Winning elections and winning campaigns combine words and maths successfully.
Winning elections is a big thing for me and my clients. In this context I write a fair bit about words – messaging, narratives, speeches and presentations. These are important things and key to winning elections. But words do not win elections on their own. They need to be combined with messengers, distributed by the media and members, financed by money and managed by professional campaigners. Some become distressed by the concept of professional campaigners. They get equally excited by the concept of professional politicians – but that is the subject of a separate blog coming soon.
So for a change – let me talk about the audience. The voters and the non-voters.
When we talk sensibly about winning elections and analysing the audience strategists and tacticians get very self-important and competitive. Sometimes they get downright evil on each other – just read (Team Obama) David Plouffe’s scathing observations about (Team Hilary) Mark Penn and you will get a taste of how heated and competitive it can be. Not surprising – politics is gladiatorial and all about winners and losers and reputations. I am no different. But all strategists and tacticians agree on two things. You need the right words and the right numbers.
Winning elections are about the right words and the right maths.
There are some jargon words in politics. Words that signify segments of the population that have to be “engaged”. These words are then supposed to guide campaigners on which words should be used to do the “engaging” – depending on the size and electoral importance of the segment of course. Because all good campaigners are taught to “target’ their audience.
So what do we have? The core vote. The floating vote. Ethnic voters. Block votes. Ethnic minority voters. The gay vote. The youth vote. Silver surfers. Worcester woman. Mondeo man. The metrosexual south. The Northern vote. Thatcher’s children. Blair’s children. The squeezed middle. The London vote.
There are several problems with this. Mitt Romney found this out in a big way recently (it may cost him the Presidency) when a video was put online of him talking to a group of potential donors (donor segment) about it not being his job to look after 47% of the population (the opposition’s alleged “core vote” segment.)
Telling different segments different messages does not work any more (which I think is fantastic – read to the end to see why) for several reasons:-
- In reality people do not like people saying one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. Why should it be any different in politics?
- Targeting didn’t work that well before – it works even less now. This “targeting” kept campaigners busy and justified salaries and expenses but did it really work that well? It was, and is, seldom done well – generally it was done incredibly primitively and with considerable ignorance.
- People are willfully disobedient and have the cheek to jump out of the electoral box or target or tidy segment that campaign “experts” put them in.
- Some people have the cheek to belong to several segments. At the same time.
- Commentators and former strategists and “experts” turned commentator have made political tactics and strategies and targeting public knowledge and part of standard election commentary. So guess what guys – the secret is out.
- Because of this – people are now are that they are targets. People who are members of these segments seriously resent being referred to as anything but individuals. They increasingly – and rightly – find these targeted messages patronising and they react badly when viewed as being the property of a particular political party. This applies to all “target demographics” – gays, blacks, asians, chinese, Londoners, Northerners, Southerners, pensioners, the ‘Youth”. Assume anyone is in a box or segment and let them even smell that you think that and there will be a backlash. (Make assumptions about me or my politics or my values because of my southern african accent and I will put you right promptly and with great clarity.)
- Politicians who play segments will get found out in this amazing 24 hour social media world. Social media will make you look like the serpent speaking with forked tongue if you say different things to different segments.
- Targets annoyingly read and consume media that they are not supposed to – like young black Londoners reading the Metro or the Evening Standard instead of The Voice – a stereotyping and targeting which many “professionals” would unfairly assume.
- Language that appeals to the “middle ground” seriously pisses off “core voters” who then accuse the politicians who have used such pragmatic or tactical “targeting” language of selling out, being weak, of compromising or being unpure ideologically.
Successful politicians do not speak in boxes or to targets and campaigning stereotypes. They are real and authentic and consistent. They reach out – not to the centre ground but to the common ground. Reagan did that. Thatcher did that. Clinton did that. Obama did that. They use positive inclusive language that appeals to members of most or all segments – positive and aspirational “we” language that is interpreted and adopted individually by individuals in each segment.
Including people wins elections. Excluding people creates cliques and minorities. Including people breeds and creates alliances and bonds and common purpose. This does not mean that allies and coalitions agree on everything – but, by definition, allies have things in common that focus them and bind them together. Things that join while things that things that separate are parked.
In the NO2AV referendum, Conservatives and Labour activists, politicians, members and supporters worked together in a unique collaboration for a common cause. Those of my clients who had above average swings in 2010 spoke to those far beyond the Conservative clubs and association coffee mornings – using language common to all.
So why do I think that this death of (bad) “targeting” fantastic? Surely I should love and welcome all the work and complications of having to target and craft messages and narratives for multiple targets and demographic segments and be paid well by greedy, scheming tactical, self-interested and motivated careerists who target to win?
Actually, I am like the average human being or voter. I like people who say the same thing to everyone – in simple, honest and inclusive words. People who are authentic and real and consistent. And optimistic. People who believe in ideals and values and people and the potential of the future. And who have a vision. And who get on with it and chase after it and don’t bother wasting time waiting for a perfect, ideologically pure utopia.
Those are the people I love working for, my dream clients.