HOW CAMPAIGNS WORK (Part Two of Two)
CREATING A PLAN
Working backwards from Election Day, the candidate and their team will need to make a schedule of various deadlines, events, interviews and media appearances. They need to decide when commercials will run, when post cards will be mailed, when volunteers are coming in to 'phone bank' (call prospective voters on behalf of the candidate).
Spending schedules will be set (when to spend and how much). A schedule for going door to door to meet as many voters as possible goes on the calendar. Civic groups have meetings and lunches that should be attended, some voters might need rides to the polls on election day, so 'driving pools' will be coordinated.
The two weeks leading up to election day will be tightly and specifically scheduled to maximize voter turnout and results. And a location for the victory party (or concession speech!) needs to be booked, with food, drinks, balloons etc. This calendar will be additionally shaped by the strategy that the candidate and team develop.
WHO ARE THE PROSPECTIVE VOTERS?
Everyone won't vote for a particular candidate, so the team will need to focus their money and time, and target the specific groups most likely to support their efforts. The best voters might be determined by age, income, geography, vocation, club membership, whether they have children or are retired----or, there might be other considerations.
Campaigns spend most of their resources convincing undecided voters, since those who are in favor of the candidate are already leaning towards voting that way, and those who are against the candidate will likely not change their minds.
DETERMINING A CAMPAIGN MESSAGE
In order to develop a campaign message, the team needs to think about what their candidate can offer, in terms of talent, experience and ideas, that's different from their opponent, and use this, as well as their research, to put together an effective message or theme.
The team will also use voter events (lunches, coffees, civic group meetings, and the like) to ask constituents what their concerns are and incorporate that feedback into the message.
The message box is an effective tool that's often used to break down the campaign message into four parts, looking at the positive and negative from both the candidate's point of view and the view of the opponent. This makes the message easy to understand and is useful in anticipating potential criticism from the other side.
The message box includes: what the candidate/team says about itself; what they say about the opponent; what the opponent will say about themselves; what the opponent might say about the candidate.
The campaign team will track the response to ads, emails and news coverage to 'test' how different messages and phrases connect with voters. Then the phrasing of a message, or the particular issue addressed, might be tweaked.
Ultimately, any successful campaign will present one key theme/message consistently to solidify the identity of the candidate in the minds of voters.
Similar in some ways to planning, strategy involves taking the campaign theme/message and deciding how to get that message out to voters. Each approach comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. The candidate's specific strengths, their opponent, or other factors determine which strategy has the best potential. Different media, different tactics, and the rollout, or 'pacing,' of campaign messages are all considered.
Some campaigns 'stay positive' and only respond to attacks when they occur. Some ignore the opposition and focus only on their own strengths and message.
Campaigns might start slowly and build in intensity towards election day; others start strong and go 'on the attack' from the first minute.
A candidate might try to entice an opponent to do something (spend more money, say something negative on TV) that will hurt that opponent.
While campaigns often 'go negative', and this can sometimes have impact, simply attacking an opponent is usually not enough incentive to get voters to support a particular candidate.
Campaigns can get increasingly nasty as we all know. A 24-hour news cycle that gets any message out to the world instantaneously, as well as a plethora of pundits and bloggers, is creating an environment that seems to encourage this negativity.
But ultimately, it's the voters who decide who wins.
56.9% of eligible voters voted in 2008. The highest voter turnout since WWII occurred
in the 1960 election; the lowest during this period was in 1996.
(George Mason University, Department of Public and International Affairs)
Running for public office usually involves a lot of running, literally, from the day a candidate files their nominating petitions, through the weeks and months of photo ops, debates, and personal appearances. It's a complicated, time-consuming, expensive process that requires a lot of planning and strategizing.
A successful campaign requires a dedicated group of talented people who work tirelessly, negotiate a tricky media landscape, and fight to win over often skeptical voters to support the person they believe is best qualified to serve those voters.