A close race isn’t a phenomenon that’s unheard of in politics. In fact, there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to documenting instances of them. In over 270 races from around the world, an election could have gone either way based on a handful of votes.
As entertaining as that is to think about, for a candidate in an election, it brings up the question: “How do I make sure the scales tip in my favor?”
No matter what kind of election you are standing for, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to the campaign strategy you employ.
The strategy for your campaign should be informed by the size of the electorate, the locality, public mindset, the timing, and methods of voter communication used.
In short, every election campaign needs a specific strategy that is influenced by the political climate it’s set in. And for a local election, winning supporters is largely about winning over the community of voters.
Here are seven things to take into account when planning your local political campaign strategies.
Create a relatable message
In 1941, Franklin D Roosevelt famously said, “We are going to win this war and the peace that follows.”
At the height of World War 2, his message struck at the hearts of his people, who wanted their family and friends serving as troops abroad to come home safely and for the war to end. He went on to get re-elected to his fourth term as president.
For a local election, the stakes might be lower, but these questions are still worth thinking about: What does your campaign stand for? Do you stand for things your ideal voter cares about?
The message of your campaign should be all about letting voters find that common ground between you and them, to get their support. A lot of that also has to do with how a candidate presents themselves.
Why have a campaign message?
A campaign is all about creating the identity of the candidate. That includes the candidate’s background and past work, and what makes them ideal for the position they are running for.
It shows voters which issues and policies matter to the candidate. Here you have to keep the voter’s perspective in mind. You will only be able to win if the campaign message reflects the needs of the electorate. Draw their attention and get their vote by showing them that your victory would improve their lives.
Your ideal campaign message should:
- Address current problems
- Be simple and clear
- Be true and credible
- And finally, answer the most important question on every voter’s mind:
What will voting for this candidate do for me?
Develop and test your campaign message through a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods.
You can conduct quantitative research on your campaign message through:
- Phone surveys
- Text message surveys
While quantitative testing will answer questions such as how many people prefer a message over another, It will not tell you why. That’s where qualitative testing comes into play. Conduct qualitative tests of your campaign message through:
- Focus groups
Once you have your campaign message ready, make sure all the communications from your campaign to your voters reflects your message.
In 2008, Obama amassed an army of 2.2 million volunteers. While previous campaigns had paid staff, consultants and canvassers, the Obama campaign’s ability to drive his election victory was derived from the unpaid local citizens who organized their neighborhoods to go out and vote.
Chances are, there are some super-invested supporters who want to go the extra mile to help out your campaign. Every political campaign should have a solid system to nurture volunteering among supporters.
Why recruit volunteers?
Volunteers are almost essential for a political campaign. They expand the capabilities of your campaign and let you have people on the ground to do anything from canvassing to social media posting.
Talk about the objective you need help with
Volunteers are more likely to step forward if they feel like their help is necessary to make the end goal. Show them that you need all the help you can get and that your campaign is working toward a larger cause than just to get elected.
Share volunteers stories
Talk about how much your existing staff and volunteers are making a difference to help your campaign on channels like social media.
Provide options to volunteers
Some people might not have much time to give. Others might currently be outside the areas you are campaigning in. Find spaces for these volunteers in your campaign and let them know that there are plenty of ways they can volunteer.
Have a volunteer management strategy
Have a plan to engage your volunteers once they show up. A training and task allocation strategy for volunteers will ensure that they are aware of the overall work of the campaign.
Create multiple fundraising channels
A primary challenge when running for a local office is fundraising. How are you going to raise enough money to become a viable candidate in the race?
Depending on where you are running and the demographics of that area, your campaign costs could run from a few thousand to even a million dollars. That’s why it’s so important to create all the opportunities you can for people to donate to your campaign.
Why have multiple channels?
By September of 2019, Bernie Sander had already had 1 million unique donors give to his campaign. One reason is that there were just so many ways he was reaching out to his supporters to do so, from emails and peer-to-peer texts to ads and word of mouth across social media channels.
When it comes to raising funds for a local campaign, understand the local voter’s familiarity with donation channels. Some might prefer to give at events and in-person only. Some may like to donate through direct mail, and others are more open toward new channels like donating through candidate website or email links. You could even sell branded merchandise with Bonfire to raise funds and promote your campaign.
Based on the voters’ comfort with the channel for contributing, you will want to set up different ways for every type of donor to chip in toward your fundraising goal.
Ask friends and family
There is no merit to being coy when it comes to raising funds. Talk to everyone you know who can donate to your campaign, and convince them to support you. You can even use this as a trial run to test your campaign messaging.
Use social media
The best way to raise awareness about your campaign and gather donations is to leverage social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Send out emails
The people who are already subscribed to your communications are more likely to donate to your campaign. If you have a list of contacts, send an email their way, asking for a gracious donation.
Hold fundraising events
If you have some money in hand, a fundraising event is a good way to kickstart your political campaign. For a more formal event, you can even charge more for VIP tickets.
Be thankful to donors
It’s important to reinforce their decision to donate and make them feel like they did the right thing. A good way to do that is by thanking them with an email.
Draw up a budget
Strategic thinking is key to coming up with a campaign budget. Think about why, where, and when your campaign is going to be spending money.
Why plan a budget?
In 2019, Donald Trump spent a large part of his funds–over 23 million dollars–on Facebook ads alone. A number bordering on ridiculous, but it wasn’t thoughtless spending. For him, it was the best way to reach his base.
Whatever voter communication steps and activities you plan for, make sure your campaign budget covers those expenses.
A good campaign budget will make it easier for you to:
- Track the funds that were and are being collected.
- Segment the various costs incurred during the entire campaign period.
It is vital to create a budgeting plan which can support your campaign strategy until Election day. Draw estimates of how much you’d need to spend and where you’d come by those required funds. Your fundraising plan also has to take the budget into account so you can meet those goals in due time.
The best way to create a campaign budget is to work backward from your end goal.
Start by figuring out your win number, or the number of voters you need to win the election. You can then decide on the best medium to reach these voters, like door-to-door canvassing or phone banking.
You will need to keep track of your budget. One way to do that is to create an excel sheet:
Learn more about creating a political campaign budget.
Be noticed by the locals
Sure, a good message can convert people to your side, but for them to listen to your message, you need to grab their attention first.
Winning the majority is all about being the candidate with better strategic support. In a local election, people prefer a candidate who is a part of the community. So that’s what your campaign should focus on.
Participate in the community
Getting your name out and about among the locals is largely a word of mouth process. This process actually begins before you announce your candidacy, so be active in town halls and other developmental initiatives for people to see you as a leader in the community.
Host community events
The more public the campaign is, the better the chances of you gaining a lead on the opponent. Plan your campaign strategy to host or attend community events. Parties at local bars or diners are good for voter registration or getting solicitations from past candidates or leaders in the community.
Get introduced in private circles
Ask supporters to introduce you to their family and friends. They can get you connected with other likely voters through a personal introduction, mail, or at events. An in-person approach is the best way to gather a supporter base in a local election. These supporters would continue the same effort in their circle and grow your voter base.
Meet with community influencers
Social proof is a big factor in helping voters decide who to vote for. So you’d win over more supporters in a community when a community leader or influencer endorses you as their candidate of choice. Talk with such influential community members and win their support over a beer or a coffee. Get them to put in a donation or show their support at an event. This will bring in supporters who look up to these local leaders in making important decisions.
Diversify your channels
In a local election with limited funds, you might not be able to use every voter contact step taken by a large-scale campaign. So choose which channels to use with the aim of getting the most visibility possible among the local voters. Use signs and posters around public spots in town and at busy intersections. Distribute door-to-door literature or even go for a local TV or radio show spot if the voters are inclined to find you that way.
Ramp up your GOTV efforts
Getting out the vote is one of the most important activities any political campaign can undertake.
GOTV activities for campaigns usually ramp up as they near election day
Read our extensive guide on GOTV strategies
Why focus on GOTV?
Your successful GOTV efforts, if done right can move the needle by more than 10 percentage points. If there was any way better suited to tip the scales in your campaign’s favor, this is it.
As the election day approaches, you have to make sure every voter who showed interest goes out to vote.
Have a GOTV drive in the week before the election and a final reminder on voting day. Maintain a voter contact list with information on all the voters contacted over the campaign period. The voter data will help you strategize which neighborhoods and demographics to focus on for GOTV.
How can campaigns do GOTV?
There are a number of ways campaigns are reaching out to supporters to get out and vote, and since research shows that voters who are contacted at multiple touchpoints are more likely to show up at the polls, you will want to consider all of them for your campaign:
Door to door canvassing
The classic and perhaps the most effective way to GOTV is door to door canvassing. It involves recruiting a group of volunteers to knock on doors and have conversations with potential voters.
In a study on MoveOn GOTV operations, researchers found that contact with MoveOn volunteers increased turnout by approximately 9 percentage points.
A phonebank lets your campaign reach voters in a way that is both efficient and as well as personal. All you would need to get started is a group of callers, the list of people you want to contact, and a calling software like CallHub.
It’s even more effective with volunteers! Volunteer-led phone banks increased turnout by 3.8 percentage points, in contrast to commercial phone banks that created less than 1 percentage point increase in turnout.
Text messaging in political campaigns came into prominence during the 2016 US presidential elections, where peer-to-peer texting was used to have conversations with voters, even ones without smartphones.
The impact of digital ads on voter turnout has not been fully explored, but we do know that it has a positive impact.
Digital ads offer two advantages over other outreach channels:
- You can target your ads, serving them only to the people that you wish to reach without the need to procure voter lists
- Detailed live analytics on ads allow for quicks tweaks that can improve performance.
Go Door to Door
Not just for GOTV, door-to-door canvassing is great for persuading undecided voters to consider your candidacy. It’s a fact that people having a face-to-face, personal conversations are more likely to find common ground.
Here are a few reasons to organize door-to-door campaigns:
- To Identify supporters
- Voter Persuasion
- Voter registration
- Opinion polls
Door-to-door canvassing is more personal than other forms of voter contact like mail or speeches. In fact, it is even cheaper than putting up signs or distributing campaign literature. The best practice is for the candidate to personally canvass in areas with likely supporters and swing voters and for volunteers to cover the rest of the ground. Aim to knock on as many doors as possible in a campaign for a local election.
The first step is to train your volunteers before a canvassing campaign. Show them what to expect, and give them time to rehearse your script or talking points.
Software tools like Ecanvasser or Polis are worth looking into. They let you manage the field activities of your volunteers, and make canvassing much easier.
Encourage your supporters to engage in open-ended conversations when interacting with swing voters. It’s important to not start with a statement or a question that makes it easy for people to say no.
Your political strategy is perhaps the backbone of your local campaign. A proper strategy will let you adjust campaign goals and funds to match your progress. Talk with past candidates or hire a consultant to come up with the best strategy for your local campaign.