Can I Win? Analyzing Voter Data

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Now that we know how to mine the data we need, it’s time to put it to work for us. Analyzing voter data is not much fun. It’s mind-numbing, in fact. But it’s the type of thing where if you stare at it long enough, eventually all the pieces fit together and suddenly you have a plan.

There’s no works-every-time system for analyzing voter data.  Every town is different, and every precinct within that town is different.  You may need to devise different strategies for different precincts depending on the demographic and political make up of the neighborhood.  Sometimes geography makes a big difference in how you approach campaigning, messaging, and grass roots / voter contact efforts.

Many, many political districts, especially at the state and federal levels (state representative or national House races), span both tightly packed city precincts and winding country roads.  You face very different challenges depending on where you are campaigning on a particular day.  Doing door-to-door voter contact in the city, you have to figure out how to get into apartment buildings that are locked to non-residents.  How do you get endorsements from local businesses? In the country you have to drive from one house to the next to go door-to-door; is there a better way? Should a local supporter hold a coffee with 10-15 voters instead? What message resonates with farmers and which with a small business owner? Career women and stay-at-home moms?

This is why in many cases you need to break out your voter data into individual precincts or groups of precincts and adjust your message and strategy accordingly.

So where do you begin?

Start with answering these questions about each and every precinct in your political district.

Are the voters heavily partisan or is this a fairly ‘swing’ precinct?

If it’s a strongly republican district, it’s ripe for GOTV and volunteer recruitment, and an especially important precinct during a primary. If it’s strongly democrat, you may not want to waste time there at all (although I very rarely advocate abandoning a precinct entirely. Every little vote counts.) Or perhaps there’s an issue that you believe will resonate well with Democrats that you can play up in this area.

How has this precinct changed over time?

Old voters die, neighborhoods gentrify, new people means new and different concerns. If you see an area, for example, that is gradually becoming more right-leaning, it could be that what once was a senior citizen neighborhood has been slowly taken over by new young and growing families who value keeping their tax dollars over social security concerns. That’s just one example. It helps to put boots on the ground in these neighborhoods and just feel out who lives there. Often a precinct is given up as “primarily Democrat” when, upon closer examination, it isn’t necessarily so.

What is the demographic make-up of this precinct? Race? Average income? Home-owners or renters? Religious, and what type, or unaffiliated?

Different groups care about different issues. It’s as simple as that. Tailor your message in that area to the voters who are receiving it.

Are the voters here voting in every election/for every candidate?

There are tons of people who go to the polls and simply leave blank the races in which they don’t recognize a name. This is a prime opportunity for voter contact! You know they go to the polls on Election Day, and getting them there is half the battle (the harder half). This is likely a place to show your face often.

Have voters favored different parties for different races?

Try to figure out why.

Some elected officials have such a hold on their electorate, or have just always been there, that everybody just continues voting for them, regardless of party affiliation. But they vote differently for other races with less familiar candidates. Maybe you can convince them to vote for you. Or maybe you can take a look at that “outlier” official and latch onto his positive qualities. Or if you’re actually running against that incumbent, it reveals to you how you should craft your message in regards to comparing/contrasting yourself with him.

How do the local issues affect this precinct?

Your district is unique and your message must match it. Focus on the things that matter to the voters here and now.

As you go through this exercise, you will probably come up with many more questions specific to your campaign and your district. You will also need to do additional research (think, microfilm newspapers at the library) to figure out what events and issues have affected past elections. As you put it all together, I promise, you will have an “Ah ha!” moment—or several, more likely—as you go precinct by precinct devising your campaign plan.

Rank your precincts

After you’ve done all that work, you need to prioritize which precincts are the most important, which you simply shouldn’t waste time and/or money on, and which are somewhere in between. You can throw them into these three tiers, or if you’re Type A like me, you’ll want to rank every single precinct in order, and maybe even have different ordered lists depending on the activity (communications vs. voter contact, for example).

The rest of your campaign strategy will grow organically out of this analysis.  These numbers will reveal if your campaign has a chance at winning, and what path to take to get there.  It’s important that you stick to it, because though current events, candidates, and circumstances chance, the numbers won’t. These are the hard facts upon which your campaign should be built.

Hat in the Ring, Not on Your Head!

Political candidates should not wear hats.

Apparently, this is a thing.  I’m amazed I made it this long without discovering this hard and fast campaigning rule.  But really, it’s probably rarely an issue in local campaigns.  How often do local elected officials or candidates get asked to wear hats, really?

At the higher echelons, however, this is a rule you’ll need to be aware of. To prove the point, politico.com has provided a brief history of this rule:

And–this is the best part–a little tidbit from the Nixon Campaign Plan Book:

“The 37th President of the United States of America NEVER WEARS HATS…no honorary hats…no protocol hats…no “great photo” hats…no “the law requires” hats…no “it’s the custom” hats…no cute hats…no beanies…no stovepipes…no firehats…no captains hats…no caps…no Indian headdress…no feather hats…no hard hats…no soft hats…no ladies hats…no mens hats…no fur hats…no paper hats…no grass hats…no thorn hats…no “Nixon’s The One” hats…no nothing.  HATS ARE TOXIC–AND CAN KILL YOU.”

Even if you’re the President of the United States, standing in the middle of Ground Zero among hundred of other people wearing protective hats…

no hat bush

NO.  HAT.

I can understand how a presidential candidate could easily be made to look foolish by wearing inappropriate headgear.  Now, the chances of a hat bringing an equally devastating effect upon a town or county campaign are probably slim, but…why risk it?  Besides, City Councilmen become Mayors, State Representatives become Congressional candidates…do you really want a picture of you in a dorky hat surfacing during an election for higher office down the road?

Leave the hats at home!

Try a lapel pin instead.  Those never go out of style, am I right???

Carol Way – Doing GOTV Right

It’s Friday before Election Day and I get a text from my husband at 6:30am – “Hey, guess who’s at the train station!”  Followed by this pic:

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It’s my hubby Matt with Connecticut State Representative candidate Carol Way, whose clever and memorable yard signs I simply LOVE.

The day before (5 days before E-Day), we got a nice mail piece from the Way campaign – I saved it to remind myself to contact them about getting a yard sign of my very own.  I finally remembered around 11pm, and shot off an email via the campaign website asking them to get me a sign.

By 11 am the very next day – *boom* – a volunteer had plunked a yard sign in our yard, and it’s a good thing, too, because despite covering the city pretty well, it’s the only one in our neighborhood.

I just moved to this area a few months ago, and therefore have zero name recognition with any of the candidates starting out in this election cycle.  A blank slate!

So let’s run this GOTV effort down:
First contact – Excellent yard sign distribution effort, most likely driven by a great group of dedicated volunteers
Second contact – One well-timed mailer, 5 days before the election – I’m curious to see if another hits on Monday
Third contact – Met candidate in person at the train station, the perfect hub for greeting large numbers of voters in a short amount of time.

So far the Way campaign is doing fantastic!  Let’s hope for her sake it continues.

Now let’s compare this to her opponent, Cristin McCarthy Vahey.  This campaign has clearly sunk a lot of money into mail drops, because I’ve gotten at least five separate mailers from them.

There’s nothing wrong with a focused mail effort.  However, there’s something very wrong with a mail effort that starts dropping pieces months in advance of the election, and then sends nothing in the weeks and days leading up to the election!  At least not yet; we’ll see what happens Monday!

I will give the Vahey campaign credit for putting together a decent door-to-door effort over the summer.  But her yard sign coverage is anemic at best.  Compound that with a longer and less memorable name and you get low name recognition numbers.

I do, however, recognize her tag line: Community. Service. Integrity.

It’s memorable because she’s using my 3-Word Campaign Slogan Strategy!  Kudos, Vahey communications team.  Clearly the Fairfield Dems are reading GOP Campaigner.

And finally I have to give a special mention to State Representative candidate Tony Hwang, whose campaign came up with the positively brilliant idea to advertise here:

Tony Hwang for State Representative

You know that restaurant in town that serves breakfast 24-7 and is positively packed on Sundays?  Every town has one, right?  That picture is of the placemat at ours.  Depending on how many franchises they did this in, I’d wager thousands of voters spent a lot of time with Hwang’s full-color campaign message right next to their orange juices and coffees.  Genius!  Definitely worth the money on the weekend before Election Day.  The Hwang campaign also has a solid yard sign presence.

Earlier this year, an editorial opined that Fairfield County would be make-or-break for the 2014 Connecticut Gubernatorial election.  If the local candidates’ ground game is any indication, I’d say Fairfield GOP has their act together and will likely pull through for repeat candidate Tom Foley.  Those factors coupled with the Independent candidate dropping out and endorsing Foley add up to very good news for CT Republicans.

I’m excited to watch the results come in Tuesday and see which strategies win out!

What’s the take-away for you future candidates out there?

Be where the voters are!
(and not just where they expect to see you)

I Don’t Care About Gay Marriage

gay marriage, political campaign, rick santorum, new hampshire, primary

"Damn! All the good ones are either married or gay..."

As I write this, the hammer is coming down on GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum for his very conservative views on marriage, sex, and abortion.  I’ve been avoiding this divisive topic for months because it’s a crazy sticky web of complicated B.S., but what better time to talk about the issue of “gay marriage” than now, when it’s so fresh in the political debate?

First, I’d like to give a little (very unofficial) history of gay marriage and what it is.  I should preface by saying I’m not an expert on gay rights, but I am an expert on how they affect political campaigns.

For several years political issues surrounding homosexuals had been classified under the heading of ‘civil rights.’  Homosexuality has kind of been given the same status as gender or race is this regard, and rightly so, since (as far as I can tell) its just another trait you get at birth.  In 2004, however, President George W. Bush’s campaign forever altered this perception of homosexuality.

When the war issue was getting too stale to inspire the GOP voter base for Bush’s second presidential run, the Bush campaign decided to light a fire under the ass of a great sleeping giant of GOP base supporters:  ‘Evangelical’ or ‘Fundamental’ Christians.  So Karl Rove in all his brilliance thought up the idea of grabbing hold of a very liberal fringe issue that had hardly made any traction whatsoever on its own and flipping it on its head to turn it into the firestorm now known as “gay marriage.”

You see, gay activists had been struggling to get the same privileges for monogamous gay couples that married couples get, like tax privileges, adoption rights and healthcare rights.  They wanted some legal entity to acknowledge the relationship as valid so that they could, for example, visit each other in the hospital.  There were small battles being fought, but no major media was picking up the issue and putting it on a national agenda.

The 2004 Bush campaign pointed a big, national finger at these activists and said “Look!  Look what they want to do.  They want to be married.  They want to have all the same rights and privileges as married people.  But the Bible says being gay is wrong.  If the U.S. government gives them those rights and privileges, that’s like we’re saying being gay is A-OK.  Do you, America, want to go against the Bible and put your seal of approval on something the Bible says is wrong?  If not, vote for Bush again and he’ll ban gay marriage with a Constitutional Amendment.”  From that point on, the homosexuality debate quickly became not a civil rights issue, but a moral issue.  Moral issues are incredibly emotionally charged and legally murky – the perfect environment for waging a fantastic political ambush.

And everyone in America whose ever read at least most of the Bible said “Oooh, that sounds logical, I think I really need to vote for Bush again.”  That is how Bush turned out spectacular numbers within the party base in 2004, and how he even squeezed a few independents over to his side to squeak through the November elections without a getting pink slip.

For the gay activists, well, whether they’d admit it or not, it actually did them a favor, because now everybody in America was thinking about their issue, and all the political commentators were talking about it.  There have been a lot of local and state level victories in the area of gay rights/privileges since 2004, much more rapidly than they ever would have occurred before.

That’s the history.  So what’s my point in this post?  “I thought this blog was about campaigning!” you say.  Well it is!

I hate, hate, hate the issue of gay marriage.  Quite frankly, I’m annoyed that Rove came up with this whole scheme, because it’s made political campaigning even less about real, important, quantifiable, life-affecting issues than it already was.  Being on one side or the other of this issue helps only a few candidates in a few parts of the nation, at particular times in the political media cycle.  If you go around stumping on the maladies of gay marriage when you’re running for state senator, then guess what?  It will bite you in the ass when you run for Congress!  That’s right!  I say stay as far away from this issue as humanly possible.  Dodge and redirect questions from the media.  Heck, I’d even skip the vote if it came up, maybe, or at least do everything in your power not to let it come to a vote.

As you can see on the news, the social conservative ‘traditional marriage’ message plays very well in Iowa where people are mostly white, middle class, church-goers.  But look at what is going on in New Hampshire.  The East Coasters are having none of it, and it could mean a surging primary win for Mr. Moderate Mitt Romney, crowning him the unofficial GOP nominee for president.

All that being said, I hereby declare that I retain the right to say “I told you so” when Obama handily pulls off winning a second term, or worse yet, when America comes to realize that the Romney administration is a carbon copy of the last four years.

When it comes to state level policy, yes, the issue is relevant.  But the Constitution of the United States makes it abundantly clear that the federal government has absolutely no jurisdiction in the area of ‘marriage’ or anything even closely related to it.  So why are we talking about this at all in a presidential campaign?

When it comes to national politics, I don’t care about gay marriage.  I really don’t care, because,

  • It should be a state issue, always and forever.
  • Unemployment is too high
  • The tax burden is too high
  • Government spending is way too high
  • We obviously have more important things to do!
America has allowed issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration and healthcare to be the “Hey! Look over there!” tactic that both Republicans and Democrats use to distract us from the fact that they don’t have a real plan to fix any real problems.  The Republican primary debates began being about one thing: Economy, economy, economy.  Jobs, jobs, jobs.  Now it’s a three ring circus, with MSNBC and CNN as the ringmasters and the Tea Party swinging precariously from the trapeze.
**Here are a couple of good resources for further info on the topic:
buy the campaign planbook

Hot Damn! Rick Santorum Is on Fire!

rick santorum wins gop iowa caucus republican presidential

While he’s been one of my favorites all along (as well as Cain and Bachmann, both of whom are sadly already out of the race), I didn’t expect to see such a slam dunk performance by former Senator Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses yesterday.  Congratulations to you, Sen. Santorum, and for God’s sake, keep it going!

As I’ve mentioned before, we Republicans have been blessed with an awesome field of primary contenders to choose from.  Unfortunately, however, the trend for the past several months – impacted in no small amount by the mainstream media political talking heads, of course – has been a rousing game of musical chairs.  King Romney has been planted firmly in one seat and a slew of other (much, much) more conservative candidates taking the remaining seat.  One by one they have been picked off, not only by strong media criticism, but also by the factions within our own dismal party.

Ever since Rick Santelli’s iconic rant on CNBC, the sleeping giant within the GOP now known as the Tea Party Movement has placed a firm grip on the true conservatives of America, and placed themselves squarely at odds with the strangest of adversaries – no, not the bleeding heart liberals in the White House – our own stodgy, GOP political elite, also known as ‘the Establishment.’  Mwahaha!  It sounds so powerful and daunting, doesn’t it?  The Establishment has become such by riding along with the status quo, compromising conservative values in order to stay in office, and racking up an enormous federal budget in the meantime.

The make-up of the GOP has been firming up for the past nearly three years, and it looks like 2012 could be (dear God, please let it be!) the year that the Establishment is kicked to the curb and conservatives grab the GOP wheel and yank us all back to the right.

What Santorum needs now is a solid New Hampshire victory next Tuesday to push him over the edge and into front-runner position.  Hopefully right now he’s getting floods of donations and Republicans all over the northeast are driving in to help his team go door-to-door and make calls.  If you haven’t gotten involved in this race yet (and I am definitely one of the folks that hasn’t), now is the time!  This next weekend/week is going to be fun!

What is a Campaign Plan: WHY?

what is a campaign plan - why?

 

Arguably the most important piece of the campaign plan, the ‘why‘ encompasses your campaign’s message, or theme.  What do you stand for?  Why should I vote for you?  The answer to this question belongs in your ‘Messaging’ or ‘Communications’ section, but it essentially drives the entire document forward.  Every other piece of the campaign plan revolves around getting this ‘why’ message out to the people who need to hear it – the voters.

You’ve probably heard about having an ‘elevator pitch’ ready in you career life.  You need the same 30 second spiel for your campaign life as well.  You need to have an answer to the question “Why should I vote for you?” that can be delivered in 30 seconds (great for media sound bites), about 2 minutes (excellent for door-to-door and phone bank conversations with voters) and a good 5 minute speech for when you have a chance to charm folks from a microphone.

 

Who Won the Fox/Google GOP Debate???

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Answer:  Republican primary voters.

For the past several election cycles, most especially 2008 and 2010, we have seen some of the nastiest political mudslinging in the history of our nation (and America has a looong history of slinging mud) – just check out this little Obama/Clinton tiff (one of many from 2008):

But this 2012 GOP primary holds the promise of something better.

Oh sure, things will get competitive toward the end of primary season when one by one candidates are picked off, Romney and Perry are doing a little friendly sparring, and God knows Obama’s going to get downright vicious – he already is!  But these candidates – how many is it now, 8? 9?  Where’d Gary Johnson come from?

Anyway, these guys are not out to slit each others’ throats.  They are out to win an election.  They are genuinely looking to set America back on track.  I’ll be darned!

The candidates that debated in tonight’s Google/Fox News Channel debate looked and acted like a group of colleagues debating the issues and even having a good time doing it.  They cracked some jokes, and even had some fun with the final question.  They obviously have respect for one another, and – maybe it’s the Pollyanna coming out in me – I truly believe that these candidate will unite behind the Republican nominee, becoming ambassadors for a GOP victory in the general election.

That being said, I think that Romney and Cain certainly had a strong showing tonight.  Romney knocked it out of the park rebutting Perry’s jabs, and Cain, well he’s just kind of awesome, and that really showed through in his responses.

Tonight’s debate, more so than any of the others thus far, though they have been cordial as well, was a fantastic example of debating done right.

  • Know your facts.
  • Know your plan.
  • Don’t be too serious.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • Focus on yourself and your own platform.

If you want my actual thoughts on the candidates and their performance, however, here it is:

  • I personally believe Bachmann, Cain and Santorum are the most closely aligned to what Americans need and want in the next president of the United States.
  • Bachmann, for some reason, seems to be getting noticeably less airtime, in this debate and the last one.  Am I imagining this?  Someone please tell me if I am.  What gives?
  • Yes, I admit that Perry and Romney have the right “look” and are middle-of-the-road enough to fit the boring, traditional presidential mold, but that will only hurt them in the primaries.
  • I would include Jon Huntsman in that category, but he’s so moderate he makes ‘real’ Republicans uncomfortable.
  • Ron Paul and Gary Johnson…well, America’s just not ready for that…but obviously we’re getting closer.  Ron Paul could be a strong dose of exactly the right medicine, and God knows he’s got more political (and life) experience than anyone else on that stage (except maybe Newt Gingrich).
  • Oh yeah, I forgot about Newt!  Maybe that’s because his voice and his subdued swept-to-the-side bangs haircut put me to sleep whenever he’s talking.  I also really hate it when politicians use words like ‘programs,’ and Gingrich seems to be a big fan of ‘programs’ all over the place.  It’s a distinctly Democrat concept and I’m repelled by that kind of language.  And “we should have some sort of program” means “I don’t have an actual plan yet, but if I say ‘program’ it sounds like I might” to me.
The truth is we have several highly intelligent, experienced leaders to choose from.  I’m pleasantly surprised, this is a big upgrade from the 2008 GOP field!  Republican voters have a big decision ahead of them, as they (short of some crazy fluke leading to an Obama second term) essentially will be crowning the next president.
“I promise” we will return to our ‘What Is A Campaign Plan’ series tomorrow.  <– Get it?  That was a Johnson joke!