Advice for Primary Elections

Gossip circulates in the months, if not years, leading up to races for prominent seats in government. Sometimes, a single offhand comment from a high-profile politician is all it takes to spark candidacy rumors. As the political hype gains momentum, the question begins to echo across news outlets and social media platforms – who will represent our interests in public office?

 

Primary elections in the United States offer interested party members their first opportunity to officially toss their hats in the ring and present themselves as candidates for office. It further serves to narrow the competition in preparation for the general election. In the primaries, voters are responsible for choosing a single candidate to represent their political party in political races. Each state has its own rules about who can vote for which candidate in the primary; some limit voters to choose only those representatives within their own party, while others allow all voters – regardless of their party registration – to vote for the candidate of their choice. Regardless of state-specific details, though, the primary elections present the first hurdles candidates need to clear in pursuit of public office, and thus require strategies different from those deployed in general elections.

 

Stay Positive

As I’ve written before, there are significant risks to diving into a negative campaign early on. According to statistics provided by the Conversation, a full 76% of television ads run in 2016 were character-based smear ads. The trend towards negativity is inarguable; however, candidates who utilize smear tactics run the risk of alienating otherwise interested voters. Moreover, surveys indicate that attack ads may in some cases drive voters toward the smeared party out of distaste for the attacking candidate and sympathy for the attacked. Candidates participating in primary elections should make an effort to stay positive for as long as possible in order to maintain the moral high ground and voters’ goodwill.

 

Start Early

Waiting to the last moment to declare candidacy may spark headlines, but the media flash a shock announcement makes will not have the same long-term effect that a quieter but more thorough PR job will. Candidates should begin building the foundation for their candidacy as soon as the time for campaigning draws near. If voters cannot recognize a candidate’s name or identify their core positions, that political hopeful is unlikely to succeed in the primaries.

 

Build a significant web presence.

The influence of online media cannot be understated. While traditional in-person events should never be allowed to fall by the wayside, candidates should spend a significant amount of their PR time and attention ensuring a strong online presence that accurately represents their character and politics. Having a sturdy, informative website and active social media profiles will help a candidate engage with voters in a way that isn’t always possible at large events.

 

The importance primary elections hold in our democratic system is considerable. These races challenge would-be candidates to prove themselves more suited to office than their peers and as such, demand careful strategic thought from candidates during a campaign.  Those who aspire to office should consider their plans for voter engagement carefully before leaping into the race.

Keep Campaigning: Why Efforts Don’t Stop After an Election

Months of marathon campaigning have led to this moment. Finally, the polls have closed and the votes cast; the metaphorical chips will fall where they will. There’s little left on the previously overflowing to-do list but sit back and wait for the result. With some luck, the election will lean in your favor, and open the door to additional years of welcomed hard work. But winning a political campaign doesn’t necessarily free a candidate from the burden of campaigning. Active politicians should begin considering their long-term plans for reelection the moment the celebratory balloons are popped and the party hats put away.

 

This isn’t as hasty a strategy as it might seem. If a politician’s goal in running for office is to reach a position where they have the power to enact changes they believe necessary for their constituents, they have to think long-term. After all, a politician’s individual ability to pursue his or her political agenda will be considerably limited if he or she is voted out of office after a single term. This drive for reelection manifests in current events; after only a few months in office, representatives for President Donald Trump have confirmed his intent to campaign for a second term in 2020.

 

Incumbent politicians do hold a structural advantage over their challengers; according to American University historian Ally Lichtman notes in an interview for NPR, those already in office at the start of a campaign have the advantage of national name recognition, government access, campaign experience, and the presumption of success. That said, incumbents face defeat more often than most think; out of 45 presidents, only 14 have successfully served two full terms.

 

Elected politicians accept a plethora of new responsibilities when they take up elected office; however, those new tasks can’t be allowed to entirely overshadow campaigning efforts. In order to govern effectively and plan for reelection, political figures must pay attention to the needs and interests of their constituents, and continue engaging with voters after the votes are cast. The following are a few strategies for doing so.

 

Establish an Online Presence and Mailing List for the Campaign

Campaign websites and social media pages should be regularly updated, maintained separately from the incumbent’s official website, and host the latest news from the campaign. When run effectively, a campaign’s online properties can boost voter engagement and serve as the foundation for online campaign efforts.

 

Seek Out Public Speaking Opportunities

Voters don’t want a representative who works behind a closed door and never communicates. Even incumbents need to be heard! Scheduling high-profile public speeches will ensure that voters increase their familiarity with political figures and candidates.

 

Stay Positive

A single defeat doesn’t mark the end of a political career. Consider Ronald Reagan, who ran twice before successfully achieving the presidency after his third campaign – or even Abraham Lincoln, whose unsuccessful campaigns established him as a political leader and set the groundwork for his presidency. If the votes don’t weigh in your favor on election night, accept the results and plan for the next campaign.

How to Get Involved in Local Politics

Talking about a problem is easy; fixing it is harder. Our current political landscape is rife with division and controversy, with passionate voters taking to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to express their frustrations. However, an angry post only goes so far in our fast-paced media culture; to make a real impact, voters need to take action by participating in their local politics and building the change they want to see in their communities. For those without personal connections to their local political office, this might seem difficult – how can they step up? Will they be welcome when they do?

 

The answer is a wholehearted yes – more helping hands are always needed during campaigns and at party headquarters. Below, I’ve listed a few ways that interested party members can get involved in local politics.

 

Attend meetings

You can’t make a difference if you don’t show up. Make the effort to sit in on party meetings; by doing so, you’ll make connections with local influencers and learn more about the specific issues facing your community. Most local meetings are open to all members of the party – simply call your local headquarters to find out when and where they will be held.

 

Help out at your local party headquarters

Local offices always need an extra pair of hands. You probably won’t be ushered into important strategy meetings within your first day, week, or month of participation – but you will make connections and set yourself up for greater responsibility down the road! Commit to spending a few hours each week at party headquarters stuffing envelopes and answering phones. It may not be glamorous work, but those at party headquarters will appreciate your time and effort.

 

Volunteer your skills during campaigns

Campaigns are perpetually in need of volunteers with social media, verbal, and written communication skills. Figure out what you do well, and offer your services! Reach out to those you know in your local political community and make a case for why you would be of use to the campaign. If you don’t have personal connections to the political milieu, don’t give up hope; write a brief cover letter and resume and visit the party office to submit your application. In all likelihood, the campaign will have something for someone with your skill set to do.

 

Build a network

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and make connections! Introduce yourself to local influencers and start conversations about relevant political issues. Establish yourself as a dedicated, knowledgeable party member by staying informed on local political happenings. For information on your regional elected officials, search through USA.gov’s index.

 

Breaking into political life can be difficult if you lack personal connections to local influencers; however, every community member has the potential to become a leader with enough will and effort. Change can’t be made on a message board – so get involved! You might find yourself running for office one day.