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Who to target
Parties engaged in any political campaign are always confronted with a complex environment. Politics is blessed with a wide range of issues and a diversity of potential voters. Some people are more important than others and each person responds differently to a particular set of issues. Determining which voters to communicate with and what messages to use is called ‘targeting’.
A campaign can never reach all people equally. The resources available (both staff and financial resources) are limited. We never have enough people working at information booths, talking, convincing others, etc. And we never have enough resources to finance large campaigns, to pay for radio, television and cinema spots, or to place advertisements in the press. Furthermore, it is far more effective to communicate a message repeatedly to the same people, than to try reaching out to as many people as possible. Guided by the maxim “the right message for the right voter”, targeting helps campaigns conserve resources while maximising their impact.
A campaign must therefore focus on two groups:
People who are FOR our concern: they no longer need convincing, and they require no further resources. Active supporters do not have to be persuaded to support the issue; they have to be motivated to discuss and gather support for the issue and objective, within their means and capabilities. The aim is to mobilise these people.
Possible floating voters
The individuals that form this group are UNDECIDED: they can become supporters of the campaign, if the right arguments are used.
Identifying the right voters and crafting a message for them requires an understanding of how people decide to vote. Political professionals view the voting decision as a three-step process. During the ‘cognition phase’, a voter becomes aware of the campaign, and the candidates taking part in it. Next, in the phase described as ‘affect’ or ‘persuasion’, voters form opinions about the candidates and decide who to support. Finally, during the ‘mobilisation’ phase, voters must be motivated to actually go to the polls on election day.
Polls and psephology
One way to develop individual targeting is to build a database. Polls generally cost a lot of money, but a relatively cost-effective way of compiling information is to use data available on official voter-lists, which include a person’s address, year of birth and sex.
With the help of official election statistics and an analysis of voting transfer, targeting is possible at no great expense. In this manner, swing voter strongholds and turnout can be analysed precisely, thus identifying the potential supporters and voters.