Tag Archives: Campaign

Up on the Soap Box: How the Media Portrays Politics

Political intrigue abounds; a private argument turns swiftly into a public scandal. By the close of the first scene, a supporting character faces public scrutiny and a career-ending press conference – all of it machinated by a corrupt politician. When seen through the silver screen, politics is chock-full of nail-biting excitement and sensationalized drama. However, the day-to-day grind of political work falls far short of the Machiavellian epics viewers expect from their television shows. For those of us active in the field, the misconceptions regarding our work can be frustrating to fight against, if not downright damaging. Everyone loves a well-made fictional political drama, but what happens when voters forget the “fictional” modifier and take the toxic machinations they see on-screen as representative of real political action?

 

The political arena’s affiliation with cinema stretches back to the films of the early 20th century. Even then, depicted events were dramatized to appeal to mass audiences – and why wouldn’t they be? Consider a truthful medical show. The idea of watching a doctor work frantically to save someone’s life seems exciting…until you realize that doing so means viewing an hours-long tape of a surgeon poking around in the operating room. Film is inherently escapist; we choose to view movies and television episodes because they take us out of the banalities and stresses of day-to-day life and into an delightful (fictional) world where we ourselves have no stake in a story’s outcome. Film is meant to entertain, so it must be made entertaining. Thus, more accurate depictions of a politician reviewing policy documents or sending fundraising emails are set to the side; replaced by scandalous plot twists meant to entice viewers into watching just one more episode.

 

This isn’t to say that movies can’t tell us something about our political reality. The messages these pieces convey, however, are often more subtle than those we expect from direct political dramas. Think back to just before the Reagan era, in the 1970s and early 80s. As the decade turned, films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were released with much public acclaim. But wait, you might say – these aren’t political films at all! They both are and aren’t. In his article “Film, Politics, and Ideology: Reflections on Hollywood Film in the Age of Reagan,” film scholar Douglas Kellnes notes that the films rising to popularity in the years before Reagan’s administration increasingly showcased conservative values such as individual initiative and hard work (Star Wars), as well as a vilification of large, corrupt governments (The Parallex View). Interestingly enough, Kellnes finds that an analytical viewer could have predicted Reagan’s emergence as a conservative leader by noting the increased right-leaning principles expressed in the era’s popular films.

 

Where, then, does this leave us as politically-minded viewers? First, we need to keep the fictionality of the shows we watch in mind in order to combat the negative stereotypes created by politically-inspired shows. That way, we can trust in the professionalism our politicians demonstrate without waiting for the next scandal or paying attention to blatant sensationalism in the media. Then, we need to keep our metaphorical fingers on the pulse of American cinema. What are Americans watching? What does popular content tell us about the ideological leanings of our country? A little beyond-the-polls analysis may provide us with unconventional insight into our country’s ever-shifting political leanings.

 

How to Get Kids Excited About Politics

How young is too young for political conversation? Most countries require their citizens to be at least 18 years old before voting, reasoning that by that age, younger voters have the reason and thoughtfulness required to do their part in charting their nation’s future. But what does this limitation mean for those under the age of 18? Should they be encouraged to engage in political discussion even though they haven’t reached the designated age?

 

I would say with absolute certainty, yes.

 

Kids understand more than we give them credit for. Too often, we assume that children won’t be interested in or won’t understand political happenings. However, by acting on our assumptions and cutting interested kids out of the conversation, we potentially handicap their interest and engagement in political action later in life. Think hypothetically for a moment. Two newly-minted voters stand in line to vote; one comes from a politically apathetic family and only bothers to briefly look up which candidate fell within his political party before meandering out to vote. The other grew up discussing politics almost daily with his family and can explain his rationale for choosing his candidate to anyone who asks. Who would you rather have at the ballot box?

 

Political engagement doesn’t have an age restriction. We need to encourage our kids to participate in the political conversation and teach them how to think critically about the candidates they align themselves with. Otherwise, we run the risk of turning our political decisions over to a generation of apathetic voters. Don’t lock kids out of the conversation; bring them in!

 

Bring the Child Into Conversation

Children ask a lot of questions, especially if the adults in their lives are visibly passionate about a subject. Although it might seem tedious to go over basic political ideas, you should do so for the child’s sake. Once they understand the foundation of an issue, they can build on that knowledge and comprehend more complex subjects. Give them a voice! The best way to inspire interest in political conversation is to make a child feel as though their thoughts and opinions are welcome.

 

Allow for Gentle Debate

By and large, children tend to align with their parents’ political beliefs. However, this isn’t a given – and children should never be shot down for airing different beliefs. Talk through both sides of an issue, and gently ask your child to explain why they hold their position. Calm, thoughtful debate is a constructive exercise in critical political thinking.

 

Use Metaphors

Many adults don’t understand the finer points of tax reform – so why would a child? Try to stick to digestible subjects that can be simplified. Opt for metaphors that relate to the child’s experience, such as casting an election as a game or contest. A little reframing can do wonders for a child’s understanding.

 

Next time a child asks for context in a political conversation, give it to them! By bringing them into the conversation, you just might spark a lifelong interest in political thought.

 

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.

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.

 

Clean the PR Room: How to Straighten a Social Media Mess

Think of social media missteps as icebergs, and a campaign as a sturdily-built boat. A good PR team stands watch for potential dangers, peering down at the dangerous caps and steering the ship in wide curves around the dangers they see. But in the furor and heat of a political campaign, even the most dedicated watchers can tire and accidentally allow the campaign to graze the ice. Suddenly, an unfortunately-worded tweet from the candidate’s account appears in newspaper articles, television pieces, social media posts, and the PR team finds itself sheepishly standing in the campaign manager’s office, promising to fix the problem at hand. Apparently, they already fired the intern who sent the ill-advised tweet.

The problem is, firing an overtired intern isn’t going to solve the issue at hand. At the busiest, most frenetic point of a campaign, even the most experienced PR manager could potentially make an embarrassing slip out of stress or exhaustion. Punishing the person who made a sloppy social media choice won’t make it go away; a PR team would be much better served by turning a thoughtful eye towards the situation, and calmly gauging the team’s next steps. Here, I outline the basic steps a PR team should take when developing a strategy for social media missteps.

 

Set up a better daily system.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the best social media mistakes are those that never take place. Have a system for checking future social media activities in place: designate specific post scheduling services (Hootsuite, Buffer, etc.) for each social media property and assign a staffer to review all scheduled posts prior to posting. Careful scrutiny will catch any potentially embarrassing mistakes, and save time and trouble later.

That said, if social media missteps do occur…

 

Consider the situation.

How long ago did the post go public? Have many people seen it? Is it a minor mistake such as a typo, or is it an issue-based controversy?

These are the questions you need to ask and answer before developing a recovery strategy. If the post was scheduled, rather than posted, you can simply delete it from the social queue before anyone sees it. If it was posted the day before, however, and has since been picked up by news outlets and scores of social media followers, you may make your viewers think you’re avoiding responsibility by deleting the problematic post. Remember, followers may still have screenshots of your tweet even after you delete it.

 

Put a temporary hold on all scheduled social media activity.

Ignoring – or appearing to ignore – an issue will not make it disappear. Make sure to cancel all of a candidate’s scheduled posts following a major social media misstep in order to avoid the appearance of not caring about the controversy at hand.

 

Gauge the room.

Decide whether you need to respond. If your problem is a simple misspelling, you likely won’t need to do more than correct the mistake and move on. However, if the problem sparked considerable conversation, the PR team should consult with the campaign manager and candidate to develop a thoughtful response.

 

Respond and move on.

Consider the campaign’s response carefully. If a real, honest mistake was made, apologize for it. Reacting defensively or with anger will only inflame the issue, and lead to greater PR problems down the road. Consider the issue carefully, and deliver a well-thought-out, crafted response that reflects well upon the candidate.

 

The best social media missteps are the ones that never occur; but even in the best-run campaigns, mistakes are bound to happen. When they do, the campaign’s PR team must be prepared to react appropriately and handle the situation.  

 

Is Television Falling From Political Favor?

Televised campaign ads just aren’t what they used to be. In our increasingly Internet-bound culture, more and more voters are turning to social media sites and other web-based platforms for their daily news. Recent surveys show that while Baby Boomers rely primarily on televised programming for news, Millennials prefer to check their apps. According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, a full 61% of millennials check their Facebook feeds to stay updated on current events in any given week, while only 37% report turning to their televisions for information.

 

Campaigns have long spent incredible amounts of money on televised ads in attempts to sway voters to their sides – but will those tactics lose their efficacy if current trends continue, and younger viewers opt not to tune in?

 

The answer is complicated.

 

In the 2016 election, President Trump spent considerably less than Hillary Clinton on his campaign. Estimates from the Washington Post put his expenditures at 956.7 million, against Clinton’s 1.4 billion. This isn’t a simple matter of spending less – it’s a matter of not needing to spend as much.

 

Unlike most traditional candidates, Trump received a remarkable amount of (free) social media engagement, and depended heavily on his existing base of followers to disseminate and engage with his messages. Moreover, because of the traditional media coverage allotted to candidates, his social media reach was actually extended by conventional coverage as his social presence fed into his political persona. The key to the Trump campaign was its effective utilization of both traditional and social media platforms. According to Adam Broder of FTI Consulting, Trump may have “earned” as much as $5 billion in free media coverage through his unconventional melding of social and traditional media campaigns.

 

But is this to say that television ads will cease to be relevant in upcoming years?

 

Not necessarily.

 

Television ads still reach a considerable number of people, and studies have shown that television ads have a significant impact on late-deciders. It is worth noting that Trump, despite his comparatively low spending in the months prior, poured money into television ad buys in the last few weeks of the election – increasing his spending from roughly $23,000 per electoral vote per week to over $91,000 per electoral vote per week in the final weeks of the campaign.

 

There’s no doubt that social media sites have begun to dominate as platforms for political news, particularly for younger voters. However, television will always serve as a valuable space for campaigners, and hold a place in strategy. As we move forward, the best campaigns will need to merge social media engagement with traditional coverage in order to build a strong and widely promoted candidate presence.

 

The Importance Being Politically Involved in College

The-Importance-of-Being-Politically-Involved-in-College-HeaderOpinions are easy to have. It takes very little effort to lounge on a dorm couch and strike up an idle conversation about your thoughts on the latest healthcare reforms with a roommate, especially if that roommate happens to hold similar beliefs to yours. The chat might even end with mutual grumblings and complaints about the changes you know need to take place in order to eliminate the flaws you see in current policies. But by the end of the day, you decide that there isn’t anything that you, a college student, can do to back your words.

You would be wrong. College students have more power than they know; according to data from the 2014 Census, there are over 27.5 million United States citizens between the ages of 18 and 24. The reported number is far from insignificant – so why do college students so often feel that their beliefs don’t hold sway? Unfortunately, their own lack of action may be at fault: of those 27.5 million potential voters, only 4.7 million, or 17% of the pool actually submitted a vote.

These numbers are troubling, and reveal more than anything that while opinions may be easy to have, real change requires action more effort than what might be contributed to a dorm-room conversation. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways that college-age voters can enter into their political community.

Find an on-campus political group that aligns with your personal beliefs.

Nearly every campus will have clubs devoted to representing the interests of College Republicans or College Democrats – and often similar clubs for those who lean Independent or third-party. Decide which organization aligns most closely with your own political leanings, and send its president or communications officer an email! In all likelihood, they’ll welcome a new member.

Hold on-campus registration events.

The best way to combat political apathy in college students is to convince them that their voice matters. Encourage potential voters to do their part at the polls by holding voter registration events on-campus. In doing so, you’ll not only boost voter engagement, but foster a constructive climate of political activism at your school.

Bring a political candidate or activist to campus.

It’s all too easy for a student to disappear into the schoolwork-dominated campus bubble and lock out happenings in the non-academic world. Bring the political world into the academic sphere by inviting local political figures or activists to speak on campus. Even the students who don’t necessarily agree with the perspective your guest offers will benefit from the constructive debate that their visit will inevitably prompt. Moreover, a student’s renewed or changed feelings might inspire them to vote on the issues when they reach the polls.

College students are a vital subset of the voter population, and work needs to be done to boost their currently disheartening levels of engagement. Change is made by those who act – so get off the couch! Join whichever on-campus political organization you feel best represents your beliefs, and make the difference you want to see in your government.

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with the Press

Although the First Amendment guarantees our right to a free press, relationships between the media and politicians have always been tense. For example, President John F. Kennedy had a relationship with the press that at times devolved into censorship, withholding of information, and at times deception in order to contain stories the administration considered hostile to its goals. The relationships between politicians and reporters doesn’t need to be so extreme, however, so if you’re running for office, take a look at what you can do to foster a healthy relationship with the press!

Don’t Hide

You may feel tempted to avoid talking to the press altogether, but this idea will more than likely backfire. If you don’t talk to the media and try to keep them at arm’s length, then they’ll grow to distrust you and try to dig into your past in an attempt to learn what, if anything, you’re trying to hide. In addition, if you refuse to discuss your ideas or your campaign with reporters, the result will be critical coverage and articles that may drive public opinion against you.

Instead, from time to time, reach out to journalists so that you can take control of the narrative of your campaign. You can set the terms of the meeting: If you want to talk in-depth about a policy or if you’re afraid of being ambushed by a large group of reporters, consider hosting one-on-one interviews. On the other hand, if you want to quickly issue a few statements and avoid looking like you’ve got something to hide, then regular press conferences might be the best approach for you.

Talk to a Range of Media Outlets

Resist the urge to grant press access only to the outlets that give you favorable coverage. This opens you up to accusations of cronyism and an unwillingness to listen to criticism. At the same time, since the audiences of the publications or programs that support you are most likely going to vote for you on election day, only reaching out to reporters who have covered you favorably isn’t going to attract many new or undecided voters–if any at all–to your cause.

With that in mind, stay in touch with a range of journalists, both those who support you as well as those who have been critical. You’ll dispel notions of favoritism or pandering while working to engage a broader swath of the electorate.

Be Honest

If you’re dishonest with a reporter and it comes to light, that might be the last thing you do as a candidate for public office. Lying destroys your credibility and reputation not just with the press but with the voters as well, and as a result, your campaign will more than likely be finished. You can work with your campaign staff to determine what language you want to use, but even when it’s uncomfortable to tell the truth, never, never, lie to the press!