Grassroots Tips

The Fundamentals of Political Campaigns

It’s a fundamental truth of politics that if you don’t win, you can’t govern.

You can’t implement policy if you aren’t elected to a position that allows you to do so, or if you don’t have sympathetic elected officials that are willing to help. With that being the case, it’s critical that conservatives know the basics of effective campaigning if we expect to see our ideas implemented in government.

The good news is that the fundamentals of successful campaigns are the same today as they were thousands of years ago.

Julius Caesar once said that the only thing needed to conquer the world was “men and money”. Modify that idea slightly by adding “message” and you’ve got a thumbnail sketch of what political campaigns are all about.

They’re known as “the Three M’s”

The Fundamental Elements of Campaigns:

  • Manpower: Do you have the supporters that can build a successful campaign organization?
  • Money: Do you have the resources to identify, inform and mobilize your supporters – and get your message out to the public?
  • Message: What are you saying – and does it motivate people to get involved?

These three elements are universal to all campaigns. They don’t change.

They are “elements” in the sense that virtually every aspect of a campaign’s organization and activity revolves around one of them. That means that you should arrange your campaign accordingly around those areas of responsibility, (ex. communications, fundraising and organization). Don’t make things any more complicated than they absolutely need to be.

Regardless of whether a campaign is national, state or local in scope, the objective is the same. To win. Having the most devoted and numerous volunteers, the most money (or enough) and the most compelling message goes a long way towards that goal.

In addition to being the fundamental “elements” of campaigns, they are also the fundamental sources of political strength.

Don’t forget it.

The Fundamental Imperatives of Campaigns:

The same principles that apply to successful grassroots activism also apply to political campaigns. Generally speaking, there are three fundamental imperatives for any election campaign:

  1. Identify and organize your supporters
  2. Inform them
  3. Mobilize them

They are “imperatives” in the sense that virtually everything that a campaign does should accomplish one of these items.

Without identified people who are willing to support the campaign, you don’t have a campaign. Without information (built around the campaign’s “message”), you can’t motivate people – and they can’t help educate and motivate others to join the effort. And if they’re not mobilized to turn out (and help turn out others) on Election Day, you’ll lose.

These three “imperatives” should constitute the vast majority of the time, resources and effort spent on behalf of any campaign. Use them to evaluate all of the campaign’s activity, in the terms of: “does it accomplish any of the three imperatives”.

If it doesn’t, think twice.

The Four Rules to Winning a Campaign:

When it comes to winning an election, it’s not complicated. It’s not some secret formula that you need to pay a lot of money for, and it hasn’t changed since this country first started holding elections. You need more votes than the other guy (or gal).

The “rules” for how to make that happen 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.

It’s a straightforward “mobilization” plan that derives from the fundamental “imperatives” listed above.

  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 aspects to running a campaign, 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.

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

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

The Incredible Power of Small Groups in Politics

small groups leverageYou’ve heard the old expression that “two heads are better than one”? Well, it’s true in politics too. In fact, the more like-minded “heads” that you can get together, thinking, planning and working in the same direction, the more leverage and energy you can bring to any project.

Why wouldn’t you try to bring that same strength to bear on political problems (or opportunities)?

If the type of people that we hang out with impacts the course of our personal lives, then it follows that the type of people that we work with to impact the things that we care about influences our chances of political success. Remember, “Irons sharpens iron”.

The Benefits of Small Groups:

  • More skills and resources become available
  • Broader networks of contacts are created
  • Relationships grow stronger
  • Group brain-storming leads to more ideas
  • Action items are developed
  • Group members get encouraged and are held accountable

It’s one thing to have a good group of people that you tend to hang around politically, but it’s another thing to have a specific group of people who come together for a specific purpose.  In other words, it creates leverage.

Why are you together? What does everyone want to accomplish or what do they want to see changed? Does everyone have the same expectations about what kind of time and resources they need to invest in it?

As Solomon put it in Proverbs, “Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counselors they are established”.

Before You Start a Small Group:

  • Know the purpose – (if everyone’s not on the same page, then there’s no point)
  • Know who you need – (when you know the purpose, it’s easier to figure out “who” you need to recruit…people who are committed to the goal and the idea of having a group)
  • Know what everyone brings to the table – (look for unique benefits…and how they relate to reaching the goals of the group)

Don’t invite everyone just to “build a crowd”. You’ll end up going in ten different directions at once, get nowhere fast and frustrate everyone. The bigger this type of group gets, the more unwieldy it will become. Keep it smaller and more personal. Be selective.

You’re looking for key people who are committed to the cause – all with unity of purpose and clarity about what to do and how to go about it. People with different strengths that benefit the whole. In other words, think of it as a recruiting process for a team.

After You Start a Small Group:

  • Meet Regularly – Not meeting defeats a key reason for having a small group to begin with, so set up a schedule. Maybe you decide to meet for breakfast once a week…or on a certain Saturday every month. Just make sure it’s as often as you need to in order to accomplish your goals, and that it’s something regular (and with time limits) that everyone can plan around.
  • Meet Conveniently – Meet somewhere that allows the group to have the kind of interaction that it needs in order to get things done.
  • Meet with a Purpose – Share information, brainstorm ideas, create projects, make plans and set action items, and hold each other accountable

You’re looking to have regular meetings with a group of people with common goals in order to facilitate organized thought, which leads to thoughtfully organized activity.

If other side projects or even a larger organization is born out of it, fine. In fact that’s part of the point of small groups, to give rise to other projects and opportunities that relate to your goals. But keep the group itself smaller, manageable and focused.

Remember, there really is no replacement for organized, collective thought and action. As Sam Adams put it, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority…”

So start a small group and BE that “tireless minority”!

Issues Win Campaigns

Whether you’re running a grassroots organization, a lobbying campaign or an election campaign, issues matter.

As legendary South Carolina political consultant Lee Atwater used to say “Issues win campaigns”, and he was exactly right. Issues win campaigns because campaigns are about people…and people are moved by issues.

Issues can be used to unite voters behind a cause or candidate, or divide them away from a cause or candidate that they may currently support. They can also be used to compliment a candidate or group’s image, if they’re consistent with the image that you want to portray.

Choose the Right Issues

Most people hate politics. They don’t typically get involved because they’ve got too much spare time on their hands. Something motivates them. They care about something. Find out what that is.

Find issues that are relevant to the people whose support you need and that are important enough to move them to take action. The kind that not only motivate people, but that sometimes may even divide your supporters from your opponents – passionately.

In many cases it can even work to your advantage to make an election, a vote you’re lobbying, or even a PR campaign, into a “referendum” on a specific issue or group of issues. In other words, you can piggy-back on public support for an issue that people care about by equating support for your cause or campaign with support for that issue.

Highlight Your Issues

Don’t try to talk about every issue under the sun. It’s one thing to have a lot of issue positions as part of a platform, but that doesn’t mean that you spend all of your time and resources talking about all of them. Focus on YOUR issues.

Remember that in order for issues to have an impact, people must be aware of the differences between you and the opposition. They have to be highlighted aggressively and repeatedly.

Zoom in on the few issues that will do your cause or campaign the most good…and then wear them out like a rented mule.