The Candidates

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By Beate Potzmader

It’s the candidate, stupid!
People who strive for public office should be aware of what awaits them there and what they should expect from the job. If you want to be a candidate, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this candidature?
  • What is my situation?
  • What skills do I have that may be useful for job?
  • Will I enjoy working with people?
  • Do I have enough energy and can I motivate myself?
  • Is this the right time for a candidature?
  • Do I have the personal qualifications to convince people?
  • And so on…

Basic requirements for candidates

– Emotional Competence

  • A basic requirement is to show respect to people, irrespective of their political orientation. It is necessary to attack opponents to show their substantive shortcomings, if it is appropriate to your own strategy. But this never should lead to personal, private attacks.
  • Candidates should be empathetic and listen to people, to the needs they articulate. It is more important to learn from their perspective, than from expensive surveys. Not for nothing is a politician – i.e. a ‘man or woman of the people’ – more popular than an introvert.
  • Someone who can reflect on the activities he or she undertakes could have what it takes to make a good politician. Employees must also be allowed to express themselves and question you critically; they are not there simply to carry out the decisions their superiors make.

– Professional competence

  • Expert knowledge: You must know the legislative process, and the department you are responsible for.
  • Communication: In the multimedia-centred world of press, radio, television and internet, you must be familiar with the communication rules to be competitive.
  • Efficiency: Be aware that you have a lot of issues to work on, a lot of problems to solve. You will therefore need plenty of energy and to be able to resolve the problems efficiently. Within a well organised structure, you will have the possibility to ‘sell’ your successes.
  • Charisma: Some people have it – some don’t. Some say that charisma cannot be learned. But there are a few things you can do to be seen as a charismatic person. Try to inspire people. If you love your work, if you are particularly enthusiastic on a certain topic, if you try as hard as you can to find a solution – people will feel all of these things. Your eyes shine brightly when you talk? Then you know how to be charming…
  • Credibility: Be honest to people, try to be authentic. That is the best way to be viewed as a politician the people can put their trust in.
  • Vision: Voters and potential voters want to know your programme and your positions. Don’t change your mind every day, don’t offer people a constantly different vision of what you want to work on.
  • Responsibility: Take your responsibility seriously. Make promises and work hard to carry them out. Take action!
  • Development: Be self-critical and work on your own development. This is a crucial aspect of leadership! 

Here are some (ironic) tips and suggestions, based on the ideas of Marco Althaus, a well-known German consultant in political campaigning and communication:

  1. You have much to say – tell your audience everything you know! Present as many topics as you can.
  2. Always separate the topic from the person. Management skills, energy and sympathy don’t go hand in hand with issues.
  3. Ignore the fact that a person could be a symbol for the people. The people like your party for the organisation that it is, whereas politicians are replaceable.
  4. Leave your opponents alone. Don’t attack them. If you ever beat an opponent – keep calm. He/she would never impart his/her knowledge…
  5. Keep the strategy in your head. Never use a project-plan, on which all others can work.
  6. Don’t carry out an analysis of your district. Only you know where your potential voters live, how many you need for your seat, and on which networks you should concentrate.
  7. Plan your budget exactly – up to the last cent. Leave nothing in reserve for final actions, advertisements or material.
  8. Invest all your money in leaflets, free beer, pens and lighters. Do not give 10 per cent of your budget to (district) polls, consultants and samples of material. External experts are too expensive. YOU should reinvent the wheel! That’s your personal style.
  9. Don’t ask people for money! Only do so if you have enough time during the campaign a few days before the election day. Don’t start too early with the fundraising.
  10. A weak candidate delegates the work. She/he should do all work alone. A campaign will otherwise not work.
  11. Don’t control your employees. Everyone has a task, and is responsible for it. On election day you will see if it was successful…
  12. You don’t need internal communication. Everyone talks to everyone, and lists of contacts, the flow of information, etc. is managed by everyone.
  13. Activists should only learn how to fill out a request form for material. They do not need to be trained for planning, organisation and communication. These issues will merely confuse them…
  14. Your calendar is YOUR calendar. You are the only one who knows where you are and when, and it’s just up to you to decide which appointments you want to make. Or an even better proposal: let more than one person make your appointments. The more, the better: this is the chance for you to show up in as many places as possible.
  15. Please do not use any design guidelines or basic material provided by your party. You are an individual person and you have to create your own style! The main focus should be on colourful material and lots of text. Use your private photos and a home-made video for your website.
  16. On your tour you should talk to your friends and your staff. Don’t talk to journalists or opinion leaders. Stick to the speech you prepared, and leave your audience as soon as possible. The faster you hop in your car, the better.
  17. You don’t need a press officer. YOU are your own press officer. Perhaps you’ve never been to an editorial office and you hate journalists. It is important that you tell them this. Tell the people that all the media are against you and that only politicians tell the truth.
  18. Don’t call your voters. They don’t like it.
  19. Avoid interesting activities and good photo opportunities. Journalists only want to take photos of you shaking hands with other politicians.
  20. Forget the internet. This is an invention by nutcases from America.


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