Talking Points For Progressive Democrats….They Aren’t Just For Candidates Anymore.

The 2018 elections are just around the corner and the campaigning will soon begin in earnest. I thought it might be of interest to Progressive Democrats to share some of my insights from having been involved in managing and coordinating numerous campaigns up and down the ticket over the years. Take it for what it is worth…it’s free .

The headline for this post is Talking Points For Progressive Democrats….They Aren’t Just For Candidates Anymore. Talking points are normally associated with candidates to use in public appearances, pressers and private gatherings like coffee parties and fundraising events. I would suggest that talking points extend way beyond the individual candidate. An effective grass-roots campaign (which I would hope any Progressive Democrat candidate is going to employ) relies on all the people involved in the campaign, from the candidate down to the volunteer envelope stuffer or social media commentator. That being said, it is important these people are aware of talking points on various issues, as well as anyone else committed to advancing the cause of progressive democracy. What does this look like and how might it be implemented?

I am going to keep this simple. If you google “what is a winning political strategy,” you are going to find a host of websites from political consulting firms, political gurus, and campaign marketing groups. This is what these people do for a living and for some a very handsome living. It is one of the few professions where you get paid whether you win or lose. However most Progressive Democrat campaigns and Democrat campaigns in general can’t afford these folks. Based on my experience, I am going to a give you a political strategy that has worked for me and isn’t rocket science.

The “Talking Points” Strategy – Messaging With A Twist

Every campaign needs a message. In larger races, the candidate focuses on three or four main issues based on polling. Polling is expensive. If you are running for a county or state legislative seat it may be prohibitive, but not prohibitive. (More on this later.) The political consultants will then take the polling results and gin them down into the campaign’s message consisting of what three or four issues are deemed important to the voters. For example, the four issues in candidate Joe Blow’s campaign may be “Fair Taxation,” “Higher Teacher Pay,” “Tough On Crime,” and “Affordable College.” All four of these were found to be important. They ended up on yard signs, flyers, door hangers, radio and television advertising and social media posts.  Good stuff, right? Wrong!

The problem here is it amounts to condensed political rhetoric. We have all heard and seen this before. All of these beg the same questions, for instance, WHAT is fair taxation? and HOW are you going to accomplish this? There is a reason the average voter turnout in the 2018 general election in United States will be 40% of eligible voters, by a couple of percentage points more or less. There is a reason voter approval ratings of Congress are somewhere in the low teens. If a candidate and their supporters want to win their election, this strategy needs to be employed by the campaign in my humble opinion.

Don’t misunderstand me. A campaign needs a message and it needs to address the issues. Polling is obviously one of the ways to determine what issues voters are interested in. If a candidate is running a Congressional or Governor’s race, the most efficient way to conduct this to use a professional polling firm. If on the other hand a candidate is running for a state legislature seat, polling can be done by a professional polling firm OR by the candidate’s campaign. As mentioned earlier, in this case a campaign can determine what those most important issues are to the constituents they are trying to represent.

This method is relatively simple. You can get a list of most likely voters from your state party headquarters sorted by registration (Democrat, Republican, Independent and Others.) To determine who is a most likely voter the campaign can use volunteers to go through the list and select the voters who have voted in the last three general elections (2016, 2014 and  2012). If they have voted in all three, these are considered “cherries” and are most likely to vote in 2018. If a person voted in 2016 and 2012 but not in 2014, these voters are important and should be targeted for special attention later in the campaign but included in your polling.

To conduct your polling effort you will need to:

  • Secure the voter list for your legislative list
  • Determine the most likely and targeted voters among Democrats
  • Match the names with a phone number. Use a land line directory or cell phone list (this vendor is relatively inexpensive Volunteers can be trained to this.
  • Keep duplications
  • You are going to need a person to build a database. I have used computer science majors from local college and community colleges to this. Some have received credit for their participation and others received a small stipend.
  • You will need to find a call center, preferably one you don’t have to pay for, a friendly local bank, a supporter who owns a business, a doctor’s or lawyer’s office that supports your campaign and two or three phones in your campaign office (you need one even if it’s a hole in the wall).
  • At this point you have your lists, have identified who will be called, have a database manager and access to phones.

I can not stress enough how important volunteers are to this effort or your campaign in general. A candidate can not do all this and shouldn’t. It will depend on the efforts of volunteers and the more the merrier! Anyone who contacts the candidate or campaign should be given a job immediately. The worst thing that can happen is if you fail to acknowledge their willingness to help your campaign! A case in point, several weeks ago I learned who the candidate for state senate was in my district here in Arizona. She had a great website. Good graphics and bio. A request to volunteer form right on the front page. I was impressed and since I was not involved in campaign this year, I filled it out and humbly put my credentials in the message space along with my name and contact information. I have never heard a word from her. Not to boast but I am pretty sure I could have been of value to a first-time candidate.

On Tuesday, July 24th I will continue this discussion to include the design and implementation of the poll, the determination of issues, developing talking points, expanding the “voice” of the campaign beyond the usual methods, and why it all matters. This will continue with more posts detailing the specific tactics for implementation of a “talking points” strategy.