25 November 2005

Find. Fix. Fire.

There's a reason why in both politics and the army they call it a campaign.

Winning requires strategy, logistics, co-ordination and flexibility.

There is only one winner.

Everyone else is a loser.

No one wants to be the loser.

The basic approach in a campaign consists of three words: find, fix and fire.

Find: This consists of finding your voters and those who will vote for The Other Guy. Opinion polling helps figure out the rough percentages and what issues and attitudes are motivating voters. A good voter identification program - polling by door-knocking or telephone refines the overall picture on a voting poll by voting poll basis.

You also want to find any swingers or wafflers. Those are the voters who either haven't committed yet, are leaning one way or the other (you need to find that out as well) and those who are in the other camp but who might be persuaded to switch sides.

Fix: Fix in this context means to hold your own voters in place. Political advertising and other communications are designed to reinforce your own supporters and get them worked up enough to want to go to the polls.

Fix, in this context, also involves efforts to dislodge TOG's voters. Plenty of people talk about negative campaigning and attack ads and while they are usually denounced, a properly conceived and executed attack phase of the campaign has proven extremely effective time and again, for party after party in doing one thing - suppressing the TOG's supporters.

Political communications in the fix portion of a campaign are also aimed to some extent at the swingers. The basic goal is to suppress the other guy's leaners, firm up the ones leaning to you, steal some of his weak ones and attract more of the undecideds.

Fire: Having found and fixed 'em, the last thing to do is to fire your voters into the polling booth on voting day.

This is where the voter identification campaign really pays off. Voting day is the most hectic day of the campaign: workers call identified party supporters and encourage them to vote. Drivers are dispatched to give people a free lift to the nearest polling station.

Scrutineers at the polling stations cross off voters as they come and send their data back to headquarters so identified supporters are crossed off the lists.

Energy then focuses in the last hours and minutes of the day to getting every last identified voter to a polling booth. Dragging, as it is commonly called, is about literally dragging anyone who hasn't voted to the polls.

There's an old saying that amateurs talk strategy and tactics while professionals talk logistics.

Well, in politics, the logistics are all about the voter identification program and the entire operation devoted to getting your supporters into a booth where they can mark an "x" for the right candidate.

Without it, you don't stand a hope in hell of winning.

But, in politics as in a military campaign, dominating the opinion environment through political communications makes the job of finding, fixing and firing that much easier. Increasingly, successful campaigns rely on solid comms support coupled with the log work for success

Political communications - the news releases, events, householders, buttons, signs and a website - play a key role. Screw that up and you can kiss the votes good bye. The best voter ID project in history won't save you.

Flood a newsroom with bullshit releases and you'll likely alienate reporters you need in order to get your messages on important issues carried to voters. Feed them pap or duck them and they'll faithfully report your failings to everyone who listens, watches or reads their stuff.

Ask municipal candidates in the recent St. John's election about that sort of stuff.

Issue a news release that calls your opponent a child molester's best friend - without solid evidence - then back the mistake to the hilt and you can cost yourself the campaign and with it victory.

Ask Stephen Harper about that one.

One of the telling features in the upcoming campaign will be political communications and, unlike voter ID programs, it is the one that is most visible.

So when the writ drops next week -*sigh* - pay close attention to the stuff in your mailbox, and on your television, radio, in the newspapers, or on the Internet. You'll be able to tell a lot about the strategies being employed simply through careful observation.

And among the commentators cropping up on the news, you'll also be able to spot the amateurs and the professionals.