More people voted in the 2020 election season than ever before, even with the obstacles presented by COVID-19. But 44 percent of those who cast their ballot for the new administration said they weren’t necessarily pro-Biden, instead they were anti-Trump. This sentiment is even stronger with younger voters.
In order to keep winning elections, we need to find ways to keep the population engaged without a villainous character like Trump for voters to rally against.
One of the biggest mistakes that candidates make is only engaging with voters in an election year. For continued support, you have to build a mutually-beneficial relationship with voters. We’ve all had that “friend” who only comes to us when they need something or they’re in a bind. That sort of one-sided relationship breeds resentment. And it’s one of the biggest complaints from Black and Latinx voting populations.
What campaigns need to do is build trust. That requires sustained authentic outreach even in the off-cycle.
For starters, you need to find out what moves the people you want to engage. Beyond how awful the Trump administration was, what are the conversations families and friends are having around the dinner table? National polling can give you some clues, but the real intel takes more work. You need to learn who the community already trusts. Campaign surrogates who look like, speak like, and live in the same community as your voters are going to be more effective messengers than any national figure or celebrity.
You can also demonstrate authenticity by showing up on their turf -- both online and in-person.
As a representative of your constituents, it’s your job to speak up on the issues they care about. Show them you care by speaking plainly on their issues on the platforms where they’re already engaged. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does a great job of this with constituents who are in the same age group as her, for example, talking about the issues that matter to them on Instagram-live while baking bread in quarantine. Her engagement on these posts are through the roof and cost next to nothing. This works because it’s relatable, but the messaging is passionate and researched.
You can also physically show up where your supporters are. If you ran on a campaign of supporting labor rights, for example, join a demonstration. Senator Bernie Sanders is famous for joining the picket lines of teachers, low-wage government workers and auto workers around the country. He doesn’t try to steal the spotlight when he attends, instead he uses his influence to amplify the causes of people on the ground. And, importantly, he always stays on message. You can find any number of clips of him repeating the call to action for a living wage. So when it comes time for campaigning season, he’s not scrambling for material to distill into an ad that will move people. He has ample footage of him speaking to the issues his constituents care about to use on every platform.
You can also build trust by inviting voters to your terf.
It’s important to show people that they are a necessary part of the process for making change and you need them to be engaged for more than just one vote. An easy way to do this is to encourage public comment on upcoming legislation. Use an SMS program to have constituents text you real stories about how the policies you’re pushing would affect their lives. Circulate a Facebook post asking for input around issues they care about. Encourage them to send in both stories of their struggles and how policies you’ve championed have helped them. Simple asks like these will keep people engaged while providing you with information on what moves them. Then you can use that information to test effective messaging in the off-cycle. And when it comes time for your campaign or a fundraising deadline, they’ll remember hearing from you before you were down to the wire.
To sum it up: practice authentic outreach early, often, and in the spaces your constituents already frequent. When it’s go-time, you’ll already be halfway there.
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