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.
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.
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.