Focus on the Fundamentals

This may seem overly simplistic, but the person who wins an election is the person who gets the most votes. So, the focus of any campaign should be garnering as many votes as possible. Except for biennial November General Elections essentially every election is a low turnout affair. Many of these low turnout elections have fewer than 10% of the people in your district voting.

Since roughly 90% of the people in your district aren’t going to cast a ballot doing a lot of general outreach to the community at large makes little sense. Smart campaigns identify the subset of voters who are likely to vote, and then focus their entire campaigns on only those voters (except for family and close friends who you know you can harass into voting for you when they don’t normally vote). Everyone who is unlikely to vote, which is most people, should be dead to your campaign.

If you don’t have a data scientist at your disposal then voting history is generally the best way to determine your likely voter universe. People who have a robust history of voting in elections with similar, or lower, turnout than the election in which your campaign will be on the ballot are going to be your likely voters. The size of the universe should be slightly larger than what you expect turnout to be. Use historical turnout as a guide if you don’t have a better option.

In these low turnout elections the candidate(s) with the higher name ID among those voters casting ballots wins much more often than not. That makes logical sense too. When going into a voting booth if one name resonates with us much more than the others we tend to vote for the name we know best. This is especially true when a voter is personally contacted by a campaign, and campaign contacts are best done by the candidate themselves.

Active voter outreach, like canvassing and phone banking, are more effective than passive communication (like mailers and social media). Having money for a robust mail plan can be a quick way to increase your name ID, but campaigns without the funds for such things can be successful. It will just take (literal) sweat equity by lower funded campaigns as they will need to make up for a lack of funds by outhustling their opponents at the doors and on the phones.

There are no shortcuts to winning campaigns. Quick, cheap, and easy ways for you to win your campaign don’t exist. If your campaign isn’t the hardest thing you have ever done in your life then you likely aren’t doing it right. Hard working campaigns with strong fundamentals beat better funded, but lazy, campaigns all the time. Doing the work of running a proper campaign of methodically reaching out to likely voters may be the hard path, but it is the right path.