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The key to a successful campaign

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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 , , ,

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