Basics of Running a Good Campaign

There’s both an art and a science to running a good political campaign. Although many aspects of your campaign will depend upon your particular race and your district, there are many core concepts that apply to all campaigns. These recommendations are based on industry best practices, many of which are backed by evidence-based research.

Rule #1: Use a candidate’s time effectively

A candidate should spend their time talking to voters or raising money. Anything and everything else can and should be delegated to other people. If the campaign can’t afford to hire staff, find volunteers to take on some tasks.

Rule #2: Target the right voters

The most efficient way to get votes are:

  1. Persuade people who are regular voters to support you. These may be easy votes to get, as the voter may just need to hear about your campaign. This is especially true in low information, down ballot races and open seat contests. Voters often don’t know much about a candidate, so it could take as few as one contact with the voter to get their vote.
  2. Get people who are likely to support you, but not habitual voters, out to the polls. These are voters that don’t vote in every election, but do vote solidly for Democrats. You will likely need to contact them 6-8 times in order to get them to the polls.

You may be thinking that this system leaves out other groups of voters who may vote for you. That’s true. There may be other people who will support you, but it will take a lot of time, money, and resources to identify those voters, persuade them to vote for you, and to turn them out on Election Day. It’s simply easier to persuade a frequent voter to vote for you than to turnout less frequent voters. Since resources are finite on a campaign, you have to focus your efforts where they will pay the most dividends.

Rule #3: Personal outreach is key

The more personal the outreach to a voter is, the more effective it is. For instance, knocking on a voter’s door is better than a phone call, which is better than an ad or recorded call. Moreover, an enthusiastic volunteer who has a genuine conversation with the voter is much more effective than a heavily scripted interaction.

Here’s the hierarchy of voter outreach:

First tier:

  • The gold standard is for the candidate to speak to a voter in person. This could happen through door knocking or at an event. In addition to being the the most effective method, it’s also the cheapest way to persuade a voter to vote for you.

Second tier:

  • Canvassing by a family member, friend, or other enthusiastic volunteer
  • Calls by the candidate
  • Calls by a family member, friend, or other enthusiastic volunteer
  • Peer to peer digital outreach (e.g. text messaging)

Third tier:

  • Paid canvassers/callers
  • Literature drops
  • Direct mail
  • Digital advertising
  • Yard signs
  • Email blasts
  • Robo calls

In person outreach is not always possible, for instance if the voter lives in an apartment building that has a locked entry or in areas that are sparsely populated. In those cases, phone calls will be the best option.

Ultimately, your campaign will need to use a mix of the above methods to reach voters the recommended 6-8 times.