Doing the Research

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Contents:

1. Knowledge is power
2. The toolbox of methods
3. Conclusions

Niccolò Machiavelli already believed a detailed evaluation of our opponents’ as well as our own strengths and weaknesses to be one of the most important preconditions for the preservation or expansion of power.
Although citing the Italian power strategist (‘The end justifies the means’) is sometimes frowned upon these days, even in modern electoral politics, knowing the strength of the weapons (or nowadays, the means and instruments) we face is an essential prerequisite for successful campaigning.

We need strategy and tactics, skill, endurance, resources – and knowledge! The more we know about voters’ attitudes, desires, fears and demands, and the more we know about how and when to reach them with our messages, the more exactly we can plan campaigns, minimize uncertainties and tailor our messages more precisely.


In short: Knowledge is power!

Knowledge is power
The voter need not be an unknown creature.
There is no reason why political campaigns shouldn’t be able to do what business, the advertising industry and political consulting agencies do every day. Campaign organisers are every bit as capable of utilizing the research tools provided by the social sciences. For years now, the introduction of any product or even new beer label has been conducted with more social scientific know-how than most election campaigns – at least in Germany and most other European countries.

Know your potential
A variety of factors determine the outcome of election campaigns: mobilisation, themes, individuals and thus also the favour of voters. However, the ‘classic voter milieus’ are not merely becoming more diffuse, but are increasingly disintegrating altogether. It has become far more difficult to predict how members of a given social or occupational group will vote.

While in the 1960s 80 per cent of working-class Germans still cast their votes for the SPD in the last federal election of 2009 the figure was only 24%. In the same election, 28% voted for the conservative Christian Democratic Union, 13% for the Liberals and 7% even voted for the Green Party.
And with increasing frequency, it is the ‘Non-Voters’ party that ultimately wins elections. If all the electoral abstainers who have stopped participating in democratic elections were to gain representation, as the largest party they would provide the head of government. While more than 91% of eligible voters still went to the polls in 1972, by 2009 the figure had fallen to barely 71%.

It is therefore important to mobilise as vigorously as possible, choose themes correctly and position key candidates deftly, thereby reaching potential new target groups. In order to do so, however, we need to know our potential voters inside and out.

Know your strengths: ‘Strengthen your strengths, and weaken your weaknesses!’

Formerly small parties such as the Greens frequently have an especially difficult time bringing their political objectives into alignment with the current themes that determine the outcome of elections. Often enough, alongside the ‘hard’ issues, ‘soft’ indicators or image values such as credibility, assertiveness, a clear profile and a close connection with citizens and their concerns are key to electoral success. Putting on a good performance is one of the most important aspects of campaigning. It may sound strange, but it is generally true: not making mistakes is half the battle.
The earlier you gain an idea of what impression the voters have, the better you can respond to potential deficiencies. NB: negative images cannot be corrected overnight, but good image values can be ruined in very short order!
To prevent this happening, we need to use demographic tools! While we should never underestimate our ‘gut’, i.e., experience, intuition and that little measure of necessary luck – a good scientifically collected statistical basis is the best decision-making aid!

In short: If you can answer the following seven questions about your own voters, you are definitely moving in the right direction:

1. How many voters can envision voting for me?
2. Who are my voters?
3. Where do my voters live?
4. What do my voters want?
5. How do my voters see me?
6. What channels can I use to reach my voters?
7. Who would my voters vote for if not me?

You not only need to be able to answer these questions long before the election, but also to keep questioning and evaluating during the campaign. After all, the impact of a campaign requires constant monitoring. Otherwise, it resembles a hiker in the woods who has lost her compass. She knows where she wants to go, but will have a hard time getting there.

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