The Power of Inoculation

author
Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

There has been a lot of talk lately about vaccines, but inoculation is also a powerful concept in politics. It means that as a campaign, you have a strategic, long term plan to neutralize your weaknesses. All candidates have weaknesses. Smart ones do something about it to neutralize them. It may never turn into a strength, but at least you can neutralize them.

Let us take age, for example. Candidates are often accused of being too young or too old for an office. I have had clients of all ages. I have worked for a governor that was in his early 30s and a mayor of one of the world’s biggest cities who was past 80 years old. I have also tested age several times in focus groups and found that voters do usually not perceive someone as too young or too old to serve per se. The key for them is to see that the candidate in question can perform the job. An inoculation strategy for an older candidate would therefore for example include a lot of pictures online and footage that show the candidate in action. Ideally, the candidate should be seen as vital and dynamic. There should also be a youth campaign for that candidate, and images of him being surrounded by young people.

A common prejudice is that old people talk a lot about the past. So, an elder candidate should make an explicit effort to talk about the future, and champion futuristic issues (technology, digitization). An inoculation strategy in such a case would also include paying particular attention to debate and interview preparation. If an elder candidate stumbles, does not hear a question, seems not to understand the rules of a debate, or mixes up facts, it would easily confirm a worry voters might already have. The goal of an inoculation strategy would be to invest the time and practice necessary to try and minimize such incidents from happening.

I remember discussing this once with the team of a senior senator running for reelection, for whom I was working. “You’re old, you’re old. Not much you can do about it,” a person from his team said. I disagree. There are plenty of things that can be done to neutralize how it is being perceived, and so can be done about any other weakness. You just need to be honest, creative and strategic about it.

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