Design Your Own Pathway to Victory
Wide is the Pathway That Leads to Defeat, and Many Enter Thereupon…
Let’s spend a minute on your campaign’s pathway to victory – this is road that gets you from where you’re at RIGHT NOW and gets you across the finish line on Election Day.
Let’s face it. Most campaigns are wandering generalities. They’ve got a good candidate, fancy consultants and flashy TV ads. They dither over yard signs and spend big bucks on slash and burn mail pieces, but there’s something missing.
What’s missing is the connection between established vote goals, campaign strategy on winning those votes and day-to-day tactics that consume the campaign.
There’s no laser-like focus on campaign strategy or certainty that the tactics of the day are pushing the campaign forward to success. It’s an expensive game of craps. Their strategy is nothing more than a roll of the dice.
For successful candidates, however, the pathway to victory is not a resistance-free sprint. It’s a long, circuitous route – often full of surprises and uncertainty – filled with gator traps and minefields, but there’s strategy in place. Every day the campaign scratches and claws its way down that pathway with certainty and discipline – because they have a clearly identified mission (vote goals).
What Exactly is a Pathway to Victory?
For years, I heard political pundits talk about “pathway to victory”. The term sounded profound – almost hyper-technical. I spent some time researching the term and found that there is no technical definition of the term. It’s a generic, over-used term that the so-called political experts use to sound smart.
It’s an intuitive concept that means pretty much what it says. How do you win the campaign? What are the broad strokes strategies and tactics needed to be victorious on Election night?
While the concept is largely undefined, I think it’s a useful term – at a minimum a great metaphor – for the whole political campaign experience. It’s a term that if defined, can help political teams across the country bring more clarity and focus to their campaigns.
So let’s tighten up the term and bring some useful definition to the concept.
“X” Marks the Spot on Your Pathway to Victory
In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey identified Habit #2 as ‘Beginning with the end in mind.’ So you start by envisioning success on Election night. How many votes did you win? What were the successful strategies and tactics you employed to garner the winning vote?
That’s an incredibly valuable – and often overlooked – concept to understand as you design your pathway to victory.
Envision Success. Begin with YOUR end in mind.
Put simply, how many votes do YOU need to win on Election night? That’s the “X” on your treasure map. That’s the “end” of your pathway to victory. Campaigns can get complex, but Election night brings amazing clarity. You either won or you didn’t.
As you plan out your pathway, start by determining how many votes you need to win and setting vote goals down to the precinct level. Once you’ve settled those numbers with reasonable certainty, every campaign decision should be made on the basis of whether or not it helps you accomplish your vote goals. Once you have a clearly defined “end” to the campaign, day-to-day campaign operations take on new meaning. There’s a sense of purpose for each activity. There’s a newfound sense of clarity and certainty.
Defining and Designing Your Pathway to Victory
As part of your initial research and planning, you should have built a turnout model that identified a targeted universe of voters that are likely to turnout and vote. Your pathway to victory hinges on how you manage that pool of voters.
Whatever the campaign tactic – media, mail, canvassing, phones – it should be focused, broadly speaking, on one of three ‘pathway to victory’ activities.
Voter Identification – As we will discuss in Principle #7, voter identification is the fuel that runs the GOTV engine. Tactics to identify voter preferences should be built into every campaign program and task. Some of tactics allow the voter to self-identify. Others will ask the voter for their preference directly. Bottom line: Identify your supporters and you have someone to turnout for early voting and Election Day. Ignore voter identification and you’ll choke on the finish line.
Voter Persuasion – In general, persuasion activities should be part of a highly targeted voter contact program. Why use scarce resources to persuade a voter who is already supporting you. Most of your persuasion tactics should be targeted towards undecided voters. The goal of all your persuasion programs is to engage undecided voters and move them from undecided to committed. It will likely take a combination of direct contact, calls and mail to move them along the continuum.
If you’re in a tight race, you may need to expand the voter universe. In that situation you should employ persuasion tactics targeted at low-propensity voters who have a high-affinity towards you.
Voter Turnout – Remember. Voter turnout is NOT about turning out every voter. It’s about turning out your identified supporters. And remember. You can’t turnout supporters if you haven’t identified them. And a corollary to that is you may not have enough supporters to turnout if you haven’t persuaded enough undecided or low-propensity voters.
These ‘pathway to victory’ activities are interdependent.
IT’S YOUR TURN
Find election returns (down to county or precinct level) that are reflective of your race. Review the spreadsheet template to start building a pathway to victory for your race.
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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