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

Telling different segments different messages does not work anymore (which I think is fantastic – read to the end to see why) for several reasons:

1.       In reality, we do not like people saying one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. Why should it be any different in politics?

2.      Targeting didn't work that well before - it works even less now. This "targeting" kept campaigners busy and justified salaries and expenses but did it really work that well? It was, and is, seldom done well – generally it was undertaken incredibly primitively and with considerable ignorance. 

3.      People are willfully disobedient and have the cheek to jump out of the electoral box or target or tidy segment that campaign "experts" put them in.

4.      Some people have the cheek to belong to several segments. At the same time.

5.      Commentators and former strategists and "experts" turned commentators have made political tactics and strategies and targeting public knowledge a part of standard election commentary. So guess what guys – the secret is out.

6.      Because of this, people are now aware that they are targets. People who are members of these segments seriously resent being referred to as anything but individuals. They increasingly – and rightly – find these targeted messages patronising and they react badly when viewed as being the property of a particular political party. This applies to all "target demographics" - gays, blacks, Asians, Chinese, Londoners, northerners, southerners, pensioners, the 'youth". Assume anyone is in a box or segment and let them even smell that you think that and there will be a backlash. (Make assumptions about me or my politics or my values because of my southern African accent and I will put you right promptly and with great clarity.)

7.      Politicians who play segments will get found out in this amazing 24 hour social media world. Social media will make you look like the serpent speaking with forked tongue if you say different things to different segments.

8.     Targets annoyingly read and consume media that they are not supposed to – like young black Londoners reading the Metro or the Evening Standard instead of The Voice - a stereotype which many professionals would naturally and unfairly assume.

9.      Language that appeals to the "middle ground" seriously pisses off "core voters" who then accuse the politicians who have used such pragmatic or tactical, "targeting" language of selling out, being weak, of compromising or being impure ideologically.

Successful politicians do not speak in boxes or to targets and campaigning stereotypes. They are real, authentic, and consistent. They reach out – not to the centre ground but to the common ground. Reagan did that. Thatcher did that. Clinton did that. Obama did that. 

They use positive inclusive language that appeals to members of most or all segments – positive and aspirational "we" language that is interpreted and adopted individually by individuals in each segment.

Including people wins elections. Excluding people creates cliques and minorities. Including people breeds and creates alliances, bonds, and common purpose. This does not mean that allies and coalitions agree on everything – but, by definition, allies have things in common that focus them and bind them together. Things that join while things that things that separate are parked.

In the NO2AV referendum, Conservatives and Labour activists, politicians, members, and supporters worked together in a unique collaboration for a common cause. Those of my clients who had above average swings in 2010 spoke to those far beyond the Conservative clubs and association coffee mornings – using language common to all

So why do I think that this death of (bad) "targeting" fantastic? Surely I should love and welcome all the work and complications of having to target and craft messages and narratives for multiple targets and demographic segments and be paid well by greedy, scheming, tactical, self-interested, and motivated careerists who target a win?

Actually, I am like the average human being or voter. I like people who say the same thing to everyone – in simple, honest, and inclusive words. People who are authentic, real, and consistent. And optimistic. People who believe in ideals and values and the potential of the future. And who have a vision. And who get on with it and chase after it and don't bother wasting time waiting for a perfect, ideologically pure utopia.

Those are the people I love working for, my dream clients.

Peter Botting is a professional corporate, political and personal messaging strategist. He was integral to the NO2AV campaign and helped put the UK Anti-Slavery Day into law. He tweets at @PeterBotting and you can find more of his work at

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