Now that the 2012 political season is behind us, it is a good time to take a look back at what worked and what didn’t. From the presidential race to statewide races to regional races to local races, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. I gained a unique perspective this year because I was fortunate to work, in some capacity, on political races on all four levels. The details of the races were different, but they all came down to one simple thing – message.
Candidates and volunteers spent hours this year doing the nuts-and-bolts of running campaigns – raising money, communicating to voters, and grassroots organizing. However, behind the scenes political consultants and campaign operatives were developing messages that would be successful. In any smart campaign, no matter what level, the candidates try to stay “on message”.
The message and who you are targeting is the most important part of any campaign. It will determine whether or not you will be able to convince voters to vote for your candidate. It doesn’t matter how many voters you talk to, how many doors you knock on or how much money you spend on paid media if you are communicating the wrong message to the wrong audience.
During the presidential campaign, I worked for a Super PAC, Black Men Vote, that was encouraging young black men to vote. Before the organization spent any money communicating to voters they spent a considerable amount of money doing focus groups with young black men to determine the best messages that would resonate with them and get them to the polls.
Another campaign I worked on was the statewide charter school referendum in Georgia. My work focused on communicating with African-American voters in Georgia. This was an uphill battle because many prominent African-Americans and organizations in Georgia were against the referendum. Consultants on this campaign polled voters and discussed messaging a great deal. In the end we tailored our message to focus on – children and Barack Obama. We used clips of President Obama, the most popular political figure among blacks, talking about parents and children having choices in schools. In the end, African-Americans overwhelming voted in favor of this referendum despite the lack of vocal support from influential members of the community.
Other campaigns were not quite as fortunate. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is the best example of message failure. His message of tax cuts for the rich to jump start our struggling economy was never clearly explained and didn’t connect with the middle class and working poor. The TSPLOST campaign in metro Atlanta is another example of what not to do. This campaign targeted the wrong voters, with the wrong message, and the wrong messengers. Both campaigns did a poor job of identifing the correct voters to target that would connect with their messages.
Candidates and their advisers need to spend more time targeting the right voters with the right message. This can only be done through data driven analysis and a campaign strategy that is committed to connecting with voters first and fine tuning their thoughts. The message is the single most important aspect of any campaign in an era where sound bites, hashtags and tweets have become the norm—a clear, concise and convincing message is key.