Political Candidate Surveys & Election Endorsement Questionnaires

Dave in Tennessee has a great question for us about whether or not political campaign candidates should fill out election endorsement surveys & questionnaires even if a group is sure to support their opponents:

“Thank you so much for the incredible mass of information you provide on the site. It’s been quite helpful. I’ve been receiving questionnaires from various groups considering their endorsements for my race. Among them are organizations I respect but who I have philosophical disagreements with and who will definitely be endorsing the incumbent. Is it better to respond with answers they don’t want or ignore them entirely?”

Thanks for the compliments Dave, we’re glad you like our blog! Political candidate questionnaires and surveys are one of those inevitable parts of being involved in local elections–and the larger and more hotly-contested your race is, the more questionnaires you’ll get in the mail.

election endorsement questionnaire

In many cases, these groups obtain the addresses of every candidate on the ballot in a given campaign season from the local board of elections and send out bulk surveys to every person on the list. Don’t read too much into it or make the mistake of thinking that someone at the organization is waiting breathlessly for your response.

Non-profits, unions, political action groups and countless other organizations send out thousands of candidate questionnaires and surveys across the country every year–ostensibly to help them decide which candidate to endorse in a local election.

The reality, however, is that most of these groups have already made up their mind who they are going to endorse long before the questionnaires are ever sent out (especially in general elections, but to a lesser degree in primaries, as well). In most cases, a candidate’s political party or status with a particular group has more to do with whether or not they win an endorsement than does their actual opinions on the issues.

Also, keep in mind that one reason many of these groups dole out political candidate endorsements is to get free publicity for their own cause . . . not necessarily to educate the voters. Endorsements often make it into local news stories, and these organizations love seeing their names in the papers as much as political candidates do.
But back to your question: should you fill out a candidate questionnaire if you know ahead of time that the group is almost certainly not going to endorse you (and in most cases, you will know before you fill it out).

There’s an easy answer to that question and a more difficult answer. Here’s the easy answer: if it’s an organization whose endorsement you wouldn’t want in the first place, then you shouldn’t fill out or return the questionnaire. A candidate who is targeting conservative voters, for instance, probably shouldn’t court the endorsement of a group that advocates gay marriage . . . and a candidate whose base consists of progressive voters doesn’t need the endorsement of a concealed weapons advocacy group.

The real difficulty comes when you are weighing whether or not to fill out a questionnaire from a less polarizing group whose endorsement you would like to have . . . but which you know you aren’t going to get.

In this case, there’s a litmus test that I use in my own campaigns that might help you make a decision, as well: are you on friendly–or cordial–terms with any of the leadership or members of the group? Do you know them personally, and are you likely to continue to interact with them professionally even after the election?

If the answer is yes, then you’re probably better off filling out the questionnaire and mailing it back. As a political candidate, your allies and supporters are going to fluctuate over the years, and there’s no reason to insult or alienate a group whose support you would like to have in the future. If they really are an above-the-board and legitimate organization, then they will respect you more for filling out the form and turning it in, even though they are supporting another candidate.

On the other hand, if members of the group in question have been openly hostile to your candidacy or have gone out of their way to be rude to you or your supporters, then don’t give them the satisfaction of filling out their questionnaire. You aren’t likely to gain anything from it, and sending in their survey will only allow them to paint you as someone who desperately wanted their endorsement but wasn’t good enough to earn it.

Of course, these are the more extreme examples–these solutions aren’t going to fit every endorsement questionnaire scenario. Above all else, keep an eye on your future political aspirations–not just those in this particular election–and use some pragmatism to make your decision.

Of course, I could go on to tell you just how little these endorsements really help a campaign, after all . . . but we will save that for another post. Just make sure you don’t concentrate too much on winning endorsements, and instead dedicate your valuable time to good old-fashioned campaigning.

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