 75 130 -26.8% 81 169 -35.2% -8.4% 148 123 9.2% 36.1% 152 120 11.8% 38.6%
52 – HILLCREST 88 147 -25.1% 61 202 -53.6% -28.5% 134 128 2.3% 27.4% 135 125 3.8% 29.0%
Tillamook Precincts
8 FAIRVIEW 496 287 26.7% 337 471 -16.6% -43.3% 414 387 3.4% 23.3% 418 382 4.5% 22.2%

In these examples, “Calc” is the percent difference between the Republican and Democrat positions in terms of favorable and unfavorable (a positive number is favorable) and the “+/-“ column shows that number compared to the 2002 baseline so trends are easy to spot.  Even though the Republican lost the precincts in 2006, these are considered more or less favorable because they trended that way.  As it happens, this district was pretty brutal to the Republican in 2006; he actually lost every precinct, which is rare.

As has already been mentioned, it’s in your campaign’s best interest to put your time, people and money where they’ll do the most good, and they’ll do the most good where the voters sometimes support Republicans and Republican ideas, and other times vote Democrat or for Democrat principles.  Only by doing the research can you know where to aim.

NB: Special thanks to the Lew Barnes for State Representative campaign for the precinct abstracts for House District 32.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

22 April 2010 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Insights

Tagged with ,

The key to a successful campaign

leave a comment »

Obviously, developing and executing a plan is the real key to a successful campaign, but there are many elements to it.  We’ll look at  those in this and future articles, hopefully in a way that makes sense to the reader.  Going in what, to me anyway, seems like a logical order, let’s look at what you need to do to develop a plan – research.

Most politicians and even most candidates will tell you they already know what they need to do to win.  However, with some 40 years of campaign experience, I can tell you that most don’t and, unless they’ve done the research, they’re not among the few who do.  What they actually know is the input they get from the people they’ve encountered and, while those folks are helpful, they cannot and will not give the candidate or campaign for the full picture.  Truth be told, no one can really get every nuance and detail, and it’s a waste of time to try, every campaign needs to get more information before developing a plan.

The first thing to research are the election rules – that is. the specific elements in play in this election.  This probably seems obvious but, every year, dozens of campaigns get sidelined because of a missed deadline  or a form wasn’t completed.  When is the election day?  Is a person elected by simple majority or a plurality?  It is a partisan or non-partisan race?  Is a run-off involved?  When are the deadlines and requirements for filing, for a PAC, for a voter’s pamphlet statement, etc?  Don’t guess and never assume you know – check, confirm and have someone else verify.

Then there’s the district – what’s the geography?  The population mix and density?   What are the industries and transportation?  Where do people live and work?  With smaller district, such as for school board or city council, detail is more important than it is for statewide or US Congress races, but there is a lot a campaign can learn about the people from the specifics of the district.

You also want to know the voters, both who they are and how many need to vote for you.  The question of “how many” is simplest to figure our, but it’s the one many campaigns don’t take the time to figure out and, as a result, waste time and resources.  A candidate doesn’t need every vote in the district; he or she just needs enough to win.  In most cases, this is about half of the voters in the given election.  So, you need to find out from researching previous similar elections.  More people tend to vote in a Presidential election or when there’s a controversial issue on the ballot than when things are less heated, and the number of votes you need to win will depend on the expected voter turnout.  Then, because the average number of people in a household and households tend to vote alike, you can figure out the total number of households your candidate needs to persuade.  Be careful, though, and don’t assume there are two people per household – places such as apartment buildings or retirement centers can affect that.

The “who they are” part of what you need to know about your voters is what issues are important to them and where do they get their information.  A professional polling organization is often the quickest way to get that information, but it’s often beyond the budget of most non-partisan races.  However, you may be able to coordinate with other campaigns to share the expense and/or the results, or you can use volunteers to do surveys by phone or door to door to identify both what’s important and potential supporters.   You see, most people don’t pay much attention to issues until just before the campaign and, in order to win, you need to know what’s important to them before it becomes a campaign issue.   This is where most candidates make their biggest mistake of their campaign – they assume they know what issues are important to their constituency only to discover they were wrong.   Knowing what’s important to your voters rather than telling them what you think is important is how to connect with them and, ultimately, win their votes.

Finally, research your viable opponents and yourself.  You’re not looking for skeletons in the closet but to figure out where and with whom you connect and where and with whom your opponent connects.   You’re doing a blunt and honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and of your opposition.  Check out voting records, public statements, visibility on the internet (Facebook can bury you), connections in the community and the like.  You can’t afford for anything your opponent does or says to surprise you and you should know everything the voters, your opposition and the media will find out about you.

It’s easy to dismiss or minimize research, but it’s the foundation for everything else in a campaign plan.  You can’t know what you don’t know and, if you don’t go looking for it, there’s no way to find it until it shows up.  Unfortunately, when it does show up – and rest assured it will – it can capsize even the best campaign.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

10 April 2010 at 11:53 am

Posted in Basics, Insights

Tagged with , , ,

%d bloggers like this: