Political Targeting – The Beginner’s Guide

by Joe Garecht

It used to be that after candidates announced, they hit the streets, shaking as many hands and kissing as many babies as they could between the time they entered the race and election day. The rationale for this type of campaign was simple: the more people you contact, the more people will vote for you. The same philosophy applied to direct mail Рmail out as many pieces as possible to as many people as possible.

Times have changed. Today, there are simply too many voters, and too little time, not to mention money, to follow this haphazard approach to campaigning. Simply put, trying to contact voters regardless of who they are is a waste of scarce resources. This may sound like common sense, but far too many local campaigns fail to follow this advice. Too many campaigns approach door-to-door, get out the vote, or any number activities with a “the more the better” approach to voter contact.

Take Aim

The modern (or “new-style”) campaign relies on targeting – choosing, in advance, which voters to contact and devoting time and money to increasing the quality and quantity of that contact. This targeted approach applies to every facet of the campaign’s voter contact plan. Targeting relies on research and strategy, as well as resisting the urge to spend time shaking hands at every supermarket and factory gate.

Before starting the campaign, the staff should research past elections, voter demographics, turnout and precinct information to determine several key numbers. First, determine how many votes are needed to win this election. Second, determine how many of the votes are needed to come from each of the precincts in the district.

The goal is to determine not only how many votes you need to win, but what types of voters you are looking for (what coalitions will you build? what groups will you go after? what organizations or demographics will you get to support you?) and what precincts those voters reside in.

Make Contact – Over and Over Again

Once your campaign has determined which voters it will target, it needs to focus its voter contact activities on those targeted groups of voters. Go door-to-door in precincts where large numbers of targeted voters live. Send mailings to them, use phone banks to call them. In short, don’t waste precious resources trying to contact everyone in your district. If you have extra volunteers or money, great — then you can try and contact voters that are not in your targeted groups. But first and foremost, establish what number of votes you’ll need to win, target various groups of voters that equal (or exceed) that number, and contact them over and over again with your message.

Maintain Control

By targeting your voters before you begin your campaign and incorporating this targeting into every facet of your campaign plan, you will be able to stretch your resources much further than if you simply “go out and campaign.” Your campaign will be able to maintain control by making sure that the only voters that it is spending time and money on are those voters that not only live in the district and are registered to vote, but that are likely to vote for your candidate after hearing your message. The formula is straightforward: research, target, plan, contact, win.

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