Lessons from Recent Elections
by Kenneth J. Drum
A past issue of this newsletter dealt with how to handle a negative attack by an opponent.
Some political observers have characterized recent elections as the most negative in history.
Negative attacks against a political opponent have become a trend in elections for
principally one reason--it works! It will work until political consultants develop
tactics that will counteract any advantage the attacker enjoys. One such response was
recently written in Campaigns and Elections magazine by consultants Joe Slade White and Ben Nuckels.
They are veterans of over 400 successful campaigns from the presidential level on down.
The article entitled "The Art of Rapid Response" put forth eight rules for responding to negative attacks.
Here are the eight rules and some commentary on each.
Rule #1 Respond to the True Message of the Attack
Often there is a literal message of the attack and an underlying message.
A response to only the literal message will only reinforce your opponent's attack
while the real message will define your candidacy. We witnessed a lot of it in the
2012 election. For example, if someone is accused of not properly paying their taxes
the underlying message is that the candidate is an elitist who plays by a different
set of rules than you and I.
Therefore they wouldn't care if they raised everyone else's taxes.
Rule #2 As in Judo, use the momentum of the attack itself to throw the opponent
Campaigns want to respond to every detail of an attack. Rather find the vulnerability
of the attack and focus your response there. If you can catch the opponent in a lie the entire attack will
collapse regardless of whether the rest of the attack is true or not.
Rule #3 Whenever possible make the message of the response about values that are personal
and strike a chord with voters
Most voters are conscious of personal values. Family, patriotism, fairness to others,
respect for the law, freedom to worship, opportunity to advance, etc. are examples of
personal values that voters respect. A false attack on any of these widely accepted
values will bring a backlash among voters.
Rule #4 Pivot quickly to a positive or a counter attack
A false attack can be used to reinforce a positive message of the campaign.
A campaign can use the false attack as a way of getting their real message to voters
without it seeming contrived. Since the false attack becomes a vehicle for delivering
the positive campaign message the message is more powerful with voters.
Rule #5 A good response can actually make the opponents ads work for you
Once an opponent's attack has been discredited it is counter-productive for the opponent
to keep using it. As often happens, they will continue to use it. When they do, most of
their campaign rhetoric will be discounted. Their campaign literature will become less effective.
Ronald Reagan's famous "There you go again" line took away a lot of his opponent's credibility.
Rule #6 When an opponent's attack contains something that isn't true, call it for what it is -- a lie.
In polling, focus groups, and dial tests, voters were much more willing to turn against
an attack ad if one could show that it contained something that simply wasn't true--a lie.
But it's important in a response to call
it a lie in a calm, matter of fact tone and back it up with sources.
Rule #7 Respond quickly and decisively to an attack
Don't assume that if it isn't true it won't work. This is called the "Swift boat lesson"
from the 2004 presidential campaign. Unanswered false charges tend to stick unless they are
immediately refuted. A question can be asked, "Why is my opponent telling lies about me?".
Answer: Because they are desperate and they know they have nothing positive to offer voters.
Rule #8 Use a response to redefine an opponent and their campaign
Response media should not only be looked at in terms of responding to attacks;
it is also a tool for taking control of the dynamic of the campaign.
When the time is right you can turn an opponent's strength into a weakness.
A final word from the authors
Today, as we face the new reality of the onslaught of negative ads sometimes by outside
groups or by individuals, using response media effectively is more critical than ever
to achieving victory.
Now anyone can run for office
The reason? Enhancements in campaign software are available to even low budget campaigns.
There has been a lot of attention directed at the presidential election and the amazing amount
of new campaign technology. Political consultants are falling over themselves to learn the
latest technology developed by the Obama campaign. The Romney campaign had also created an
untested model of GOTV software that was claimed to be second to none.
Unfortunately for Romney, it failed on election day but will be brought back in some form for 2014.
Over the years the fundamentals of campaign management and field operations have undergone
little change. You start by making a list of likely voters, communicate and try to persuade them,
identify your supporters and turn them out on election day. What has changed is the technology that
can organize the entire process. Large campaigns with lots of money were able to hire the talent
to create ways of keeping track of field operations. However, field operations don't often have
the impact on larger campaigns because you simply can't talk directly with enough voters. A good
field operation can be a tremendous help to a large campaign for voter turnout. Not so much when
attempting to persuade voters.
Smaller, down-ballot campaigns are the opposite. They respond well to face to face voter contact.
Often voters have no idea who is running in those races. The problem has always been organizing the
infrastructure of the smaller campaign. The technology was lacking. Not too long ago likely voter
lists were kept on index cards or some other labor intensive method. Campaign contributors names
were kept on a Rolodex. The only way someone could contribute money to a campaign
was by writing a check and handing it or mailing it to a candidate. The internet has changed all of this.
Smaller campaigns can now act like the larger campaigns without the high cost of operation.
Payments may be accepted online. An interactive website can be created at minimal cost.
Lists of contributors, voter lists, GOTV plans can all be kept on an internet "cloud".
Social media can be used by even the smallest campaigns.
What it all means is that anyone can run for office. By making the key to field organizing-direct
voter contact-affordable and accessible to local campaigns, it is transforming who can run for office
and who can get elected. A good political consultant
with experience in local elections can bring all of this together to create a winning campaign.
This article was reprinted with permission of Kenneth J. Drum & Associates, 8404 Mallow Lane, Naples, FL 34113.
Copyright 2014. Kenneth J. Drum & Associates. All Rights Reserved. For more information about the author go to: http://kendrum.com/