A masterclass in political campaigning

Campaign manager Lynton Crosby’s politics, and indeed his choices of messages and of clients, are not exactly to my taste.

But his advice on how to run winning campaigns is widely applicable whether you like him, loathe him or have no idea who he is. I originally featured this video of a talk by him back in Liberal Democrat Newswire #79 but the principles it sets out are still very much relevant now.

Note particularly his point about how to use policies smartly in campaigning, very much an issue for the Liberal Democrats.

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One response to “A masterclass in political campaigning”

  1. Summary of the key points:

    Campaign Goal

    • The goal of any campaign is to influence behaviour to achieve the desired outcome (win the election)

    Three [golden] rules

    1. Message matters most
    2. The mechanics (Letter, email, tweet, door knock etc) are secondary
    3. Engage with your audience about things that matter to them, in ways they can appreciate

    Key things to understand and be clear about

    • What is your message and how is it relevant to your target segment?
    • Who decides the outcome (who are the key vote segments)? Where are they? What matters to them? How do you reach them? How do you monitor the impact you are having on them?


    • People don’t vote for policies – people vote for what policies say about the candidate/party. Is it in touch with them? What does your policy say about how the candidate/party thinks/feels about them?
    • Recognise the challenges they face, their hopes and fears

    Emotion vs Reason

    • In politics – when reason and emotion collide – emotion invariably wins.
    • You motivate through emotion, you persuade through reason.

    Plan for a Campaign

    First identify your:

    1. Base: Already intend to vote for you. Lock them in, motivate them to turn out. They are your foundation.
    2. Swing group: Could vote for you but could go either way. The bricks on top of your foundation
    3. Opponent base – limited/no chance of voting for you. Don’t spend resources trying to win them over. [If anything spend resource on discouraging them to vote]


    1. Communicate about things that interest/matter to them
    2. Persuade them that your solution is the right one and you are the right person/party to deliver it
    3. Get them to vote


    • Preparation ahead of the campaign gives flexibility dealing with the inevitable problems[/events, dear boy events] that arise.
    • You can’t fatten a pig on market day.

    Strategy Discipline

    • Set out strategy in writing, share across campaign team, and make sure everything flows from and aligns with that strategy
    • [Signal vs Noise – everything that isn’t aligned with your strategy/story/message is noise]


    • If you need a polling to tell you what you believe in or what you should support – don’t bother
    • Polling is a navigation tool to tell – how can you better communicate your values/beliefs in the way to achieve your aims
    • Ignore simplistic polls (and most polls are simplistic – especially in the media)

    Understand what really influences votes vs what they agree or disagree with on face value

    • Don’t just ask ‘what is the most important issue to you’ and taking the answer on face value. People will say one thing but behave in another way in the voting booth.
    • Use regression analysis to understand influences/connections on behaviour (what people do)
    • Polls provide the research needed to understand motivation and behavioural drivers and how to communicate to those drivers

    Create a compelling story revolving around simple choice

    • Frame the election as a choice and set the parameters – deny your opponent the opportunity to do this.
    • Be deliberate about how you define yourself and your opponent within this choice. Have evidence to back this up.
    • Reflect all this in a simple story that reinforces the choice.
    • Make the story relevant to voters – expressed in terms they understand and focused on what is meaningful to them.
    • Your story needs to be positive and differentiating to you.

    Positive vs Negative Campaigning

    • Campaign story should be mostly positive
    • Negative campaigning should extend to holding your opponent to account on their record, character and proposals.
    • Focus on negative consequences of them and their policies to your audience.
    • Use surrogates to make negative ‘attacks’

    Political issues – when should you engage with them in the campaign?

    • 4 tests for engaging with political issues in the campaign:

    1. Is the issue important – is it in the electorate’s mind and does it make sense to them?
    2. Is it personally relevant – it connects with electorate and with the candidate
    3. Is it capable of being politically differentiated – can you show difference to your opponent?
    4. Is it capable of changing voting behaviour (point of sale execution) – ‘I’m voting this way to have a positive consequence on this meaningful issue’

    Two types of communication:

    4. Broadcast messages – appeals to the community at its largest, sets up overall proposition and themes
    5. Narrowcast messages – fine-tuned for smaller interest groups or segments. Resonant messages for issues specific to them but not in a way that is at odds with broadcast messages.

    • Be consistent in what you say across all groups. It’s wrong to be two faced and you can’t get away with it.


    • Establish differentiation on your terms.
    • Minimise differentiation on points of weakness. Maximise differentiation on points of strength.
    • New Labour example: Weak on economy: Created Brown’s ‘golden rule.’ Strong on education: campaigned on ‘education/education/education’

    Candidate Qualities

    • There are many different potential qualities – you need some of them, authentically, not all of them:

    • Trust
    • Likability
    • Honesty [different from trust?]
    • Competence/Credibility
    • Being In touch/ability to relate
    • Strength (comes in many forms)- compassion, determination, toughness.

    • Different times call for different qualities – is economy good or bad? War time vs peace time.
    • What decisions are you/the country facing – which qualities do you want in the person making those decisions?

    Advice for Incumbents

    • Incumbents seeking election – remind of your record/achievements and agenda for the future.
    • Provide basic and clear objectives to achieve.
    • Nobody votes for you to thank you for your service.
    • If you lack a good record this undermines your credibility for your future agenda.


    • UK voters have the choice of not voting – not only do you have to persuade them to vote for you, you have to persuade them to turn out to make that vote

    ‘Privileged candidates/parties can’t understand needs of poor people’

    • People don’t care about background, you are who you are. It should not be who you are/where you’ve come from.
    • Demonstrate you understand voting community’s needs and have a plan to fulfil them. Ultimately, focusing on the issues that matter is what counts.
    • USA example: Inherited wealth is unpopular. Self-made wealth is popular.

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