How can “What do Voters Want?” be a simple question?!
Too many people try to complicate the question of what voters want in a candidate and elected official. Overlaying niche micro-targeting and voter analytics with complex policy matrices may help you figure out which voters are most likely to agree with you, but at its core, voters want very simple things.
The truth is often more straightforward than the context or even the question would let on. Similar to the 3 rules to win elections (stand for principle, don’t lie, and be nice to people) outlined in a previous podcast, constituents gravitate to candidates based on 3 simple principles: Trust, Empathy, and Respect.
The I-80 Lesson
In a recent episode of the How to Run for Office Podcast, Dr. Mark Campbell, shared a poignant anecdote that illustrates this point expertly. It’s not a lesson that came from some wise sage consultant or successful candidate. Mark got this quote from a waitress in a diner on I-80 in Iowa at 3am during campaign season:
Voters want to elect people who are like them, who share their values, and who are smarter than they are (but don’t act like it).
One of the greatest byproducts of the American political experiment is a culture of self-governance and system of representative democracy. It’s deeply rooted in our formative political philosophies and founding documents.
Voters want a candidate who is like them
Most voters don’t have the time to run for office or even stay abreast of many political issues through the plethora of government bodies that represent them. But they want to be represented by people who would act like they would, if in their shoes. They seek out candidates, like them, whom they believe would act and comport themselves in a similar way, and informed by similar values as they would.
Voters want a candidate who shares their values
Equally important, voters need to have a sense that they share a common belief structure with a candidate. As a candidate or an elected official, if you do not at least share some of the basic values of your constituents, there’s a strong argument to be made that you have no business representing their interests. To best be able to connect with voters, candidates should know who they are and why they are running not only from an intellectual perspective, but from a values/beliefs perspective as well.
Voters don’t just want to agree with their elected official on a couple major policy issues. They want to believe that they share fundamental principles and make decisions in a similar way.
Voters want a candidate who is smarter than them…but doesn’t act like it!
Finally, voters want to believe that the person representing them is smarter than them. They don’t have the time or desire to study the issues and know the ins and outs of policy and parliamentary process. So they know that they need somebody who is smarter on those issues than they are. People respect intelligence – but they respect it a whole lot more when it comes packaged with humility.
Voters want you to be smarter than them but coming across as a know-it-all is a sure way to negate any good will that you’ve developed by being like them and sharing their values. Humility and approachability are critical to being worthy of a voter’s trust and connecting with them in a meaningful way.
It all boils down to Trust, Empathy and Respect
- Are they like me? Can I trust this candidate to represent me and act like I would?
- Do they share my values? Does this candidate truly understand me and where I’m coming from?
- Are they smart, but not a smart-ass? Do I respect this candidate? Do they deserve my respect?