Winning elections and winning campaigns combine words and maths successfully

Successful politicians do not speak in boxes or to targets and campaigning stereotypes. They reach out – not to the centre ground but to the common ground

How much do words matter in elections?
Peter Botting
On 3 October 2012 09:15

Winning elections is a big thing for me and my clients. 

In this context I write a fair bit about words – messaging, narratives, speeches, and presentations. These are important things and key to winning elections. But words do not win elections on their own. They need to be combined with messengers, distributed by the media and members, financed by money and managed by professional campaigners. 

Some become distressed by the concept of professional campaigners. They get equally excited by the concept of professional politicians – but that is the subject of a separate article. 

So for a change, let me talk about the audience: The voters and the non-voters.

When we talk sensibly about winning elections and analysing the audience, strategists and tacticians get very self-important and competitive. Sometimes they get downright evil on each other – just read (Team Obama) David Plouffe's scathing observations about (Team Hilary) Mark Penn and you will get a taste of how heated and competitive it can be. 

Not surprising – politics is gladiatorial and all about winners, losers, and reputations. I am no different. But all strategists and tacticians agree on two things: You need the right words and the right numbers.

Winning elections are about the right words and the right maths

There are some jargon words in politics. Words that signify segments of the population that have to be "engaged". These words are then supposed to guide campaigners on which words should be used to do the "engaging" – depending on the size and electoral importance of the segment of course – because all good campaigners are taught to "target' their audience.

So what do we have? The core vote. The floating vote. Block votes. Ethnic minority voters. The gay vote. The youth vote. Silver surfers. Worcester woman. Mondeo man. The metrosexual south. The Northern vote. Thatcher's children. Blair's children. The squeezed middle. The London vote.

There are several problems with this. Mitt Romney found this out in a big way recently (it may cost him the Presidency) when a video was put online of him talking to a group of potential donors (donor segment) about it not being his job to look after 47 percent of the population (the opposition's alleged "core vote" segment.)

A similar video of Obama aired last night, showing that even the “chosen one” is not beyond the follies of targeting.

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