Beat Incumbent in a local election – A 7-step guide

August 23, 2017 - 8 minutes read

Winning an election the first time you run is a challenge. It is an even bigger challenge if the opponent you face happens to be an incumbent. An incumbent has a lot of things already going for them – recognition among the voters, an existing campaign staff, established voter communication channels and donors to back them.

Worry not, however. With a planned effort, it is possible for even a first timer to unseat an incumbent. There are a few tracks to focus on here.


Your campaign has to build traction with the voter base in the community. After all, in a local election, the incumbent came into power because the same voters deemed them fit in the past. On top of showing that you are a worthy candidate, you have to prove that you are a better choice over the incumbent. Here are 7 steps to do so.

Be recognized before announcement

In a local election, the people who are politically active are quite tight-knit. They would show up at town halls and party events and are aware of the major influencers on both sides. You need to be seen as a viable candidate by these members even before you announce your candidacy.

For that, you have to build name recognition as someone who actively participates in the community. Attend local events and join discussions about issues faced by the community. Participate in volunteer activities so that you are seen as interested in the community and its administration.

When the members who have a voice among the locals see you as fit to run for election, you would be better equipped to put together a local campaign.

Announce early

The opponent you face has already been down the path you are laying out. They have a supporter base and donors to turn to once the campaign starts. It is likely they have kept up relationships with their major influencers to aid their successive run for office. So in essence, their campaign has been running since the day they got elected.

In order to catch up, you have to get your campaign on the ground fast as well. If you have been dabbling with the idea of running against them, you must already have put an active foot forward in community affairs. Pick the influential people who would back you and bring them on board. With their help, you can get your campaign team together. Announce your candidacy early so the voters get the time to evaluate their choice before being bombarded with campaign messages.

Show contrast from the opponent

Since you would be a new choice on the table, the voter would want to know what changes you offer for them in particular. With that, your campaign messages have to strike the right chord with them from the get go.

This could be hard to achieve with promises alone. Instead, present what the stark differences are between you and the incumbent. Talk about the community issues you plan to address which were neglected during the opponent’s term. The voter will only face a choice if they come to the conclusion that your victory gives them a better future.

Hammer home their weakness

It is a very thin line to tread. Your campaign message cannot be just an attack on the opponent. Instead, you have to let people compare where the incumbent fell short when they consider what your strengths are.

Pick the issues to focus on well so that the voter is reminded of the opponent’s shortcomings during the previous term. Strategically place yourself as a stronger candidate by showing the voters that the incumbent has been unable to deliver on their past promises. The voters would not want to be led down the same road a second time.

Present a better candidate

Naturally, your opponent would know to do the same to you. Their campaign would try to wedge in the factors which put them at an advantage. This would be done by bringing up issues where you come off as a bad choice.

Try not to divert the voter from the topics or avoid the matters which make you look weak. Address them directly and present your stance along with what makes you take that position. Do not engage the opponent or respond to their attacks. Focus on the voters who are evaluating the choice between which stance they support.

Win the swing votes

In every election, there are those who decide who to support only after evaluating both candidates and their stances. Granted these swing voters are in very small number but they hold the power to sway the result. Their choices may be guided by a particular policy that affects them or which candidate they deem more suited for the role.

Aim to connect with the swing voters in your electorate. Bring out the points where the voter comes to the realization that voting for the incumbent would be another gamble.

Be active on the ground

Some voters would not be convinced by your message alone. They are used to seeing candidates make promises which are disregarded once the candidate assumes office. You have to reach out to them to win their support.

That is only possible through ground activity. Build a grassroots network of supporters and get to the voters through someone they trust. Meet with the voter and engage them through community events. Give them the freedom to choose you instead of forcing upon the voter. That way you would be sure that the voter would turn up on election day.


Through proper strategizing, it is possible to oust an incumbent even if you are a new candidate. You just have to build a local presence and make the voter come to the realization that you are the better choice. Follow the steps lined out above and you can win over the voters in the community.

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