Ron Faucheux is the author or editor of several popular American books on political campaigning including Running for Office: The Strategies, Techniques and Messages Modern Political Candidates Need to Win Elections and Winning Elections: Political Campaign Management, Strategy & Tactics. He also ran the popular Campaigns and Elections magazine for several years. He’s a former candidate, elected representative, Chief of Staff and experienced campaign manager and trainer. Dr. Faucheux teaches courses in Campaign Management, Running for Office, and the History of Presidential Elections at the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, and at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute.
He’s a regular writer and contributor to media discussion about campaigning and campaign management. One website that he contributes to (and is worth subscribing to ) is Winning Campaigns.
An example of his sound, experienced advice includes: “In modern campaigns, everybody wants to run smart, sophisticated, creative, cutting edge campaigns that utilize the latest techniques and tools. But in trying to do so, don’t forget the basics: Develop a clear, simple strategy and stick to it. Develop a strong message and use it. Go directly to the people and ask everyone for their help. Let the voters get to know you and stand for something that matters. Bring new people into the political process. The basics separate winners from losers, mediocre campaigns from great campaigns.”
Below is an summary from a great article he wrote for Winning Campaigns which lists some great advice for new and inexperienced candidates. Actually come to think of it, this list is a great refresher for old and tired candidates and campaign directors as well! 🙂
1. Don’t let the tough days get you down.
2. Always keep your cool.
3. The goal of being a candidate is winning the election.
4. No matter how hard you try, you won’t get every vote that’s cast and you won’t get everybody to like you.
5. If you want a political career, never let defeat stop you.
6. Ask every voter for help.
7. When someone tells you they’re voting for your opponent, don’t get angry.
You can follow Winning Campaigns on Facebook as well.
The picture below has nothing to do with Winning Campaigns or Ron Faucheux. It’s just one of the funny images from the recently released movie ‘The Campaign’ which is worth watching if you’re an old cynic like me 🙂
For perspective on the difference between Democratic and Republican midterm strategy, you really have to read Derek Willis’s NYT Upshot post “Democrats Are Spending More on the Ground in Key Senate Races.” The centerpiece in his post, quite a jaw-dropper really, is a chart, “A Democratic Edge in Key Senate Races,” which graphically depicts how much of the midterm outcome is riding on Dem’s GOTV spending.
In Alaska, for example, Dems are spending $1.9 million for “local staffers; get-out-the-vote efforts and other field operations.” to re-elect Mark Begich, vs. less than $225K for the Repubican candidate. In Colorado the difference is even greater, with Dems spending $4.4 million on staff and voter contact operations, compared the the Republicans’ spending a paltry $556K for their candidate. In North Carolina Democrats are spending $3.2 million on ground game efforts to re-elect Sen. Kay Hagan, compared to less than $836K for her GOP opponent. In Iowa it’s $1.3 mill for Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley against $105K for his adversary.
Willis adds that outside groups, such as super PACs, environmental and reproductive rights groups “working on behalf of Democratic candidates have extended the advantage.” Republicans, lacking the ground troops, have for the most part opted for investments in more traditional methods, such as media and postal ads.
Much depends on how good Democratic high-tech voter targeting efforts like the Bannock Street Project really are, vs. the GOP’s ad saturation strategy. But Dems are not withdrawing from the ad wars in any sense, explains Willis:
In Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina, the number of network television spots is split roughly evenly between the two sides, according to data compiled by Echelon Insights, a Republican digital consulting firm…Spending on field operations is still a fraction of the amount that goes to television and other forms of advertising, and campaigns are reluctant to take money away from trying to reach mass audiences, even if it’s unclear in many cases how many persuadable voters broadcast advertisements reach.
Democrats clearly recognize that they have to remain competitive in fronting strong television ads, matching the Republican investment. But they also believe they can target swing voters better than can the Republicans, and they can put more trained canvassers on their front porches– and with a better message.
It’s a big gamble. But credit Democrats with the realization that getting different midterm results requires a different GOTV strategy. So far, dozens of better-than-expected snapshot polls suggest they may be right.
I was looking at some recent campaign gaffes in elections around the world and it reminded me of a recent article on Australian examples by Peter Chen from Sydney University.
I first met Peter Chen briefly in 2008 at a post-2007-federal-election workshop at ANU where he entertained a room of political science academics and practitioners with YouTube clips from the 2007 election campaign. Last year he wrote an interesting piece for The Drum about campaign gaffes http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-19/chen-campaign-gaffes/4895246
If you don’t have time to read the 2012 thesis you might prefer this shorter article from 2012 “Social Media, Youth Participation and Australian Elections” http://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/research/caber/files/1b.pdf … in a nutshell: ” Social media used for political purposes is likely though, in the first instance, to attract those with pre-existing strong political interests. However, the generalisation of social media use, and its focus on sociality and community building, has the potential to change the way trusted political information is distributed and engagement occurs.”
Dr Chen’s thesis reveals he “is a lecturer in media and politics at the University of Sydney. He holds a PhD from The Australian National University. His research focuses on the relationship between media and political processes, with a particular interest in new forms of communication. He also teaches and researches in the areas of public policy, Australian politics and social movements. Peter is the author of numerous articles and chapters on the role of digital media in Australian political life, and the author of Electronic Engagement: A Guide for Public Managers (ANU E Press, 2007) and the co-author of Electronic Democracy? The Impact of New Communications Technologies on Australian Democracy (Democratic Audit of Australia, 2006). He is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics and the International Journal of Electronic Governance.
I can’t seem to find him on Twitter though, which is a bit disappointing.
In the Drum article Dr Chen refers primarily to Mr Abbott’s “suppository of all wisdom” gaffe and concludes “there is some truth in the repression view of gaffes. Where there are cognitive associations between concepts, verbal misstatements may reflect them in unguarded moments. The important question is to be able to delineate between simple error and significant and telling Freudian slip. In the latter case this would be most observable where these errors are repeated over time, eliminating the “momentary distraction” and “linguistic similarity” explanations. Tony Abbott may not have a deeply suppressed anal fixation, but his tendency towards repeated gender stereotypes (ironing and women, sex appeal as an important characteristic for women in public life, talking about Indigenous women simply as passive victims) does provide us with a sense that, in this policy area, there’s something to the slip of the tongue.”
One of the many reasons I like Mike and his blog is that he frequently shares a pearl of campaigning wisdom that, in real life, can take many years and many campaign dramas to learn. Mike was one of many fantastic presenters at the recent 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop which Stephen Mills and Jennifer Rayner organised at Sydney University in July (and which I am still yet to blog about properly – don’t worry, it’s still on my to-do list).
I remember former NSW General Secretary John Della Bosca explaining at a media event that, in real life, it actually takes about 10 years of on-the-job-training in many (both winning and losing) campaigns before a state or territory party branch can confidently say it has “trained up” a competent and professional “Campaign Organiser”. I believe he was correct, give or take a couple of years depending on the intelligence, aptitude and good humour of the trainee. The more experience you have, the less mistakes you will repeat, because some mistakes are inevitable in politics and public life.
Well here is a blog where ANYONE can read and learn some real-life campaigning truisms. And this one is a pearler: Always have a strategy or plan (before you act).
Briefly and wisely, Mike explains: “When candidates are frustrated, deadlines loom, issues are urgent or crises threaten, then it’s so easy to be stampeded into taking quick action – under-planned and under-evaluated action. There’s nearly always time to devise a strategy and plan its delivery. There’s nearly always time to check whether ideas are truly good or merely appear so, whether they can deliver optimal outcomes, or whether a more considered approach can do better.
You must resist the pressure to start doing things before you have a plan. When you haven’t got the time to plan, you either need a plan in the bottom drawer ready to pull out – because you’ve already prepared a crisis management plan – or you need to find a way to defer the frustration, deadline, urgency or threat – even if it is just for an hour or two.”
It reminded me of another pearl of wisdom that I have often used (most recently in a 125-page ACT Labor Report about the 2012 ACT Election Campaign) which I love to share during training sessions. It’s a friendly warning to future campaign directors and candidates of the harsh judgement that they may be subjected to within the Labor Party, even when they win an election campaign.
To the many “armchair experts” we offer this advice from Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. But for your own sake, at least base your decision on a rational strategy and plan!
And guess what? Occasionally a Campaign Director will make the wrong call! That’s the inevitable consequence of limited resources (time, money, people, information) and the inevitable chaos of a tough campaign. I’ve always quietly laughed at the CVs of professional “Campaign Consultants” (I understand there’s around 30,000 of them in the US) who proudly list all the “winning campaigns” they have worked on. Their CV’s and resumes rarely list “losing campaigns” or even “close calls where we were nipped in the final sprint to the finish”. Clearly they’re not choosing to fight many close or marginal contests. Science tells us if you regularly fight a close contest (i.e. polling around 50/50, give or take a margin of error) you will probably lose 50% of the time.
Anyway, never hang your head in shame if you lose or if you know you gave it your best shot and it still wasn’t enough to please the inevitable critics. Remember this: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
Twitter is a relatively recent communications tool and its affect on mass media and politics is still evolving in rapid and sometimes unpredictable ways.
There are already very lengthy and serious research papers being written on the subject and I don’t claim any particular research experience or expertise. However I have enjoyed watching the evolution of this new communications conduit and I’ve made a few mistakes myself along the way. Some funnier than others!
For the purposes of this short article my views and learnings (briefly) are:
1. Journos are learning how important Twitter is, but a few dinosaurs remain. The younger and hipper ones are clearly much better at it. The smart ones understand how to use lists and hashtags to monitor developments and also answer legitimate questions. They also aren’t afraid to block anonymous trolls.
2. Twitter now drives breaking news in mainstream media. The good journos get this. Many mainstream media stories are now peppered with pictures, videos and eyewitness accounts ripped straight from Twitter, often without any investigative or precautionary fact-checking.
3. Twitter is a good comms tool for insiders, sadly no soft or swinging voter’s minds will ever be changed on twitter,
4. The block key is great for anonymous trolls. Don’t feed the anonymous trolls.
The story below is an interesting yarn from the US via Campaigns and Elections magazine (a great resource for campaigners and journalists alike). I recommend subscribing to them for regular updates as well as following them on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s a great warning for young, enthusiastic (and sometimes inexperienced) digital campaigners (of which there are many in modern campaigning).
Key learnings from the article above include:
1. Here’s just one example: a snarky tweet from our opponent’s communications director ended up being retweeted a dozen times (I assume entirely by his friends and family), and this suddenly constituted a communications crisis for our campaign. It wasn’t. Not even close.
2. As all encompassing as Twitter seems in the Beltway Bubble, many voters, especially older voters who are your most reliable voting demographic, don’t use it. Some have no idea what Twitter is. And those who do are probably tweeting about the score of the latest baseball game, not the negative attack ad on TV.
3. Campaign communication plans need to be balanced with both traditional and new media, which means we need operatives who are balanced, and most importantly, know how to filter out the noise. Young operatives have come up in a world where everyone is on Twitter and everyone uses their Facebook accounts. In their world, much of public life is transacted online. The reality of life for most voters is far different. They’re reading news stories, in many cases online, but still a good portion in print. They’re also listening to talk radio and watching live broadcast television. A good hit in any of these mediums is far more likely to move voters than a tweet.
4. If Twitter is your only news source, which too often it is for many political reporters, some random malfeasance would appear to have seismic repercussions when survey research would show 80 percent of voters are unaware of the issue at all.
5. Now, this isn’t to say that social media sites like Twitter are useless to campaigns. They can be great ways to communicate with supporters, opinion makers, and drive action, but social media alone, or even primarily, does not move popular opinion or shape the discussion the way a print story in the major local daily does.
That said, Twitter does drive many mainstream stories, simply because of its speed and accessibility. Take for examples our (current) Federal Treasurer’s recent statements about poor people not owning cars or driving far. The explosion of memes and jokes on twitter (in which mainstream journalists shared and participated in the online furor) resulted in this joke even being carried the next day in conservative newspapers like the Herald Sun. It’s a good example of a story spreading initially through twitter and then the mainstream media. The MPs and candidates who were paying attention were able to participate in the conversation and in some cases help spread the wildfire which the conservatives are still trying to extinguish two days later.
There were some more hilarious tweets and memes the following day and then a further wave of very funny cartoons in the mainstream media after that (and online) .
here is a small sample found via google and twitter:
Anyway, don’t just take my word for it. Go to twitter and type “#auspol Hockey” into the search field …and enjoy the visual spectacle yourself.
While I’m typing this up poor old Joe Hockey is getting an absolute shellacking on ABC PM radio in Australia. I’m listening to a Vox Pop where every person is describing him as arrogant and out of touch. Will try and find a transcript later and add it to this post.
I like Peter Brent (and so does Malcolm Mackerras) even though I disagree with his obsessive criticism of Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, both of whom I admire greatly. For those minor faults though Peter has a world of wisdom to share about politics and political science. Despite his reluctance to be labelled a psephologist he does have a very good grasp of election numbers, “the vibe” and “common sense” when it comes to interpreting polls and election results.
As a party professional I have been privileged to have access and use of opinion polling and must admit that I have learnt to always treat it VERY carefully. Peter is correct in that it is often misinterpreted and misused, not just in the mainstream media. At a recent Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop at Sydney University one of the highlights was a presentation by Stephen Mills from UMR, in defence of opinion polls. I’ll share those insights in a future post!
“Within the political class, Newspoll is the most watched and most influential. Published every second Tuesday in the Australian, the poll results are interpreted for readers by the paper’s political writers. It’s that interpretation – captured in headlines and opening paragraphs – that’s repeated, largely unquestioned, on ABC radio news bulletins and in other media across the country. No one holds a gun to their heads to force them to follow the Australian line, but something about the news-creation process means that they do. It’s probably just the path of least resistance.”
“The routine preface to the media reporting of survey results – “If an election had been held on the weekend…” – is terribly misleading. No poll can tell us what result an election last weekend, preceded by a campaign, would have thrown up. A pollster contacts a person and asks him or her to imagine there is an election today – and how would you vote? It’s a preposterously hypothetical and artificial exercise: a silly question eliciting silly answers.”
“Even after an over-hyped Malaysia Airlines–induced “boost” in satisfaction ratings, the most recent Newspoll had Tony Abbott on just 36 per cent satisfaction and the government trailing in voting intentions after preferences 46 to 54. At the equivalent time in his prime ministership, Kevin Rudd enjoyed 65 per cent satisfaction and the government led 54 to 46. John Howard was on 52 per cent satisfaction and the Coalition was in front 53 to 47. But Rudd didn’t even make it to the next election. Howard did, and scraped back, and then comfortably won two more. The Abbott government might be performing “badly” in the opinion polls but today’s numbers mean almost nothing. At the same time they mean a lot, because political players can’t ignore the way they influence what the media sees as the “narrative.”
“Abbott would be aware that if the polls continue as they are, speculation will arise about his prime ministership. His actions will increasingly be interpreted through the polls. On the Labor side, new rules have provided institutional ballast to the leadership, but they can be easily reversed. One day the forty-fourth parliament will end, and we’ll be starting a new one, most likely with a re-elected Coalition government. The mid-2014 polls will be long forgotten, and probably, with hindsight, judged laughably unreliable.”
If you have time after reading that article above by Peter you might also want to read the one in the link below. As I said on twitter when I shared it – I don’t agree with all of it but I’m still quite keen to read part 2! 🙂