Grassroots Tips

The Four Rules to Winning an Election

winning an election

Do.  Not.  Get.  Sidetracked.

When it comes to winning an election or organizing for grassroots success, it’s not complicated.  It’s not some secret formula that you need to figure out or pay a lot of money for.

It’s pretty simple and straightforward.  In fact, the rules haven’t changed since this country first started holding elections.

The “rules” were spelled out best by someone who (at the time) was a little known congressman from Illinois who went on to get himself elected President, (shortly before hiring a general who burned my hometown to the ground, but I’ll let it go…).

The four rules to winning an election are:

  1. Obtain a complete list of voters
  2. Determine how they will vote
  3. Contact the favorable voters
  4. Get your voters to the polls

In other words, start with the outer rings of the target and work your way down towards the bulls-eye.  When it comes to summarizing the basics of a get-out-the-vote strategy, you can’t do much better than that.

Of course there are a number of other elements to campaigning, but they don’t really matter very much if you don’t do the basics.  No matter how much modern technology may change “how” things are done, the fundamentals still apply.

These rules don’t just apply to campaigns, but they also apply to successful grassroots political organization in general. You start with those who are registered to vote, identify those who agree with you, provide them with the information they need, and get them to take action when it’s necessary.

Successful campaigns and organizations adopt and apply these rules to effectively mobilize supporters at the local level.

No matter what kind of election or issue-based campaign you’re working on, don’t let yourself get sidetracked.

Do the basics. You’ll be glad you did.


Get more useful grassroots tips in the “Grassroots 101 Training Series

How to Frame the Debate

Frame the debateHave you ever noticed in the Bible that, whenever he was accused or interrogated by his opponents, Christ almost always answered them with a question?

When it comes to political debate, there’s a lot to learn from that example. It’s a way of “framing the debate”, which helps you strategically present issues in terms that help shape the debate in your favor.

Politically speaking, it’s a way of controlling the ground that you fight on instead of debating or fighting a campaign on the opposition’s terms. When you do that, you let them frame the debate instead of you – and it usually makes you look defensive.

Go on the Offensive

Framing the debate helps you go on offense. And for conservatives, the best way to do that is to get to the “heart of the matter”, which is usually the liberal’s Achilles’ heel on any issue.

Use terms that help frame your issue in a positive light and put your opposition on its heels.

For example, on abortion, focus on the life of the unborn “child” and its right to life, not the “choice”; on education, focus on providing the “choice” for a better education; on the death penalty, focus on “guilt” and “justice”; on guns, focus on the right to “self-defense”, etc.

Keep the spotlight on the victim, (or the potential victim). Who’s being harmed, or will be? And why is the opposition OK with that? Make them defend it.

If you fail to focus on the heart of the matter, you’re more likely to get sucked into a debate that is centered on the liberal (read: humanistic) world view, which means that you end up fighting on their terms. Sort of like being asked, “When did you stop beating your wife?” There’s no way to respond that doesn’t make you look bad.

Responding to an attack

Keep in mind that framing the debate is easier when you are the one who starts the debate. But if you are responding to an attack, the same principle still applies. Frame the debate by “re”-framing it. In other words, pivot by interrogating the opposition in a way that redirects the conversation back towards the heart of the matter.

Once the debate is re-framed you can discredit their arguments.

Remember, when you control the debate, you control the ground you fight on and keep your opposition in a position of weakness. And you increase your odds of success.

Frame the debate!

Know the Facts Before You Lobby

resources listDo you know everything that you need to know about what you’re trying to have an impact on?

Before you set out to have an impact on any particular issue it helps to have more than just a thumb-nail view of the facts in order to be able to make a case for what you believe.

Whether it’s plain old citizen-lobbying of a local council, or the multi-million dollar corporate variety, good research is the foundation of good lobbying – but good research can require a lot of work.

The problem for elected officials is the huge number of issues that scream for attention. They don’t have the time to follow the nuances of every piece of legislation, but they put their name, reputation and possibly their career on the line with every vote. As a result, good information is invaluable.

The rule is this: do the work for them.

Politicians aren’t super-human and don’t know everything about everything (you probably knew that already), and can’t learn it all. Though as individuals they may know more about various subjects, most of them are forced to be generalists. So part of the job of good lobbying is to be an expert on the issues you want to advocate.

Things that elected officials need to know about legislation or proposals:

  • The details of any proposal
  • How it changes current law or the status quo
  • How those changes will impact their constituents

Without that knowledge, most elected officials can only hope and pray that they don’t accidentaly stumble into a politically explosive situation, (something most of them try to avoid because they want to get re-elected).

Where do they usually find the information they need to make a decision? A good bit of it comes from educated constituents who have done their homework or who offer the benefit of their own expertise.

In other words, it could be you.  You’re certainly more of an expert on the things you do and the situations you face every day than most politicians.

Spend time researching and organizing information on the issues you want to impact. Then turn it into a resource for friendly elected officials.

Remember, knowledge is power. Get it and use it.