In an election, referendum or public affairs campaign, you should base your strategy on sound public opinion research (both qualitative and quantitative). Then, base your tactics on your strategy. Simple!?
In other words, we should listen (and make sure we respond) to the voters, not the other side. I noticed that the reflex is often to do the exact opposite: some campaign teams wrongly assume that they know public opinion and know what voters worry about and want to hear. They then observe and respond to what their opponent does and proposes. Such campaigns and communication efforts soon resemble shotgun attacks, which as a result, are easily rattled by last-minute attacks.
But voters have very different worries than to check on the latest mudslinging their politicians do. While journalists like to cover conflict, voters are often more interested in specific solutions to their problems or at least in listening to somebody who acknowledges their concerns. That’s why my most successful clients always do tracking surveys on how they are doing while in office. They check regularly on how their performance is being perceived by voters. They know that if an incumbent is doing his work properly in terms of substance, policy and communication, it’s very difficult for a challenger to go against them.