Contested Primaries = Healthy democracy

Do voters turn out for primaries where there are no contested races or where everything has been “decided” prior to the vote? No. Do voters show up when races have multiple candidates vying for the same spot and people have a chance to alter the outcome.  Absolutely!

jun_16_Primary-Turnout_numbers-400x284Case in point is here in New Mexico.  We have been on a downward spiral of ever decreasing voter turnout cycle over cycle.  That all changed and in a big way this 2016 primary cycle. Why? Both macro races and micro races had some hot contests, especially on the Democratic Party side. Democratic turnout was 37% statewide compared to  27% for the Republicans.

Macro was the Clinton vs Sanders Presidential race. Driven by supporters adamant to be heard, the Sanders faction showed up in numbers large enough to take the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Wins were also posted in Taos, Clovis, and Portales and their associated counties.  On top of that, Sander came within 6 votes of besting Sec. Clinton in Grant County (Silver City) and within 21 votes in Los Alamos County. Close contests were had in two other large counties, Sandoval and Santa Fe.

Micro came from localized races that were very close. In those counties, neighborhoods, etc. find themselves attracting more than the usual attention to vote.  In New Mexico this year, the perfect storm of this occurred on the Democratic side in the South Valley of Bernalillo County, Several areas of Doña Ana county, and up in the north central counties of New Mexico.  Many of these races had more than two candidates AND the outcomes were decidedly close. Several of these contests happened in places where the Sanders coalition was weak. So, voters outside the Macro group showed up as well.

Democracy works best when people get in the game, run for office, and vote.  Patries themselves sometimes try to discourage primary contests, especially against incumbent, but overall, the voters appreciate having choices.

The Albuquerque Journal has a good story on the raw numbers at Turnout sets record for NM Primary

What Color and size is the Chessboard? (Vol 2)

Deadly messaging errors. (Prediction and correction)

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Setting the tone in your campaign is crucial.  A campaign for the same office in different years can be remarkably different in nature due to many factors such as:

  • Different opponents
  • Changing Demographics of Electorate
  • Issue viewpoint shifts (Macro and Micro)

As much as your campaign can, figuring out the correct mood of the electorate will help you greatly in messaging out well from the beginning. The more you can tune your candidates issues and positions to match both the candidates lifespan AND the public sentiment, the more natural your candidate’s message will appear.  Having a natural feel to the campaign will help voters feel at ease and more likely to vote your way.

Unfortunately, no campaign is perfect.  So what happens when you find your candidate is out of sync with the mood and opinion of the electorate?  Most campaigns will recommend a “shift” in the candidate’s position closer to that of the electorate.  While this might seem logical at first, there are many dangers associated with shifting.

Incremental shifts weaken perceived strength.

When an opponent is found to be holding the high ground on an issue, the tactic of incremental shift tends to be the first reaction. In the 1990s Democrats adopted a “New Democrat” philosophy shifting closer to the pro-business, tough on crime, aggressive foreign policy stances of the Republicans (Republican-lite).  Currently (2016) Jeb Bush is shifting away from his family’s notoriously pro-immigrant stance to match other hard-line Republicans.  Hillary Clinton as well is seeking a more progressive tone to her campaign and employing shifts. (I’m a progressive, but a progressive that gets things done.)

Here is the big problem with the incremental shift. It signals that your campaign recognizes your opponent to be correct.  Voters pick up on this quite well. If you believe being somewhat like candidate B is good, then why would a voter choose candidate A at all?  The answers to that question start involving paragraphs. When that happens, voters tune you out.

So, there are two possible ways to go apart from incrementalism:

#1 Completely adopt and absorb your opponent’s position

This is a high-risk strategy that involves several steps.  Fist, state that you have heard the people and an agree wholeheartedly with your new position.  Secondly, and this may be tougher, you have to walk the talk.  This involves your candidate taking to heart the message so it is believable. It also means breaking any ties that may be in conflict with your new position. Returning donations from conflicting sources and making that public.

In general, this strategy is tough to pull off.  It can only work if your opponent is very weak on all the other issues in the race.  This can allow you to focus back on the issues in which you have strength.  Remember though, this is not incrementalism, you must go all-in or don’t do it at all.

#2 Re-Brand / Re-Word

Your candidate carries certain positions for valid reasons.  Communicating these to the public effectively is the job of the campaign. Voters at-large are open to hearing messages from campaigns in hope to connect and be a part of something big.

Words matter.  There truly are a hundred ways to present the same facts.  The trick is to find the correct word choices to communicate to your district.  Campaigns tend to be filled with pros and activists, people who have been deep into politic for a long time.  This can create an insular environment where campaigns use rhetoric that shoots above a voter’s head, or uses insider buzzwords that either mean nothing to the average voter or scare them away.  Being able to communicate outside of one’s campaign self is crucial to success.

If the angle you have chosen is not working, concentrate big efforts to re-word the same position to be more reachable.  If worse comes to worse and re-wording is not working, then drop the issue and try to re-brand the campaign emphasis on other strong points.

These steps may help your campaign get back on track.  The key is to not get too frustrated or dismissive at any time. Organize forward.