How to Win a Local Election

Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

Do you plan to run for mayor, congressman or governor? I’ve got you covered.

During the past years, I have been part of plenty of successful local campaigns. The key to victory is what I call the three Ps: Projects – Presence – Performance.

Let’s start with performance. Elections involving an incumbent are foremost a referendum on the incumbent. In focus groups, we usually start the groups by asking respondents to spontaneously describe their city, province or state in one word. Then we talk about current issues, the political players, strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and their parties before we finally come to the vote. Usually, I am already able to predict the vote after the first question about the state of things in their place. If the words used were positive, the incumbent usually wins the vote. If voters describe their place using negative terms, the challenger has a shot.

As much as I think that high-profile, nationwide campaigns are won in the media, I am convinced that physical presence can play a role in local campaigns. Wasn’t it Machiavelli who, back in the days, advised the prince that he has to go and physically live at the new territory he wants to conquer? The equivalent to this in our times would be the opening of satellite offices. I hear often about candidates “going around”, but this also has to be done in a strategic, systematic manner as it comes along with a price tag. You should go where the data shows there is a low-hanging fruit, meaning where it is easy to convert voters, track it, and then go to the next places.

Third, it takes projects – signature accomplishments – to run as a local executive. While the media is often interested in controversy, voters actually do care about practical solutions to their daily problems. It is often better to focus your communication and PR on a few “flagship” projects rather than to drown voters in plenty of things. Also, never assume that voters already give you credit for your projects. Credit is something that has to be actively and continuously claimed by celebrating your flagship. It happened to me that I had to tell clients that the focus groups had revealed that other politicians were more associated with their own projects. It is also advisable to regularly mystery shop government offices, hospitals, libraries and other public institutions. I have used such data to greatly benefit my clients as they continuously polish their flagship.

If an incumbent mayor or governor is doing his work properly – in terms projects, presence and performance – he or she shouldn’t have a difficult reelection fight. If a serious feasability study doesn’t show an incumbent as vulnerable, it is extremely difficult for a challenger to win. It might take a heavyweight in terms of awareness, popularity and fundraising capability.

Oh, and before I forget, there are three more Ps you might need to win: Perron, Perron, Perron….!

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