A little over a week ago, I got to interview Erick Erickson on the How to Run for Office Podcast and two pieces of advice he shared really stood out to me.

  1. Do what’s right, not what’s liked.
  2. Know when you’re in the minority, even when you think you’re right.

Today I want to flesh those ideas out a bit. If you want to hear our conversation, check out the podcast episode at the 20 minute mark.

Do What’s Right.

Dick Morris told Bill Clinton that polls don’t tell you WHAT to do. They tell you HOW to do it. Now, I don’t particularly care for Mr. Morris but he nailed that piece of advice and it supports our thesis here. Even when the right thing IS the popular thing, that’s not why we should do it.

Doing what’s right sounds pretty simple in theory but very often in politics, the issue gets muddy. Part of the problem is that we ask ourselves both questions simultaneously. If that’s the case, and you’re trying to figure out what’s right and liked at the same time, it’s easy to end up thinking that the popular thing is the right course to take.

Here’s what you need to do. If the answer to the right action isn’t clear, focus solely on that. Mentally silo these two conversations so they don’t bleed over onto one another. You need to answer both questions, but it’s critical that the right action be determined before you start asking what’s popular.

In some cases, there may not be an absolute right answer. If that’s the case, be confident in that result before moving on to popularity.

Know When You’re in the Minority.

Okay, so we know now what the right course of action is. We also have a general idea of how popular that course of action may be…or do we?

Is it possible that your opinion sample is biased? I’m pretty sure it is.

Think about the last time you looked at your Facebook news feed and the opinions your friends are sharing. Roughly what percent agree with your natural inclination? Probably a lot. That’s bias…which doesn’t mean you’re right or wrong, but it does mean that you may not have a true appreciation for what the public at large thinks of your opinions.

Why were Hillary Clinton supporters 110% sure she was going to win last November? A large part of it had to do that they never heard anybody saying nice things about President Trump. None of THEIR friends were supporting him…so how strong could his base be?

There were a lot of things you can learn from Hillary’s loss, but this is among the most important.

Even when you’re right, you need to make an accurate appraisal of where the voters are. This isn’t in order to  help change your mind but rather to help you promote your idea or plan more effectively.

If you are sure that everybody agrees with you, you’re likely to focus more on volume than persuasive power. Conversely, if you think you’re in the minority on a belief, you are going to more keenly craft your communication and view your conversations as conversion attempts.

How do I figure this out?

Well, scientific polling is one route. A good poll can give you great insight into where people are at on different issues. If it fits into your campaign plan and budget, it’s a nice resource to have. But it’s not the only way.

You can also work to accomplish this by reading a wider array of articles about the subject or talking to a broader range of people. Don’t just let yourself become balkanized a self-created echo-chamber. I highly recommend that you put yourself around a lot of voters and people who may or may not agree with you. Talk to them and focus on listening, not promoting candidacy.

Listening isn’t as easy as it sounds but if you don’t get good at it, you’re not going to be a very good elected official. You sure won’t be somebody that I would want to vote for!

Challenge:

This week, have conversations with 10 people you’ve never met before and focus on listening. Learn about their background, who they are and what they believe. Your goal here isn’t a quick voter conversion or a persuasive play. It’s all about finding out what they believe and what motivates them.

PS. If you haven’t already, check out Erick Erickson’s new book!

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