Respond to the Voters, Not Your Opponent

Dr. Louis Perron
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In an election, referenda 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 campaigns wrongly assume that they know public opinion and know what voters worry about and want to hear in their ads and communication. They then observe and respond to what their opponent does and proposes. Such campaigns 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. In my experience, voters also take into consideration the timing when they hear allegations. They know (or at least can feel intuitively) if attacks are launched close to the election or even to keep somebody from running (turn on CNN and Fox News for a recent example of that one). It is also entirely clear that endorsements are greatly overestimated. We just saw this in Ukraine. Incumbent president Poroshenko was endorsed by many Mayors, yet lost in big cities including Kharkiv, Odesa and Dnepro. Nowadays, everybody has to win on his or her own. That’s why my most successful clients always do tracking surveys, comparing apples to apples, rather than finding out on election day.

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