The political campaign process can be challenging and overwhelming, especially during a tight race. With the rise of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, voters are more involved than ever, which means even the smallest local election or seemingly least contentious mid-size elections have become more difficult to win in recent years. As a result, campaign managers and other key campaign figures must work hard to master the art of winning tight political races.
From the chaos surrounding the 2016 presidential election to the recent congressional win in Georgia, there are plenty of examples of what to do and not to do in a close political race. In the case of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District race, Republican Karen Handel won 52 percent of the vote over her opponent, Democrat Jon Ossoff, who won almost 48 percent.
While a Republican victory is not unexpected, it was notable because Handel won by such a small margin.
Recognized as the most expensive House race in the country’s history, the campaign’s price tag may have exceeded $50 million. Handel triumphed in a tight political race due to her party and super PACs pouring money into her campaign, allowing her the resources to succeed. It also did not hurt that her district traditionally supported conservative candidates. For candidates and political teams that don’t have $50 million to spare in a challenging political race, there still are ways to triumph. Here are a few key tricks to winning a difficult race.
Fully understand and support your target audience
One of the worst mistakes candidates could make during a tight race is to fail to understand who their target audience is. In order to be confident that you are reaching out to the right demographics, you must have access to factual data about your intended target audience online. You need estimates on how many there are, how to target your spending and how to best reach them.
In order to gain access to this information, you may use Facebook’s Ads Manager or other similar tools. This tool will let you know a rough estimate of your target voter audience based on gender, age, interests, location and other essential demographic information. After all, you don’t want to waste significant amounts of resources on a particular group of voters who either will never vote for you or aren’t reliable enough to count as firm votes.
Don’t underestimate your competition
If you want to triumph in a tight race, you must know who you are running against. You want to know everything about them, from how many social media followers they have to how effective and engaging their campaign website is. Even if you don’t have a lot of data or information on your opponent, you can win by being the one to outwork your competition. See how many rallies they hold, how much money they raise, what their social media presence looks like or how many special appearances they make. Then take that and double it.
Your candidate can come out on top in a tight political race by never underestimating the person he or she is running against. In order to do so, you’ll need to campaign so hard that by the end of the election cycle, you’ll feel satisfied in knowing that you gave the job your all.
Perfect your social media strategy
Social media has the power to make or break any campaign. If your candidate isn’t active on most popular social media channels, you may be hurting your chances of being successful in a close race. Depending on the size of your election and voter base, you need to tailor your social media strategy to meet a wide range of voters while still appealing to your target audience.
Start with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Then, depending on the demographic of your voters, consider adding Snapchat, LinkedIn and other trending social media platform. Voters want to know that you are up-to-date with the newest technology, trends and issues. Remember to make these social media channels an extension of your candidate’s personality. Consider spicing up your platforms by using memes, GIFs and hilarious videos to show your voter base another side of your candidate.
Build an engaging website and internet presence
With this idea about showing your voters you can have fun online, you must create an engaging website and internet presence. In today’s tech-savvy culture, if your website is dull, voters will likely associate this lack of excitement with your candidate. Instead of just having the basic facts about your campaign’s message on your website, consider running a fun blog, consistently uploading team photos and integrating other interactive elements on your site.
The goal is to get the public talking about your candidate because, in a tight race, name recognition is everything. If the public doesn’t know or care about your candidate, they are far less likely to cast their ballot in your favor on election day. So try spicing up your website and online presence to get voters talking about your candidate and their message.
Hire an enthusiastic marketing team
Unless you are running a tiny local race, you must know that you cannot maintain an effective digital marketing campaign without a solid team of experts. To be successful, consider hiring digital marketing strategists, writers, graphic designers, photographers, content creators, social media strategists, search engine optimization experts and others.
Be patient and wait until you find the right professionals to join your team. After all, a campaign team is like a well-oiled machine. If one part isn’t operating properly, the rest of it will shut down or fail to fulfill its intended function. You want your marketing team to be innovative, enthusiastic and passionate about what they do and the message your campaign intends to spread. This way, you can depend on them to do their job, while you focus on other key areas of the campaign.
Set a firm budget
Obviously, you know the importance of setting a firm budget before the launch of your campaign. However, it’s important to recognize that time and money are intricately related in a tight political race. If you want to spend less time working on the campaign, you will need to invest more money. Yet, if you want to save funds, you will likely have to spend more time on the campaign trail.
Without setting a budgetary goal, your campaign’s spending habits can exceed your initial expectation in the blink of an eye. For any campaign, you could always spend more money or invest more time, but at some point, you have to learn how to say “no”. Set spending limit and draw the line.
Continuously re-evaluate if your funds are being invested in the right places. For example, if you discover that 15 percent of time warrants a 90 percent value, you might want to look into investing more money into this particular area to maximize the spend. Essentially, use your campaign funds wisely or else your opponent may outspend or outlast you.
Meet the voters organically
It’s vital for your candidate to spend time out in public, meeting their voters organically. This is because not all people of voting age will attend rallies or organized political events. Therefore, if you want to win them over – and not just on social media or on TV – you need to meet the voters where they are. Go to local athletic league games, eat and hold photo sessions at mom-and-pop diners, attend religious gatherings or simply walk around downtown areas, shaking hands and showing people you are more than your brand.
Knowledge of your target audience, expertise on social media and political marketing and an understanding of campaign finance management are just a few of the skills explored across the many course offerings within the Master’s Degree in Political Management at the George Washington University. Classes such as Fundamentals in Political Management, Political Data and Analytics, Applied Political Communications and more can take you beyond political theory and anchor you in the principles of political reality. For more details about how an online program can support you while you are working in the political sector or considering a career switch, visit the George Washington University online.
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