Research for a Political Campaign CW 76- transcript

John Tsarpalas: It occurred to me during the last podcast that I was talking about you need to know your opposition (who you are running against). That was the podcast about running on a slate. Who you are running against? What’s the slate going to stand for? What is the big issue in the election?

It dawned on me that we had not talked about doing research. So this Commonwealthy #76, Research for a Political Campaign.

I had some formal training in research for a political campaign back in 2005 when I attended the Republican National Committee Campaign College. And they used a system for research that I thought was very helpful. That was called a political message quadrant.

Maybe you’ve seen this for other messaging situations. You just take a piece of paper and you divide it into four sections-upper right, upper left, lower right, lower left. And you write in each box one of these things.

By the way, we will have a little diagram of this in our show notes at So please go there and take a look. And we will have it in the show notes for this podcast, which is Research for a Political Campaign.

The four quadrants are “What We Say About Us,” “What They Will Say About Us,” “What We Say About Them,” and “What They Will Say About Themselves”. So you have four sections of the paper.

You are trying to figure out what you are going to say about yourself, what do you think your opposition is going to say about you, what they are going to say about themselves, and what are we going to say about them.

Now this grid should be done for you and your opponents. Maybe you’ve got multiple opponents. Then you need to multiple versions of them. If it is running against a slate, fine. Certain individuals.

Either multiple slates, multiple individuals running, you need to do that work on all of them. And if there is a key issue or the top three issues that are happening a race, you need to research that too and do one of these grids for that as well.

There’s also a website out there. It is actually a guy that works for the left. There’s a lot of them it seems like. It is Jeremy Porter Communications (

Again we will have the link for that in our show notes so that you don’t have to find this. I think it will be hard to find. But it is Jeremy Porter Communication. I think if you put in political message quadrant into Google, it will come up right away. It will be on the first page. I am sure of that.

But he gives a good explanation of what you are trying to do here. I thought that would be helpful.

So how do you research yourself and your opponent? You basically start with googling yourself. First of all, what is going to come up if somebody googles you? What is out there about you? Is it going to be stuff about where you work, your family, your active in the community?

Is there anything about you as a candidate out there already or you on a particular issue? Have you written anything? Do you have a blog? What is out there on you? So start with googling.

But googling is not the only way to find things. Especially if you have been around a little while, what can they dig up? Back in the old days, we used to go to the library, the local library, and pull out old newspapers and try to look through them to see if there was any information on our opponents.

Especially if they had run for something before or been in a political campaign before or they had been elected to this office, what’s been said about them in newspapers and editorials?

Now that is a lot slower than googling because you have to dig through it all and flip through lots of papers trying to find something. There might be an index about any of this. Go ask your local librarian. They have shortcuts and ways to do it.

We would also then go to other archives. If you’ve got a historical society or a museum for your town, we would go over there. They often had archived newspapers. And we could dig through things there. It is always interesting to look at the old papers, but it takes time. In the modern era, Google sure makes life a lot easier.

So you want to see what people are going to find out about you. You might know the skeletons in your closet. How deep are they buried? You want to look at not just the first page in Google, but the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the tenth.

You’ve got to dig back and really get to see what people can find. Something might be older. You’ve got to deal with. It might be there.

What is it that you want to say about yourself? What do you want to put on your basic literature? You know, if you’ve got things in your history that are important to you running. If it is a local race, you want to talk about being a member of the community for a while, how you’ve been active. All of that needs to go on your bio, go on the website, and go on your palm card.

And then you need to think about things that might relate from work or issues. And then maybe you want to make a statement or something that is quotable that you want people to use about you or the issue.

You’ve got to make it interesting. And you’ve kind of make it about the voter. Why would they want to vote for you? And you can get a quote from somebody else.

You can find somebody in the community who is important and you can get a quote from them about you. You can help them craft a quote. You could write the quote and ask them if they could say it and could you use it. There’s lots of ways to go about doing that.

That first quadrant, “What We Say About Us,” is what you think the public should know about you and what you think is important. Then there is “What Will They Say About Us”. Now this is back to your Google research and skeletons in your closet.

What is there that they know about you now that they’ve googled you? I hope they aren’t doing this, but they probably are if they are savvy at all and they are trying to figure out what you are about.

So what will they say about you? Can they say things like you are evil, you are a Nazi? I mean, they are going to pull out junk like that if you are running against hardcore liberals. Hopefully in a local race it isn’t going to be something like that.

But they can say you are unqualified. They could say you are too young, you are too busy. You know, left pulls out things like you are too rich, you are out of touch, blah, blah, blah. And if they can find something in a newspaper article-you had a DUI, you’ve been sued depending on what the lawsuit is about-they’ll use junk like that, that’s for sure.

So what do you think they could say about you? About us I should say. “What Will They Say About Us”? I am using us because I was framing all of this in terms of thinking about a slate as I said, which was last week’s podcast.

So what can they find? And what are you going to think they are going to say? And what is the slightly negative thing to say about you and what is the really harsh, mean to say about you? Do you think they will cross that harsh, mean line or is your town much more civil and they don’t dare, which would be nice? It’s nice to work in a town that is pretty civil.

So now we are back to the upper right hand quadrant, “What We Say About Them”. All right, so you’ve googled them and you’ve gone and done a little digging at the library. What do you know about them? What can you say about them?

Again, are they unqualified? Have they a bad history? Have they done something illegal or something wrong that would kind of disqualify them? Have their kids thrown a big drunken party and there was a police report or something about it?

We used that one time in a school board race for a high school in which our opposition parents, their high schoolers had this big party. Well, what kind of parents are those? In our community, that doesn’t play very well. But in yours it might. So it depends.

There’s a whole of you’ve kind of got to know your community and you’ve got to understand how people think in your community. They might not all think like you, so you need to take that into account.

And then the last quadrant, “What They Will Say About Themselves”. They are going to say they are qualified, they are wonderful, and they are great members of the community. And that’s fine. How can you pick some of that apart? That would go back into your other quadrant up above about “What We Say About Them”.

You want to figure out what they are going to say about themselves. And as they start releasing things, you are going to go back and adjust your quadrants because they might say things about themselves that you don’t think. Or they are going to say things about you or us and you need to adjust it.

So how do you know what works in your community? Well, that is trickier. You need to do some research on that. The simplest way is to start talking to other people. If you are going out door to door for your campaign early on, and I hope you are, I am going to ask what is important to you. What issue is important to this race for that person who you are talking to at the door.

Make notes of that. Start tracking it. If it is about taxes, property taxes, make a note that they think it is too high or they think the bond referendum is too big that is coming out. Or they think that the streets are not getting plowed well or the potholes are not being patched.

And you know what you are running for. Write that down. That is good information. You are going to work that into your message, into your quadrant about yourself, your quadrant about them, and quadrants about the issues.

Another good way to poll and be part of your campaign is to get on that phone. Back in Commonwealthy #29, Tina and I talked a lot about scripts and questionnaires and talking to people as we did our phone calling from our phone banks. The podcast was Automated Phone Systems Scripts and Special Interest Groups Questionnaires with Tina Keats.

I’d say check that out. Check out things about phone banking. So when you start phone banking, you start calling. And when I say phone banking, it could be just you in the beginning. But eventually you are going to get some volunteers.

You might want to be calling with questions first. Not calling about your campaign, but calling about questions. “Do you think taxes are too high in our school district?” That’s if you are running for school board. “What issues are you worried about at school? Curriculum, etc?”

So you make yourself a list of five questions. And you are asking those questions. And you are finding out that information and you are saving that data and you are putting it in your database because when you know what is important to the voter, you can then reach to them with that specific answer on that specific issue where you match up.

But it is also helping you to formulate where you are going to go with your campaign message. And that is key. It is huge to know where you are going to go with your message. That is part of the research plan.

People use polling, which we have not talked about on this podcast because polling is expensive. Most people that I deal with and are listening to this podcast are not running for an office that warrants that kind of a campaign expenditure.

But what you are doing with your phone bank is your polling. You could be doing the same thing as you go door to door, but you could also be introducing yourself as, “I am going to run” or “I am a candidate for” whatever that race is. County board let’s say.

And while you are there, “I wanted to understand what is important to you on the county level. How do you think the roads are? What do you think of our forest preserve districts? What do you think of other,” whatever that issue is that you think is hot.

When you are talking to people at the door and you are marking it down, you are taking an informal door to door poll. Is it perfectly accurate? No. But it sure gives you an idea of what people are thinking.

Do not think that one area of the district might be same as another area of the district. You need to make sure that you are hitting some different areas early on just so you can see if there is variety on what people are thinking in different parts of town or different parts of the township.

Maybe something is a bigger issue in certain areas. Sewers are bad in this section of the town and crime is bad in another. You need to be sure you are getting about and finding out what is the issue in each one of these areas.

Maybe you are going to set up your campaign and you are going to emphasize different issues in different areas because that’s what people view what’s important. So all of that happens in your research. And your research should start as early as possible and be ongoing, but ongoing in a way that it also helps your campaign.

Now if you are lucky enough to have a large email list of people that live in your community for some reason (perhaps you are active in a group and have access to it without ticking the group off), you might able to send out something like a survey using like SurveyMonkey or something, which is I believe free. Maybe it is free only to a certain level. Maybe you could send out something like that that asks questions about the community.

This is one of the advantages that an incumbent has. They can use the power of the incumbency. They can use the office. You are on a school board and you send out questionnaires, either mailed or emailed, to find out what the community is thinking about issues. You’ve got that information because you have read it in your role of leadership on that board.

So that is one of the advantages an incumbent might have. So if you are in office, figure out how you can a survey of the community to find out what issues are important in the community. That will help you to craft your message.

It is possible to buy email lists for your community. We talked about that in Commonwealthy #56, Good Data Big Data for Political Campaigns with my friend Peter Anderson. He sells email lists. Get a hold of him. Take a look at the podcast. Listen to it or look at the transcript on the Commonwealthy website. And see if you can buy a list for that community.

And then perhaps you can send a survey out using that list. It might have your name, might not. You want to understand what is going on in the community. If it is your campaign, send it in the name of your campaign and you want to know what is going on in the community. If you haven’t started a campaign, you are probably going to have to because you are probably going to dollar limits to buy the list.

It is a way to survey the community quickly and get some answers on what you think. But also know that sometimes there is a biased to those that will answer an email survey. It might be certain generations. It might be certain types of people, people at are more affluent to have better computer systems. It depends on your town.

It is one course and you can try it. Just about everything here is nuanced. You’ve got to figure out how accurate is this going to be, how not accurate, etc. Just try to do your best and then factor in what you think is the reality of it.

But you’ve got to start somewhere. And a SurveyMonkey put out or some kind of an email questionnaire would work well and can work well.

If you’ve got a Facebook group, you could also try some questions on Facebook. Or if you’ve got a blog, you could have survey questions on your blog. There’s some apps out there for WordPress that are free that you can use.

So there’s lots of ways to try and get some feedback. But remember if people are coming to you, it is a much smaller audience. They are going to already probably have a bias towards you; that is why they are linked to you in the first place.

And now here’s the big tip of the day on messaging: go find someone that is a marketing specialist in your community. I have done that a lot. Who do you know that knows your community who makes their living by putting together marketing campaigns, advertising, and things like that?

Can you go talk to them? Will they volunteer? Will they help you? It can’t hurt to ask. I would try that because they often have ideas on what they think is happening in the community.

You have to factor in their biases and their prejudice. Sometimes they are more liberal than you and maybe you don’t want to use them. But on the other hand, perhaps they really are smart and they can come up with some really great ideas for a campaign.

I’ve done that in many a campaign and it has paid off well. I obviously didn’t have to pay for it. They are better at this than I am and/or the candidate. So think about that. Who can you reach out to who might understand marketing in the community?

I am giving you a lot of think about here. I haven’t gone into it with a lot of depth because you’ve just go to do it. This is one of those things you start googling yourself, you start googling the opposition, you start googling the issues, and you start crafting those phone call scripts to see what you are finding out on the phones and door to door.

That is how I’ve always handled it. That sort of is the bottom line. And then work on it. Work from there and build it. Early messages should be positive. Perhaps later it is going to more negativity going on in the campaign and you’ve got to defend yourself. You are ready with some negatives to drop on them if you need them and if you want to go there. But again, it depends on your community.

This is not a science; it’s an art. But it takes work. It takes research and it takes thought. And as I said, find somebody who is good at that kind of a thing to help you. That would be great.

But this is part of the fun of a campaign. Messaging is always important and fun. And once you’ve got your message, you’ve got to work it into your literature, into every form of advertising, into your scripts, into your stump speech, and into your little elevator pitch.

What are you saying at the door when you are out there or you are talking to people? What you are saying and how you are reinforcing your message in that statement and what you are talking about.

So it all goes together. This is an important early step and an ongoing step. Building your message in the research for a political campaign.

If you need to some help with this, I am As always, we hope that you will subscribe to us in iTunes or whatever podcatcher system you use- Spreaker, Stitcher. We’re out there on all of them.

Please tell your friends about us. This is about word of mouth. This is how we are growing this audience. And thank you to those of you who have spread the word because we are growing.

We can talk about politics. We can complain. We can throw shoes at the television set. But we aren’t going to change anything until we win elections. You’ve got to step up, run for office or recruit people to run for office, and do some of these step by step ways to get yourself elected.

When we win elections, we can change things. Let’s quit talking. Let’s win some elections.

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