If You Fail to Plan, You are Planning to Fail (on Election Night)
There’s one BIG thing that distinguishes successful campaigns from mediocre campaigns. After reading the title, you probably already guessed it. The difference is planning.
Remember the old adage, “if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” The same is true of campaigns.
If you fail to plan, you’re flying blind – subject to the whims of expensive campaign consultants and “brother-in-laws” who moonlight as political experts.
Proper research and planning in the early phases of the campaign will set the right course for the campaign and will give the information, tools and resources that you need to build your pathway to victory.
Once you’ve developed a rational pathway, you will have the foundation to build the strategy and tactics of the campaign.
Classic Tools for Creating Contrast and Building Your Message
Let’s face it. The campaign will be won or lost by your ability to create a stark contrast between you and your opponent and frame the conversation in a way that’s favorable to you.
Below are a couple of time-tested non-technical tools for foundational research and planning needed for your campaign.
Old-Fashioned Opposition Research – your campaign should – if possible – retain an outside professional to conduct opposition research on YOU and all the other candidates in the race. The purpose of this discovery process is to uncover all public and (verifiable) private information about you and your opponent. Understanding each of the candidates strengths and weaknesses allow you to fine tune campaign messaging. It allows you trumpet your strengths and deal with your weakness before your opponent does.
Opposition research doesn’t mean you have to become a “negative” campaigner. It simply means you are gathering relevant information so that you can deal with it in the most strategic way possible – and so there are no surprises in the heat of the campaign.
SWOT Analysis – is a simple analytical exercise for articulating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each candidate in the race. If you’ve done proper opposition research, you’ll have a wealth of public information about you and your opponent. The SWOT analysis is a great way to boil down the important, relevant information on each candidate and start classifying it in a strategic way.
Leesburg Grid – You’ve gathered a mass of information about you and your opponent and have put it into a SWOT framework. The Leesburg Grid is a very simple tool to help you start creating a messaging framework that allows you to build contrasts between you and your opponent. Information is categorized is one of four quadrants:
1. What I say about myself.
2. What I say about my opponent.
3. What my opponent says about himself.
4. What my opponent says about me.
Properly refined, the material created in the Leesburg Grid, will help you focus and refine your messaging.
Non-Technical Tools for Targeting the Votes You Need to Win
Once you’ve finished your basic candidate research and roughed out a messaging framework, you need complete a deep dive into past election results so you can identify the votes necessary to win the campaign.
There are some analytical and statistical targeting tools that are available, but for now, we want to use some basic research tools to segment your voters (based on past election results) and start building vote goals all the way down to the precinct level.
Voter segmentation grid– A voter segmentation grid helps you classify the different type of voters on your voter file on two planes: partisanship and turnout. Once you have a clear understanding of the voter segmentation grid, you’ll want to develop a coding system for your voter file so you can easily identify voters by classification.
This information may seem elementary, but it bears repeating. There are three positions held by voters in any election:
They support you. They oppose you. They’re undecided
As a general rule, your job is to turnout your supporters, ignore your opponents and persuade the undecided.
The whole reason for segmenting voters is to target your scarce resources towards voters who have a potential to vote for you. If a voter has voted in every democratic primary since John Kennedy, why should you spend any money targeting their vote? You shouldn’t. By properly segmenting the voter file, you will focus your resources on the voters who are likely supporters.
Analysis of past elections – The reason for looking at past elections is to build a rational turnout model for your race. Looking at past elections gives you a certain level of “big-picture” predictive insight into future elections.
As you pull past election results, remember that there are a lot of variables that affect turnout.
Presidential elections have a dramatic impact on the partisan makeup and the turnout of the electorate. Gubernatorial or US Senate campaigns usually have highly sophisticated turnout operations which will impact turnout. All these variables can play a strategic part in your prognostications, but keep them in mind as you build a turnout model for your election.
High/Low Range Analysis – In order to understand your district, you need to look for past elections that are similar to your race. At the end of the day, you want to establish a “base” vote (the number of votes a Republican would get in the worst possible scenario) and a “high-water mark” vote (the number of votes Ronald Reagan would receive if he ran in your district). This allows you know the high/low range of votes you’re competing for. If at all possible, you should complete this analysis down to the precinct level.
Vote goals by precinct – once you’ve looked at historical turnout of campaigns in your district and have a rational prediction of turnout in your race, you need to decide what percentage of the vote you need to win the campaign.
Is it a 2-person race where you need a majority of votes cast? Are there 3 or more candidates? You’ll either need a plurality of the votes cast OR the top two vote getters will have a run-off election.
Once you establish the percentage of votes you need to win the election – you can plug that into your precinct numbers and VOILA, you have vote goals by precinct.
IT’S YOUR TURN:
Download this BONUS planning spreadsheet to start mapping out your research and planning activities. Spend a few minutes and complete a SWOT Analysis and Leesburg Grid. After you’ve done that, go to your Secretary of State’s website and look for 3 similar elections and start thinking through your turnout model and precinct level vote goals. Feel free to ask us questions in the comments section below.
What are some key success principles for you? Let us know what you think by posting your comments below in the comments section.
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