Persuasion 2018 – Part One

I’m off on another series project. As usual I don’t know exactly how long it will last and how many installments there will be. What I can declare is that this is the first of several parts and there will be days between installments. I want to deal with persuasion and specifically how it will apply to the 2018 election. Let’s explore.

First allow me to give you a brief explanation of how a well-run contemporary American political campaigns work. It is usually divided into three somewhat overlapping phases: identification, persuasion and turnout.

First you identify voters as to level of support for your candidate. An extremely strong supporter who has a sterling record of voting can be basically left alone unless you recruit them as a volunteer. On the other end of the spectrum someone who either hates your candidate or loves their opponent is best left “sleeping” with the hope they forget to vote; you are never going to convert (persuade) them.

I’ll skip ahead to turnout which is exactly what it sounds like; you try to get “your voters” to the polls. As simple as this concept sounds it is almost always the difference between victory and defeat in a close election and in my opinion the most important part of a field operation. If a supporter doesn’t vote they mean nothing.

For my money persuasion is the least important phase because it produces the smallest results per unit of resources expended. Losing candidates almost invariably frustrate their campaign managers because they spend too much time trying to win arguments with and/or convince die hards from the other side. In the hour you spend with a believer in right wing mythology who you have almost no chance of converting you could touched a lot of people inclined to support you who simply need a nudge to feel like they owe showing up at the polls and voting for you to you. Shake the right hands and kiss the right babies. Good data and field work should be able to identify them.

Most of the people who tell you they are independent voters and pay no attention to Party labels are deceiving themselves. Political scientists will tell you that once a person has voted three times they disproportionately vote either Democratic or Republican and will continue to do so.

While I don’t totally discount persuasion (more about that in future installments) I feel it is by far the least effective of the three phases and should be used intelligently and sparingly. I would spend much more time and money on identification and turnout. Identify people who will support you and then make sure they vote. That will give you the greatest return on investment. All but a few high profile national candidates never seem to have enough money. While many of your most important people will be unpaid volunteers you need a paid staff to train and coordinate them not to mention the cost of data that makes their (and your) efforts efficient.

In 2016 we did see a successful alternative model for campaigning from the Trump team. It consisted of three phases: lie, defend against the debunking with further lies and deflect from the crisis caused by the lies, usually by telling even more lies. The common denominator is lying. That is why you hire people like Kellyanne Conway, Paul Manafort, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Along with that you pick Mike Pence as your running mate. As time goes on the truth comes out and your support will eventually erode to a point that you are no longer viable. Trump proved it always doesn’t happen quickly.

The conventional method is neither foolproof nor a secret however I like the odds if it being successful if it is properly executed. This was the primer; I promise it will get more exciting as the series progresses. It may also make following the 2018 races a bit more interesting.

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