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What is political messaging?

"Make America Great Again". On the outside, it's a very encouraging and positive message. Explore it more deeply (in context), and you will see it stemmed largely from a sense of negativity and anger. In some instances, it was used as a 'cover' for xenophobia or isolationism. Whatever way people interpreted it, we can't deny the effect that powerful political messaging has on people. Though Ecanvasser is a political campaign software we see our clients cycling information they hear from the wider community into their political messaging. Here's what we have learned.

The Importance Of Political Messaging

There is a widely held belief among elected officials that messaging matters and that the message parties choose plays an important role in the public’s response. President Obama in 2012 stated: “The mistake of my first term … was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that give them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Speaking the truth, highlighting the positives, deflecting; call it what you will, but there is no denying how important political messaging is. Effective campaigning goes hand in hand with a coherent, persistent and consistent message. You must find something to say that is relevant and that resonates with your target audience. Most politicians state a problem and then propose a solution. This shows the public that they are problem solvers and not just going to rest on their laurels. There is also a sense of collaboration about campaign messaging as it is developed in response to voter input.

Early in 2004, George Bush operatives tweaked just how important the ‘message’ was and started saying that the President was a strong and principled leader and John Kerry was a flip-flopper. The consistency of the Republicans was a reflection of the strong message discipline of the Bush campaign. In contrast, Senator Kerry was never able to focus on a message. At the beginning of his effort, the message was A vote for the Democratic Senator, was a vote for a strong and secure America. Kerry talked his service in Vietnam to illustrate his strength and his commitment to national security. But along the way, the discipline of the Democratic candidate wavered. Kerry went from being the “real deal” to being a “new direction”. Swing voters were never able to get a fix on the moving target. While the Republican presidential campaign reflected a single-minded determination to capture the attention of a busy electorate, the Democratic campaign message bobbed and weaved from one week to another. That lack of consistency doesn’t do much to convince your voters.

Political Message Testing

We can say with confidence that the faster you decide on a message, the more time you have to refine it. Establishing your ‘working’ campaign message at an early stage gives you more opportunities to run tests on how people are interpreting your ideas, good or bad.

Testing can be done in many forms, it can be as simple as debuting your message at a political rally and gathering data from the audience members. Lots of politicians run quantitative tests such as polling which tells you how many people think something. On the other hand, qualitative research tells you why people think what they think. Creating testable messages and seeing how they fare in different demographics and locations through polling and online advertising is commonplace nowadays. Being able to gauge the reaction of the crowd is fundamental when conducting qualitative research. If you can’t tell when what you're saying is being welcomed positively, then you have no business running for office in the first place.

In a speech in Detroit in early 2015, Jeb Bush debuted what he called a “new vision” of greater economic opportunity for Americans. Highlighting a widening income gap in society he offered people “the right to rise”, a phrase he used six times. The words were taken from the name of the political action committee set up by Mr. Bush to explore his possible presidential bid at the time, as he sounded out big-money donors, political operatives and the party’s grassroots on their support for his campaign. In his speech in Detroit, Mr. Bush appeared to be road-testing a message that was likely the driving policy of his presidential bid.

Delivering Messaging

After you are happy with the testing you have carried out in relation to your messaging, you must correctly use this research to deliver different versions of messaging to different demographics and locations.

What was impressive about Obama’s campaign in 2012 was the varied messaging and the different channels he used to target people. His text-message campaign proved it was an effective device for collecting millions of voter contacts while also signaling that Obama connects with young people. Though he may have left behind 50-something independents in the Midwest, this type of marketing campaign did get young people to register and to the polls.

Elections are all about turnout which, in turn, is all about voter contact and engagement. This means different things for different demographics. Among older voters, more traditional campaign tactics are key. Among minority voters, churches and unions are important messaging channels. If you spend money on a billboard advertisement, it would be strongly recommended that your message would reach your target audience. For example, you could be advocating for road improvements at a, particularly bad junction. People stuck in traffic might start to take notice of what you're campaigning for as a result.

For campaign messaging to work effectively, it must be implemented early on. It must be employed as part of your long-term strategy. If Jeb Bush was road testing potential messaging before he announced his presidential bid, it proves the wheels have been in motion for a long time. Listening to your supporters will only strengthen your campaign and allow you to adapt as you go along. A message with no room for change or improvement is not a winning message.

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