BECOMING A CAMPAIGN MANAGER
You don’t need to have academic coursework in politics to become a campaign manager. However, a college education in campaign management is one option for those who are serious about a career in politics. Many students who want to manage campaigns major in Political Science. While that is a standard choice, very few political jobs require a Political Science degree and many Political Science professors lack extensive practical experience in politics. Political Science courses often teach you how things are supposed to work, not the way they actually work in the real world.
However, if you are determined to make politics your career and you have the time and money for a formal education in the subject, there are a few schools that offer specialized degree programs in practical politics. You can attain a Master’s degree with specializations in Political Management, Legislative Affairs and Public Relations. They also offer shorter certificate programs and programs for interested students. Some have recently started an online program which might be a good option for older students who aren’t prepared to pick up and move to attend school
Keep in mind, though, that most people who make their living in politics do not have degrees in Campaign Management. There are many other subjects that can also give you entry level skills for a political career.
Campaigns need help with keeping the books, running computers, creating graphic designs, doing issue and opposition research, doing statistical analysis of voting patterns and polling information and creating all kinds of advertising. And, a degree in Campaign Management isn’t much of a plus if you end up getting a job outside of politics or government. A degree in another field gives you a lot more options on your career direction. Many campaign managers burn out, lose too many elections or say one too may stupid things and become less marketable. Having another career choice to fall back on might be a good idea.
Walking precincts vs. phoning voters
I knew a candidate several elections back who had a doctorate and was a professional numbers-cruncher. He ran for office and lost the first time out, but he didn’t want the experience to go to waste. So, he did a statistical analysis of the work his campaign had made in each precinct and compared it to expectations based on parameters such as voter registration and efforts in similar precincts. The bottom line of his very detailed analysis was that he gained a significant number of votes in precincts that he personally walked.
His campaign volunteers walked a lot of precincts, but there wasn’t a significant gain in votes in those precincts. That may have been because the strategy was ineffective or because some of the volunteers were ineffective. Volunteers who think they are running a door-to-door debating team can sometimes turn off the voters. So, some volunteers may have gained votes and others may have lost votes. There is no way to be sure, but the overall volunteer precinct-walking effort was pretty much a wash.
Now, the really interesting statistic he came up with was that he actually lost votes in precincts that his campaign phoned. This confirmed a bias of mine against telephone campaigning. I personally think more people are annoyed than convinced by unsolicited phone calls. I guess all the big-time campaign strategists push the phone program, but just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it is a good tactic for your campaign. I hear from people all the time who hate those phone calls.
The only time I think a phone program makes sense is if you need to respond to an attack from your opponent and it is too late to do it any other way. It also might make sense as a way to remind voters of the election date in a special election where a low turnout is expected. Otherwise, I think you’re wasting time and/or money with a big phone program, but I know there are others who will disagree.
So you are running (or thinking about running) for an elected position of any level. Good for you. Congratulations. We have a saying about standing as a candidate: “You might not win, but you can’t lose.” But before you head off on the campaign trail, remember these three things:
1. Know the rules.
2. Know the rules.
3. Know the rules.
All the tips and helpful hints in the world won’t help if you do something that gets you thrown out of the election. You have to know what is allowed. You have to be sure that what you do will not lead to disqualification. Know who the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) is and what hours they keep. That way, if you want to do something out of the ordinary, something you don’t see covered in the election rules, ask your CRO before you do it.
You might also want to talk to your friends or superiors and let them know you are running in a political election. Let them know that you might miss or be late for some activities since you don’t always control the schedule of candidate events and they need to be aware of this.
What Works? The Essentials:
1. Use your networks of friends and acquaintances.
• Announce your campaign and platform (who you are, what you stand for, why you’re running, why you’d be a good choice for the position) to the people closest to you first.
• Get feedback. Ask people what they’d like to see from the position you are running for.
• Ask for help. Ask people to tell people. Ask them to invite you to events, meetings, etc.
2. Use organizations that you know and that know you.
• Attend meetings and events for the clubs, groups that you’re already a part of to let people know you are a candidate and to discuss your platform. Don’t skip them because you are too busy campaigning. An important part of campaigning is to motive those who know you best.
3. Create opportunities to speak at events.
• Talk to people who know lots of people. Go to meetings, social events, cultural events, etc. that you might not normally attend. Have organizers and leaders introduce you to as many people as they can.
4. Attend every/all candidates’ forum/debate.
• No matter the attendance, it is a chance to hone your message and speak to motivated People. If they attend a meeting they are likely to vote. Even if they are opposed to your candidacy, you may at least neutralize them so they won’t actively campaign against you.
5. School campaigns.
Schools are important avenues for campaigns and students are potential agents in their homes and families.
• You MUST get permission from the school leaders and you need to be very brief.
• It’s good because real students see you.
• Be succinct, genuine, and encourage participation (voting etc.).
• Practice making a few important points in under a minute.
• Repeat your name as often as you can (without sounding like a crazy person).
6. Talk to all the media you can.
• For one thing, it’s cheap and reaching. But you must be confident in your platform.
• If you don’t know the answer to a question say so (remember: “it’s much better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”) Send them media releases. Let them know where you’ll be and who you’ll be talking to. If possible, use questions they ask to reiterate the main planks of your campaign but don’t stretch things too far. If they ask what your favorite ice cream flavor is, don’t use it as an opportunity to condemn, for example, the tax on textbooks.
7. Create small handouts with your email and phone contact, your name and face on them.
• Hand them out to everybody you speak to. Invite them to “find out more about you.”
8. Respond to criticism in a measured way.
• Some people are not going to like what you have to say or how you say it. The best way to respond to them is to be diplomatic and polite – even if they are neither. When people see you remain calm they will be impressed. You can practice this with a friend who can play the role of an aggressive opponent.
• Use language that will diffuse a tense situation such as “I respect your opinion on the issue, I simply don’t share it.” “You are entitled to disagree with me.” “Let’s focus on ideas.” “The voter’s will decide whose right on this.”
• Do not attack the person; do not suggest ulterior motives; do not comment on who they know, how they look, or their level of intelligence. Stick to the issue. Debate the pros and cons of the position being considered.
• Good for name and face recognition.
• If you have a slogan, use it. Make sure it is memorable; be concise. (e.g., “Make it better.” “People want change.” “Let’s stay on track.”)
• Make sure your references (including acronyms) are well known and that your language is inclusive and inoffensive.
• If you use a photo, make it a good, professional-looking one. There is nothing wrong with looking the best that you can.
• Use bright colors and fonts that are easily read at a distance. Don’t use gold lettering on white paper.
• Don’t count on posters doing the job for you. Remember that most people are so bombarded with posters they don’t actually “see” them. It’s called “poster blindness.”
• It’s all about appearance. What stands out, what will reach the maximum number of potential voters? Figure that out and your banner will be a good investment.
II. What doesn’t work?
1. Don’t be overly complex/overly simplistic.
• Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be easy to understand. Use the appropriate place to get in-depth about a subject.
• Sometimes less is more. That’s called being concise and coherent. Sometimes less is simply less. That’s called not knowing what you’re talking about.
2. Don’t use empty rhetoric.
• Avoid clichés like the plague. Try not to parrot well-know speeches and positions. Be your own person and say things in your own way. Don’t try to be something you are not. Ask questions; ask what people think of your ideas.
3. Don’t attack rivals; attack ideas
• Being passionate is okay. Being over the top and suggesting that anybody who disagrees with you is insane/evil/a threat to democracy is not okay. People will not respond favorably to your tearing down of opponents; it often backfires and may lose you votes.
4. Don’t try to turn around an ocean liner as if it were a jet ski
• Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t say that electing you will make the sun rise and the birds sing.
• Pick some issues that you can work on, stress their importance, and be confident that you can follow through on making things better.
• People tune out when you promise something they know is impossible.
5. Don’t deliberately try to provoke a negative response
6. Don’t put yourself and your material in the wrong place.
• Don’t spend your time at a place your likely supporters never go.
• It’s also no use putting up posters or leaving campaign material in places your potential voters never go.
• Be strategic. Use your resources wisely. Don’t litter.
7. Don’t have a campaign that is unfocused, confusing, or cliquish.
• You can’t be for or against everything. Pick and stick.
• Make sure you don’t contradict yourself.
• Even if you have strong support from certain voters, make sure you reach out to all of them.
III. Three things every campaign needs.
1. Good Friends.
2. Good Ideas.
3. Good Luck.