Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting Elected - What You Need To Do

I was asked in a comment to post on what I would do to get elected. I will give my thoughts on what it takes to get elected to a mid sized local government such as Victoria or Saanich.

What I am writing applies to people that are not incumbents. You can read here how well incumbents did in 2008 in the Greater Victoria area.

You need a team.

No one can manage to run in an election and have any chance of getting elected unless you have a team behind you. You need at least 30 to 50 people willing to help you get elected, more people than that would be better. 200 is a reasonable number to try and aim for as a team of supporters.

First person you need on your team is a campaign manager. This person needs to be in place long before the election and needs to be in full control of the campaign. You have to find someone you trust to surrender control of the campaign to. The campaign manager will get the leaflets designed and printed, will look after the schedule, will seek media, will manage the money, will keep you from burning out. This is not something to debate, you should never run your campaign because your job is to meet people and get elected. Someone else has to take on everything else and you have to defer to them.

The second person you need is a fundraiser. You need someone long before the election that is willing to call all your friends and family and get money from them for your campaign. This person has to focus on getting you the money to run a real campaign and have it in the bank by labour day.

The third person you need is a volunteer coordinator. If you have a team of more than 30 people, someone has to keep them in order and keep them doing useful tasks.

The fourth person you need is a media person. This person will write for you, they will put out press releases, letter to the editor and more. They will also coordinate your online presence.

Name Recognition

If no one knows who you are, there is no chance of getting elected. If someone is serious about trying to get elected in 2011, they need to start now and get their name out into the public realm.

Name recognition has to be more than just people knowing your name, they have to have some idea of who you are and what you are about. You need to promote yourself constantly.

You have to figure out how to stand out in the crowd. You have to be noticed. Media stunts are always good. Have a group of people sit down over beers and come up with one new and innovative thing your campaign can do each week.

Get prominent people to endorse you. Their name will give you standing among people that know them. Make sure you let people know who is endorsing you. Even better is if you can get them to introduce you to their network of friends.


You need enough money to have a presence in the campaign, but you also need to have that money in place before the election starts.

Having signs up early and on lawns is important. Signs cost money and take time to be made.

You need to get 100 000 to 200 000 leaflets/brochures made. You need them ready early and you need to get them out to people. There are over 60 000 voters in Victoria and each person needs to get your brochure. Many people need to see several things from you before they remember you.

Advertising in the media - early in the campaign it makes a big difference, later it is lost with everyone else. A full page ad in the TC in mid October will make people take notice and push you to the top of the list of potential winning candidates.

Minimum of $10 000 is what you need, $20 000 would be better.

Personal Contact

You need to meet as many people as possible and you need to make sure they remember you. If you can get 8000 to 9000 people remember you, you have a strong chance of getting elected.

You have about 30 seconds to make an impression, be certain of what you say in that time. You need to have a clear and comfortable short message you can say in that time - this is not the time to ad lib. You may need to have four of five different ones depending on who you are meeting.

You can personally meet about 300 to 400 people a day. In a month you can reach your goal of 9000 people. It is a brutal process to meet that many people, but if you can do it, you can win.

Always campaign with several other people and have them intervene and talk to anyone wanting to talk more than a minute. In an election you do not have time to sit and talk with each person out there for fifteen minutes.

Answering questionnaires is not meeting people, it is tool used by many candidates to get away from the grind of shaking hands and meeting people.

All candidates meetings are not useful if you have a huge list of people running. Taking an evening to go to a venue where you speak for at most a few minutes to a crowd of people that has mainly made up their mind is not an effective use of your time. In three hours you can shake as many hands in a location like the Cook Street village as the whole audience at an all candidates meeting.

Voting Strategies

One of the downfalls of running in the local elections is that a person that votes for you also tends to vote for a lot of your competitors. If you do nothing about this, every vote you bring in will give the sitting incumbents about half a vote. In Victoria in the last election the average person voted for six council candidates. Each vote you get is five for the competition. You become the author of your own defeat. There are two ways to deal with this.

First strategy is to ask people to only vote for you and no one else. This is called plumping and is very important in making sure you gain ground in the election. You have to make sure your core supporters only mark you on the ballot. Getting 500 ballots without sharing your vote is vital to gaining ground on the others. People will not like this and think it is an unfair tactic - I know this from elections in ran in 1999 and 2002 when I was the top loser each time. I asked people to only vote for me and met resistance from my closest friends.

The second strategy is a much better and that is to run as a slate. If you are running with three to seven other people, you know that a large portion of your extra votes are going to your allies. At the same time their extra votes are coming towards you. You are managing the extra votes to you and your allies benefit. A slate with the name on the ballot will do best of all with this. To get a slate name on the ballot, the group has to be together and have 50 supporters by the start of August.

Find This Book

If you can, find Tony Gargrave's "How to Win an Election: The Complete Practical Guide to Organizinf and Winning any Election Campaign"

Tony was a CCF/NDP MLA for about 20 years. The book is not recent, but the advice is all still completely relevant. I lent out my copy some years ago to someone and have no idea where it is.

Your campaign manager should read this book and understand it.

Plan Early
Trying to get elected is not something you can decide to do at the last minute. It takes time to put a campaign together, to find the volunteers and to raise the money. If you are thinking about running in 2011, you need have your campaign in place and ready by the end of the spring in 2011. You need to start floating the idea past people long before then.

Ordering election materials and signs over the summer means it is ready on day one and odds are you can get a better price.

Test Yourself
You need to know if you can campaign, it is not easy for most of us to do and you need to know if you can do it. Here are some tests:

  • Next time your are sick, go out for a 2 hour walk and pleasantly greet everyone you meet. No election stops for your illness and once you are council you are not expected to take sick days.
  • Find a venue with a lot of people milling about and spend an hour shaking people's hands and introducing yourself. You can say you are thinking of running for council and would like their thoughts on the city or something else. The test is to see if you can really go up to strangers and introduce yourself.
  • Make a list of ten friends and family and then call them and ask if they would be willing to donate $100 to you if you run for council. If you can not ask, you are going to have a lot of trouble raising the money you need. If you can not ask for $100 with a straight face, you will have trouble raising money. If you ask and they say no, you are not going to have the support you need to get elected.
  • Find a councilor and shadow them for a week and see what is involved with being on council. It is much more than the council meetings. If the work load is too much for you or the type of work is not something you like you know it is not something you should do.

Final Comments

I have run for local office three times and lost three times. I know I do not like to do the shaking of hands thing. I am an introvert by nature and I have a thin skin, two reasons I am unlikely to ever run for office again.

The public does not like to disappoint candidates so will often say they support you or will fudge their words so you think they are supporting you when in fact they are not going to. You have to accept that people are being less than truthful with you.

I have been a campaign manager four times and I enjoyed it a lot more than being the candidate. Consider being the campaign manager for someone you like and want to support, it takes a lot of time during an election but you get to have a strong personal impact on the election and council.

Even if you do everything I said above, your odds of getting elected are not great. Losing really sucks, it feels like a public snubbing. I ran twice in a small town and it was much more personal when I lost because I knew everyone.


Westcoast Indie News said...

These is all really excellent advice to those who want to run in elections. I'm interested in offering training to those who are wanting to get more involved in politics.

What I really like is how you point out the various roles people play in politics - campaign manager, fundraiser, communications. No-one can win without a team and everyone on a team has very important roles. Not all of us who are involved in politics want to run, or become "politicians." As you mention, the shaking hands, kissing babies and schmoozing sort of thing isn't for the faint of heart. I find I can be quite effective in other ways.

Thanks again and I'm sure some lucky "politician to be" will be fortunate to have you on their campaign team.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant, Bernard.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bernard,

some good ideas you have, especially on seeing if the person is comfortable in introducing themselves to strangers, not everyone is set out to be a retail politician. You might consider submitting this post to some other political website, I think they'd find it useful.

One thing you missed was the online campaign aspect. By having a well designed and engaging website and having a blogging/social media strategy done properly like Barack Obama, you can leverage all your offline efforts and increase your reach, effectiveness, fundraising, etc.

I recently did a blog post comparing Obama vs McCain in Social Media and another one comparing Gregor Robertson vs Peter Ladner in Social Media and SEO with comparison charts, slides and analysis. You might want to have a look http://adultaddstrengths.com/2008/11/18/social-media-and-seo-scorecard/