The Five Biggest Campaign Myths and Misconceptions: What Candidates Get Wrong
As you (or your client) prepare to launch your 2018 race, it's important to separate the facts from the fictions of political campaigns. That's why we've prepared a list of the top 5 myths and misconceptions we see candidates holding on to as they enter the election.
1. There is a silver bullet for winning this race, I just need to figure out what it is.
The number of candidates who win by hoping for a silver bullet to materialize is essentially zero. To win, you need to be a good candidate, you need to have a good team, and you need the political environment – including the voters in your district and the time of your election – to be right for you. It takes a lot of time and hard work. Being a candidate for public office is hard. There is never a way to get around that.
2. The money will come to me.
There are a lot of well-funded campaigns on TV shows and in movies, and it leads us to believe that it happens quite naturally. Few TV shows or movies capture the hours and hours candidates spend dialing for dollars every day, yet it's how they raise money in the real world. Knowing people with money who like you gives you a big advantage, but even then, you still need to ask them for it. This is one of the few campaign tasks that can't be delegated. Only the candidate will be a successful fundraiser.
3. Having the most money ensures victory.
This is the flip-side of the money part of the campaign. Do you need money to win your race? Yes. Will raising the most money win the race? Not necessarily. Elections are complex. Money is important, but not as important as what you do with it. How will you spend it to communicate with voters? What exactly will you communicate? Donald Trump didn't raise nearly as much as his primary opponents. Instead he figured out how to be the most visible among them without paying for visibility. If you can't raise as much as your opponent you can still win, you just need to figure out how to do more with less.
4. We can win by giving non-voters a reason to vote.
This pipe dream is often found in states and districts where our party does so poorly that the locals are desperate enough to believe a pipe dream. Here's the truth: some non-voters have a deep distrust of all politicians, including you; some non-voters don't believe that voting is their duty; some non-voters are so apolitical they don't trust themselves to make the right decision. But for most non-voters, it's all of these things and more. It is almost always a better use of your time, energy, and campaign finances to focus on persuading likely voters and getting your supporters to the polls. If you're in a pipe dream district, hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
5. Voters will choose the candidate with the best ideas.
Like having the most money raised in a campaign, having the best ideas doesn't hurt, but like everything else, it's not a silver bullet. Voters make their decisions based on a number of factors, but in most general elections, most voters decide based on their ideology alone. And there is a vast and ever-increasing body of social psychology research that shows how difficult it is for good ideas to undo the preconceived notions held by people with strong ideologies. Great ideas work best in primaries and among persuadable voters with low-ideology scores. In other circumstances you will want to focus on your opponent's negatives or getting your base to the polls.
What We're Watching
This week Eric is recommending the documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.
"Lee Atwater's story is an important one, especially for political professionals. While I don't agree with his politics or some of his tactics, his life and relentless pursuit of winning is a story worthy of remembrance and study. Political work is hard and full of pitfalls, and I have always believed it's vital to learn from those who came before us. I recommend a watch or rewatch of this documentary as we head into a critical election season for our country."
Have a Newsletter Idea?
Is there an idea about campaigns you would like to share? Do you have questions about campaigns you would like us to explore? Let us know by replying to this email, and we'll try to include it in an upcoming newsletter!
- Eric and Dave