There has been a lot of written material about how to target and identify supporters. While most of it is helpful in one sense, it's merely words on paper unless someone is able to put it to use. Let's start with a simple observation. "When you go duck hunting you have to hunt where there are ducks." Most campaigns have limited resources and really don't have the money to saturate the entire electorate with their campaign messages. Candidates should also recognize that not every voter is open minded enough to consider voting for them. Therefore, in order to get your message out while preserving precious campaign resources you have to be selective. There are several ways of determining where your potential support may be.
Better funded campaigns are able to afford to poll the electorate to find potential supporters. Usually, a campaign starts with a "benchmark" poll at the beginning of the campaign. Large campaigns will even poll prior to that time in order to determine whether the candidate should run in the first place. That's why some politicians form "exploratory committees." Once benchmark data has been obtained, a series of polls may be taken to track and adjust the campaign message and to chart momentum. Polling also will give a candidate an idea which voters are persuadable and where they are located. Campaigns can spend a lot of money on polls and if a campaign can afford it, it is usually worth it.
On a list of hated campaign activities, phone banking is usually second only to asking people for money. Yet, it's a highly effective technique that should be used by every campaign. It is extremely effective in low budget local campaigns. It can not only identify your vote but also get out the vote (GOTV) on election day. There are five reasons for having a phone bank:
An in-house phone bank can get the word out quickly and efficiently, spreading your response or counter-attack. Using an in-house phone bank will provide you with greater flexibility and targeting capabilities.
Neighborhood walks can be an effective way of identifying support and learning which issues are important to voters. It will also improve the candidate's name recognition. Prior to any walk some targeting may take place such as party affiliation if it's a primary election. A walking list can be created that is made up of street numbers on one side of the street and another list for the other side of the street. A script should be used as a format and records should be kept of identified supporters. Some neighborhoods are better to walk than others. Rural areas where the homes are far apart and gated communities are usually not good places for neighborhood walks. One more important item. After you tell people who you are and why you are running, ASK FOR THIER VOTE. Too many candidates fail to keep adequate records of their supporters and never "close the deal" with the voter. The reason it's important is that when a candidate switches to GOTV they should not be turning out the opponent's voters. Your objective is to get your vote to the polls, not someone else's.
Candidates for open seats or challengers take note. It's usually a good idea to target areas where voters are dissatisfied with the status quo. Even if your opponent is not an incumbent, dissatisfied voters are usually open to new ideas. An old campaign axiom is that you should organize around issues and not people. A candidate's qualifications and experience are important but you're not running for student council or president of the bridge club. Dissatisfied people who have issues tend to be more likely to vote. You need them in order to win. But, it's not a good idea to target them if you disagree with their issues. That's like playing with gasoline. It could blow up in your face.
Building a coalition with like-minded people or groups can lead to a large block of support. Whether it be a club, labor union, business group or affinity group, building a coalition of voters with common interests is a powerful way to target your voters. Joining organizations is a frequent way that people start to get involved in the community. For a few it ends up being a pathway to run for public office. Members of organizations tend to be more involved in local affairs and they are also opinion leaders in the community. It puts people in touch with other people. Reclusive or unknown candidates seldom win elections. While no one should join these organizations for reasons other than the stated mission of the organization, many successful candidates first started their community involvement as a volunteer. Almost all candidates list their memberships in community organizations as part of their credentials. Service to the community is something that voters look for.
There are several potentially fatal mistakes that too many campaigns make in their planning. Here's a list of the more frequent but not necessarily all of the mistakes I have seen. Most of these mistakes are so big that the campaign is lost before it has begun.
This article was reprinted with permission of Kenneth J. Drum & Associates, 8404 Mallow Lane, Naples, FL 34113. Copyright 2013. Kenneth J. Drum & Associates. All Rights Reserved. For more information about the author go to: http://kendrum.com/