It’s very easy to get in a habit of letting this advice go in one ear and out the other. Free advice, as it’s often said, is frequently worth what you pay for it.
The problem with this approach is two-fold. First, there are likely some pearls of wisdom mixed in with the less helpful advice. Second, folks can tell when you’re blowing them off and that’s hardly a way to engender stalwart support.
Instead, here’s what you should do. Listen to their advice carefully, write it down and set aside time for your team to review the list. This doesn’t need to be an involved process but I highly recommend that it be skimmed.
The reason it’s important to do this targeting is that not every house has registered votes in it and not every registered voter will cast a ballot. Once you know that, it’s easy to understand how knocking every door on a street, or even every registered voter’s door is a waste of time.
It’s possible to encourage these folks to register or turn out unlikely voters…but that’s not your top priority. The first thing your list should be to identify and persuade likely voters. These folks are the low hanging fruit. They’re GOING to vote. The only question is whether they’ll vote for your campaign.
Once you’ve done that effectively, you can turn your attention to less likely voters and unregistered citizens. I’ll be honest though, few campaigns do enough work on the likely voters that it’s worth spending voter contact time on the unlikely.
So what about wave elections? 2016 surprised many people, myself included, with the huge turnout in primary elections.
If I was to go back to that election, I wouldn’t change my voter targets, since no available information could have shown me which other doors to knock. Instead, I would have shifted more dollars into radio, TV and mail. These are less targeted means of contact but in a scenario where wave turnout is likely, they can have a positive impact on voters when targeted voter contact is impossible.
Often, candidates find themselves so focused on the quantitative goals that they forget that a person, an actual human is casting the vote. We can poll and aggregate data to understand it better, but at the end of election day, the results will be determined by a bunch of individual humans making a singular decision.
Why is this important, if you have the right goals and executive your activity well? The fact is that keeping people’s humanity in mind will both humble you and help you focus on the individual. When you’re talking to a voter or a donor, they should be your world. Making them so is both genuinely respecting of who they are AND makes it more likely that they’ll vote for you.
There’s something tricky about this question though. Human nature is such that we don’t stay at the same point across that spectrum over time. Even worse, we sometimes trick ourselves into believing that clinging on to or growing our power will be to the long-term betterment of the people we serve.
By the time an de observer could diagnose the narcissism that has led someone down the power-focused path, they’ve deadened the natural sensitivity of their conscience through repeated abuse. That means that protection against this slide towards selfishness requires aggressive self-review and a close group of confidants.