Everything in our world seems to have changed during the last few weeks. Every facet of our personal and professional lives, as well as the local, national and global economy, has shifted—perhaps forever.
What else has changed? The entire American political campaign apparatus.
It was just over a month ago that candidates were knocking on doors, shaking hands at train stations, and holding massive rallies and fundraisers with huge crowds. Those days are over, at least for the foreseeable future.
In the 2020 General Election, close races will be won by those campaigns who adapt best in this uncharted political campaign territory caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Winning campaigns will adapt their message for the times. Smart candidates will offer local reassurance and support, raising their positive name identification in the process. Elected officials and candidates that will shine during the pandemic are those that utilize technology to be a resource for their local communities. They will be front line advocates for calm during crisis, and by doing so will show the electorate they can effectively lead, even during these very difficult times.
While updated and relevant messaging is a start, that doesn’t solve the biggest challenge in our new reality: reaching voters directly at a time when you cannot see them face to face at community events, train stations, and doorsteps. The pandemic will have little effect on tried and true methods of paid voter outreach including digital advertising, direct mail, and radio and television advertising. Where it will have the biggest impact is in field efforts, arguably the most important part of every campaign.
Thankfully, we not only live in a time of incredible medical innovation that will save countless lives, but we also live in a time of technological innovation that will allow campaigns to continue forward with direct voter contact. However, few political campaigns are fully prepared for the changes that need to take place if they want to win on Election Day in just seven months.
Communicating with Voters
The first area campaigns should look to improve is their Facebook presence. It should be no secret by now that Facebook’s platform aligns very well to average voter ages in general elections. The platform has usership of 62% of those aged 65+, 72% of those age 50-64, and 84% of those 30-49—the largest groups of voters both in recent and projected elections. Yet instead of using Facebook as a platform for building relationships with voters, many campaigns still use them as one-way communication tools. Winning campaigns treat Facebook as part of their field efforts, encouraging conversations and directly engaging individual members of the public. This can be enhanced by using every tool Facebook puts at your disposal, especially interactive tools like Facebook Live. (We also strongly encourage campaigns to move beyond Facebook to platforms like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, but campaigns must learn to crawl before they can walk…)
Speaking of Facebook Live, interactive video will become the new norm for how candidates and voters communicate “publicly,” so candidates better get comfortable behind the camera because this will be the primary means they communicate with voters moving forward. As many new stay-at-home employees are learning, numerous easy-to-use tools exist to facilitate remote video communications, including Zoom, Skype, and chat platforms, while much of the world has been communicating using platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp even as campaigns still phone bank on landlines. Utilizing these platforms effectively will be a requirement for any winning campaign. As we move to an even more on-demand society, these platforms will allow candidates to engage directly with voters, meeting the voters where they are and on their schedule.
Telecom still offers plenty of potential for campaigns to connect with voters. With an astonishing 97% read rate, nothing breaks through the daily clutter like peer-to-peer texting. The key to these text campaigns is that they must be a direct conversation between two humans, not a high tech robocall. In addition, Tele-Town Halls are still quite popular and effective, especially with the current public health conditions. Voters are eager for information from their local leaders and they want it through their smartphones.
Change Your Fundraising Approach
In addition, campaigns will need to be sensitive to the way they raise money. Fundraising is obviously politically-focused, but smart campaigns will become community-focused, with the goal of not only raising campaign funds, but also including other events, such as arranging donations for local food pantries, coordinating blood drives, and providing support for first responders and front line medical professionals.
Fundraisers must leverage new tools also. The public is becoming, out of necessity, more accustomed to video communications. Virtual fundraising will become the new reality. High profile guests will be able to join live video events and directly interact with donors. Campaigns will be much more likely to land speakers who can draw attendees to their event, including facilitating exclusive private video interactions for their VIP donors. Until conditions change, fundraisers will be done virtually, saving the expense of renting out facilities and fronting the bill for that open bar and rubber chicken dinner.
Whatever you do to evolve in this new era of campaigning, the point is that you must evolve. Whether a single hand is shaken from now until November 3rd, the election will happen and politics will go on. Even when things return back to “normal,” everyone will be more cautious and many of our habits and activities will change.
Campaigns that don’t evolve and leverage every possible means of technology to connect with voters will lose in November. Meanwhile, candidates who utilize technology to communicate directly with the right audiences with emotive messages and stories will win.