With just under 6 months until the General Election in November, it is time for every conservative candidate, issue group, and political party to charge ahead on this admittedly uphill battle. While it’s true that no one knows exactly what the November 3rd election will look like during our new COVID-19 reality, there is no time or reason to make excuses or delay action. We’ve done extensive research and forecasting and we can emphatically say that while the way that we do some things will have to evolve with the times, the foundation remains the same.
Three things will have to evolve the most, especially in center-right efforts which have been lagging our counterparts on the left in Illinois for a while now: vote by mail programs, direct voter outreach, and fundraising.
As evidenced in the primary, there will be a huge shift toward voting by mail (VBM) during the COVID-19 pandemic (and likely beyond), especially with Springfield looking to expand VBM in 2020. This is bad news for Republican candidates. Since VBM came to Illinois over a decade ago, Republicans have struggled to bank these votes. There’s a reason Democrats are pushing to expand VBM—they dominate this space. One of the starkest examples of this problem is in Lake County because while this problem exists for Republicans statewide, the Lake County Clerk is one of the few election authorities to drop in all early votes after election night reporting is complete. We still vividly remember the sickening feeling of watching Bob Dold’s election night celebration turn into what felt like a funeral in 2016, and seeing 5 county Republicans go from leading to losing the county board majority for the first time in 2018. In each instance, the Republican candidates were comfortably in the lead until early votes were dropped in at the very end.
Republican VBM programs in Illinois over the past few election cycles have consisted of sending a mailing to Republican voters with a VBM application, sometimes pre-populated, then talking about doing more but running out of time. That cannot be the case in 2020. We must run actual VBM programs that consist of direct voter contact; personal support; robust data operations tracking individual applications, ballots, and votes; and significant labor investment. VBM programs take sweat—you cannot buy an effective VBM program. In 2020, we must invest this sweat equity, especially since a significant portion of our base is older and will likely be reticent to vote in person, as we saw in the March primary.
The other two aspects of campaigns that must evolve are voter outreach and fundraising. These are two of the most critical aspects of a campaign, but no longer will candidates be going door-to-door meeting voters or hosting as many public fundraisers at their local restaurant–at least for the foreseeable future. Instead, candidates will have to talk with voters and fundraise with a mix of traditional tactics and modern strategies such as virtual events, ideas for which we’ve shared in our recent communications.
It’s important to note, however, that the foundation for these efforts remains the same: talking to human beings directly. Maybe we’re talking to them now via video chat instead of at their doorstep, or hosting a video conference instead of a roundtable, or even doing a smaller live event for those who wish to attend in person paired with a virtual component for those who wish to stay home. But in each case, it’s that direct human interaction that is required for persuasive efforts, whether you are looking to earn their votes or their financial support for your campaign.
Just as the foundation for voting, outreach, and fundraising remains the same, the foundation remains the same for the rest of your political efforts in 2020:
– Data & Research: Winning campaigns will still be based on empirical data and advanced survey research, allowing them to develop effective and targeted strategies.
– Budgets: Every campaign still must have a budget. Though sadly most campaigns, in our experience, skipped this step even before the coronavirus and ended up shooting from the hip.
– Messaging: You still must have concise and effective messaging in place to ensure your pitch to voters is consistent and your communications are always on message.
– Support Team: Campaigns still need enthusiastic support from their base. That means supporters aren’t just voting for you, they’re talking to their neighbors, displaying yard signs, using social media, and volunteering all in an effort to persuade and turn out targeted voters.
– Paid Voter Outreach: To win on Election Day, your campaign still needs to use direct mail, digital advertising, text messaging, social media, and campaign collateral, such as yard signs, banners, stickers, and flyers.
The COVID-19 pandemic may change the landscape of campaigns forever, but the underpinnings of a solid campaign are still basically the same. Know what to say from survey research, gain supporters by sharing a message that resonates with voters in a targeted manner, raise the money you need to implement your campaign plan, and use the best tools at your disposal to win.
It’s easy to get bogged down by what you have to do to adapt to this new reality, ultimately grinding your political operations to a halt. But as we laid out here, the foundation remains the same. Don’t let this uncertainty stop you—you can (and must) continue to build positive momentum even during the pandemic.
The left isn’t “letting this crisis go to waste,” while you were reading this they were calling their supporters, developing VBM target lists, and sending out fundraising emails. So no more excuses—let’s get back to work.