What if I told you that there’s a surefire political campaign secret for figuring out exactly what strategy you should use to win your local election?
If you’re a first-time candidate for elected office, sifting through different campaign strategies and choosing what will best help you win might seem overwhelming. There are only so many hours before election day, and no local candidate can afford to waste time on campaign tasks that don’t work.
One local “expert” might tell you that your time is best spent walking in parades; another might say that visiting local social clubs and shaking hands is better. A third might advise that you need to just focus on finding as many yard sign locations as possible.
There are many different tactics and strategies that you can use to be victorious in an election, and no winning political campaign uses the exact same game plan. But after spending years at work on other candidates’ political campaigns–and even mounting my own runs for public office–I’ve discovered that there’s a test you can apply to every possible campaign tactic to determine whether or not it will be effective at winning you votes.
Here’s the secret: the harder a strategy is to implement, the better it will work for your campaign.
99% of the campaigning you’ll see done in local races is what I call “lounge chair” campaigning. Walking in parades, going to spaghetti dinners, obsessing over yard signs, having endless campaign meetings, and even spending money on billboards . . . all of these are great examples of “lounge chair” campaigning. They make you feel important, they’re easy to do . . . and they’re nearly useless in winning a campaign.
The campaign stuff that really works well is rarely done by new candidates, though, because it’s difficult. Taking six months to knock on every door in your city and introduce yourself personally to voters is hard. Mailing hand-written, personal letters to 10,000 residents is hard. Making phone calls to 3,000 households in the last month of the campaign is hard.
There’s one thing that all of these difficult campaign strategies have in common, though: they work. And the candidates who use these strategies–or similar tactics that take a lot of work to pull off–will almost always win.
So, does a campaign strategy work simply because it’s difficult to implement? Well no, that’s not what I’m saying. It would be difficult to build a life-sized brontosaurus out of Legos, but doing it for your political campaign probably won’t win you many votes.
If you’re comparing two possible campaign tasks and trying to decide which one you should focus on, however, the “harder is better” litmus test will never steer you wrong.
Here’s a great example: the first time I ran for city council, my opponents had a habit of going to every single council meeting and sitting in the audience. Ostensibly, they said that they did this to become “more educated” about the job and the issues. I suspect that the real reason they went to every council meeting, though, was because it’s an easy thing to do. There aren’t many things activities that are less strenuous than sitting on your behind and pretending to take notes for an hour.
So, what was I doing while my opponents were sitting in council meetings and “learning the issues?” Well, I was busy walking in neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and personally introducing myself to every person in the city. It took me nearly half a year to do (at least an hour every day after work, and five hours a day on weekends). And it was difficult, especially when the weather was lousy and I’d had a bad day.
In the end, the “harder is better” mantra was proven right again in my initial race for office. Although my opponents mocked me for never attending council meetings, I ended up being the top vote getter in the city.
If you’re running for local office, you should apply the “harder is better” test to every single task you ever consider taking on for your campaign. So, your volunteers want to have an hour-long team meeting to discuss what color your yard signs should be . . . is that easy to do, or difficult? Would it be harder to spend an hour walking neighborhoods and handing out campaign literature? If so, then you should skip the campaign meeting and walk instead.
Remember: just because something makes you feel good in campaigning doesn’t mean that it works. Sitting in campaign committee meetings, eating snacks and gossiping about your opponent might make you feel great, but it’s also a terrific way to lose a campaign.
It’s the stuff that initially feels lousy that will win an election for you. Walking five miles will make your legs sore, but it’s effective. Writing five thousand postcards will make your fingers ache, but it works. Calling a thousand people on the phone and getting hung up on hundreds of times will make you want to scream, but it wins campaigns.
There are three qualities that will help candidates win any office that they set their mind to: patience, tenacity and consistency. These three qualities will help you focus on the tactics that win campaigns: namely, the hard stuff.
—Phil Van Treuren, Political Campaigning Tips