Your campaign message is one of the keys to winning your election. Campaigns are, by their very nature, communications exercises. Much like an advertising campaign for a traditional product, the job of a campaign is to “sell” a candidate – not in a slimy way, but in the grand debate over ideals and values. The way you do this is by defining and advertising what in business would be called a “brand,” but in politics is called “your message.”
What is a “Campaign Message?”
Simply put, your message is the over-riding theme of your campaign – it is the 30,000 foot view of what you stand for. Remember – you’re running for office for a reason… because you believe that things should be a certain way, that government should have a certain role, that the person currently serving in the office you are seeking (or your opponents for an open seat) have plans that are not in the best interest of your city, state, or country.
Your goal is to design a message that allows you to win the campaign. In order to accomplish that goal, you’re going to need to have people care passionately about your message – your message has to be a “cutting message,” one that people care so passionately about that they’re willing to vote for you, or against you, because of it.
Your Message Should Tie into Core Human Values
While not everyone cares about the exact same issues, there are a number of values that are important to almost everyone. These issues generally make up the cutting messages that we’re looking for. These values are:
- Safety – From terrorism, crime, natural disaster, etc. Are my kids and my family safe? How can I make them safer?
- Health – Am I healthy? Is my town healthy? Is my family healthy?
- Financial Health and Well-Being – Can I provide for my family? How is my job? How secure is my retirement? Will my kids have a better financial life than I did? Do I own my own home?
- Morality – Am I living in an honest and just world? Do my children have good role models? Am I a good person? Are our leaders good people? Is our country/state/city headed down a morally defensible path?
- Children’s Future – Are my kids in good schools? Will they be able to go to college? Get jobs? What about my grand kids?
Almost all great campaign messages revolve around these values, and almost all great campaign issues tie into campaign messages that revolve around these values. These values are broad but powerful, because they tap into raw human emotion, wants, and needs.
Try to tie the issues that are important to your campaign into these values to see how they affect the voters in your district. For example, your goal of lowering taxes fits into the universal human value of financial health and well-being. Your opposition to abortion fits into the universal human value of a desire for a just world.
Remember, there are two sides to every coin, and almost all great issues have honest supporters on both sides, both of whom are tapping into competing human values.
For example, take the cutting issue of the environment. Those who support new regulations to protect the environment are tapping into the universal human values of health and safety. Those who oppose new regulations are often tapping into the universal human value of financial health and well-being (if there are more regulations and costs for businesses, will there be fewer jobs and higher food and energy prices?) Both are tapping into big picture values, and which will win will depend on which campaign is better planned and funded, what the political environment and this particular electorate look like, the year, etc.
What Core Human Value is Your Campaign Message Tapping Into?
Almost every issue can be tied into a universal human value, with some work and thought. Even the most mundane issue can often be tied to an overriding values-based theme.
Nearly every political issue can be tied into a universal human value…
For example, let’s say your campaign really thinks that the most important issue in your race for township supervisor is changing the local main street from a two-way street to a one-way street. I can tell you that many hundreds of campaigns have been waged and won over far more technical issues. How? By tying the seemingly paltry issue of a single one-way street into a universal human value.
In this case, your campaign would want to tie the one-way street into the over-arching value of safety for our families and our children. This one way street will save lives! Think of all of the children that cross that street on their way to school every day! Frame it right, and shout it from the rooftops.
Of course, if your campaign is not tying its message into a universal human value, and your opponent is, watch out! If you’re running on the basis of the one-way street, without talking about your neighbor’s children’s safety, and your opponent is talking about putting the township’s children first and giving them a better future by funding more school programs and getting them to go to college, well… you’re toast.
As you plan your campaign theme, remember this: People will vote for a candidate who shares their values… who cares about the same things they care about… and who is uniquely qualified to make a difference.
That’s important, so let’s pull it apart:
People will vote for a candidate who shares their values – so you’ve got to know what those values are, and see where they match yours – and then you’ve got to let them know that you care about the same things – the same big picture values – that they care about…
…and who is uniquely qualified to make a difference – so you’ve got to be uniquely qualified, either through experience, training, thought, work ethic, character, or some other means – and you’ve got to let them know that you are uniquely qualified to solve the problem.
If you can show people that you share their values, talk about issues that are cutting and that you both care about, and convince them that you are uniquely qualified to solve those issues, then you’re on the right path to winning your election.