Campaigning Isn't As Intuitive As You Think

Every campaign season - often in October - I get an "aha!" question from a candidate that goes something like this: "I was talking to Dave the other day and he said that if we add QR codes to our mail pieces, everyone will scan them and visit our website. Maybe we should call all of our volunteers and have them put QR codes on our doorbell pieces this weekend?"

Rarely is a last minute deviation from the campaign plan a good idea. Throughout your campaign, you'll begin to better understand how campaigning works, but be careful about some of the less intuitive aspects of a political campaign. Your campaign strategy is developed in April (not October) for a reason - repetition and following a well thought out plan is the key to winning elections. 

Here are a few examples of some of the ideas I've run into that you should be wary of:

More Targeted Voters, Not More Voters

Often candidates will get concerned late in the campaign season that the targeted lists we use to knock on doors are ignoring too many important voters, and they'll ask if we can hit every door while we're out. 

Let's say you're running in Lexington, Kentucky for Mayor. Lexington has about 308,000 citizens. Of those 308,000 citizens, about 209,000 are registered to vote. In an off year election like 2014, about 42% will turn out to vote. That's around 87,500 voters. 

Of those 87,500 voters, approximately 30% vote Republican exclusively. Another 30% vote Democrat exclusively. The remaining 40% leaves about 35,000 voters who can be persuaded to vote for you. That's 11% of the total number of people living in houses in Lexington. So about 1 in every 9 homes you doorbell - assuming you choose to doorbell every home - is worth your time.

Repeat the same message, over and over

Another thing and understandably frustrates candidates is staying on message. By the end of the campaign you've heard yourself say the same thing over and over and over. Your friends and your spouse are telling you they're bored of the same thing, and you probably need to mix it up because the voters are going to get bored of hearing the same thing. 

The problem here is that your friends and family are paying close attention to your election. Nobody else is. Between work, church, the kids soccer game, budgeting for next month and the football game this weekend, most voters have 1,000 things on their minds, and elections are low on the priority list. That's why repetition of your message is a must - by election day, if a voter knows one thing about you, you're on the right track. So repeat that one message over and over and over, until it makes you sick. Then repeat it again. 

What Your Opponent Puts on Facebook Doesn't Matter

My name has never been on the ballot, so it's hard for me to completely understand how difficult it is to hear negative things about yourself and not want to react. But you have to learn not to react. If your opponent writes "John voted to increase taxes last month" on his Facebook page and it's not true, remember two things: 

  1. The people following his Facebook page are already voting for him, so don't worry about whether they think you voted to increase taxes last month.
  2. When you respond, you potentially turn a quiet attack into a public debate - and you don't want to debate whether you raised taxes or not if the attack will quietly go away by ignoring it. Half the voters will believe it, half won't. That's much worse than 95% of the voters not even knowing the attack happened. 

Commenters on News Websites Aren't Objective

It's helpful to get your supporters to comment on relevant stories on the newspapers website, but don't mistake the comments that disparage you as objective. Undecided voters don't jump on websites to blast you. Supporters of your opponent do. So don't freak out that some random voter doesn't like you - he's probably not random. Those comments are nearly always organized by the campaign of your opponent. Feel free to ask a few of your supporters to write positive comments about you, but don't assume that because there are 4 negative comments for every positive comment you're losing the race 4:1. Those comments are not representative of the general electorate. 

Your Opponent Probably Isn't An Evil Genius

If you pick up a weekly neighborhood newspaper and see an ad for your opponent in it, don't worry. He doesn't have some mysterious insight about the effectiveness of weekly newspapers. He probably got a sales call from that weekly and got talked into putting an ad in it. You don't have to match him everywhere he's advertising - stick to the campaign plan and advertise where you planned to advertise. 

That One Big Idea Probably Isn't A Gamechanger

A couple of years back I was helping out a campaign for Congress and we got so many random ideas from volunteers and donors that we started our own inside joke, "GAMECHANGER!" 

It's tempting to adopt every idea you hear from people, and often they'll expect you to and gripe when you don't. But you sit down and write a campaign months before Election Day for a reason - and you need to stick to that plan.

A few years ago, the wife of my candidate's biggest donor ask for a meeting with the campaign a week before Election Day. Because she was married to our biggest donor, we agreed to meet. She had developed an interest in new technology, and had an idea for our campaign. She wanted us to halt the campaign and put QR codes on every piece of campaign literature we had. She was convinced that QR codes would drive thousands of voters to our website and would be the key to victory on Election Day. GAMECHANGER! 

But it wasn't a gamechanger, and we thanked her for her suggestion then went back to doorbelling. Most ideas you get from volunteers and supporters aren't worth changing your strategy for. Thank them for their time, and continue doing what you're doing. 

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