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Campaigns Must Target Their Base

By Winning Campaigns Staff Writer

We all know about political targeting. If you haven’t heard about targeting from your campaign manager, consultant, state party or politically-minded friends, you’ve certainly heard talk about targeting in campaign strategy chatter. Every campaign can and must use targeting in their election.

The most basic form of targeting – the type that every single campaign should be using – is fairly complex, but easy to understand. It involves figuring out which voters tend to vote Democrat, which voters tend to vote Republican, and which voters tend to be swing voters.

The campaign can then concentrate its resources on precincts that have high levels of swing voters, hoping to persuade them to swing your way. Campaigns can also concentrate on shoring up the their base and getting out the vote in supportive precincts.

There are other uses of targeting in political campaigns, however. Targeting in its most general sense means choosing which areas you will concentrate your limited resources on by making generalizations about the voters who live there. If your campaign has limited resources (and what campaign doesn’t?) and is in one of the following situations, think about using some of these additional forms of targeting in addition to the basic form of targeting outlined above.

1. Incumbent Primary Targeting
Many campaigns think that targeting can only be effective in the general election, and isn’t really suited for use in primaries. While there is some truth to this idea, in certain situations, campaigns can and should use targeting in primary elections. One such situation is when a challenger is running against an incumbent in a primary election. (We won’t get into the pros and cons or ethics of such a run).

In this situation, the challenger campaign can evaluate past election results to determine in which areas the incumbent does poorly among Republicans. This can be done either by looking at past primary results if the incumbent has faced serious opponents in primary elections in the recent past, or by finding areas where significant numbers of Republicans have defected in the general election in the past to vote for the Democratic candidate.

2. Street Sign Targeting
Are you looking to place your campaign’s yard signs on certain high visibility streets? If so, you may want to target residents of those streets early on to ensure that they will agree to let you place your signs on their lawns. There are many ways you can do this, but the basic idea is that you choose streets that you want to place signs on and get voter registration data for those streets.

Choose members of your own party, and contact them early on with mail pieces or literature drops letting them know about your candidate. After several such contacts, send volunteers out door to door to ask for support and ask for permission to put up yard signs. You won’t get everyone to agree, but if you target enough houses on each street you will probably get at least one, if not more, to say “yes.”

3. Absentee Targeting
Another great use for targeting is reaching absentee voters. In many areas, more people are voting absentee then every before. While rules vary by state and locality, many of these voters turn in their ballots weeks, if not months, in advance. Your goal is to reach these voters early with special messages geared specifically towards them.

You have two options: either doing targeting to determine which precincts have high percentages of absentee voters, or looking through elections data and compiling a list of voters who have consistently voted absentee in the past. If you chose the first option, it will be less time consuming, however your mailings will reach a lot of extra people who won’t be voting absentee. The second option is more time consuming, but you’ll reach far fewer non-absentee voters.

No matter which option you choose, after doing your targeting you can send out special mailings to absentee voters well before they turn in their absentee ballots. To connect with them, you can design your mail pieces to remind them when absentee ballots become available, count down how many days they have left to turn them in, etc. The goal is to make a connection with them that lets them know you care about their support.

As you can see, there are many different ways to targeting your support, and we’ve only just scratched the surface. Campaigns need to target so that every decision is based on sound strategy. No matter how many different types of targeting you do, make sure that you always – ALWAYS – at the very least, do basic targeting, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Never substitute another form of targeting for basic targeting… it is the foundation of all of your campaign’s strategy decisions.
Jim Burrows
Winning Campaigns Staff Writer
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