No matter where they take place or who is running, political campaigns seem to follow the same basic patterns the world over.
- You are a living saint
Ok, well we know opponents make you out to be the devil so perhaps it’s natural that your own campaign makes you out to be so amazing. But a bit of humanity would not go amiss from time to time. Listening to the endorsements and speeches about what an amazing honourable wonderful person you are really just reminds us all that if it were entirely true you wouldn’t be in politics.
- Social media divides obsessively until it is an echo chamber
It is kind of funny to watch a campaign on social media. The supporters of a person or an opinion waste hours of their lives valiantly arguing why the person on their side is amazing. The only people that pay them any heed are their direct opponents. They eventually spend more hours arguing and insulting each other. Then they block each other until there are only people of the same view in their timeline. After that they tell you everyone agrees with them and they haven’t heard anyone who will vote the other way. The rest of us just ignore them all and sigh as they get on their hobby horse and bang out yet another tweet about how their candidate was so amazing tonight.
- People with serious questions
Various debates will show people asking questions. Sometimes people will ask a question in the street. More questions will come from a focus group. There is not much value in any of them. People usually ask the best questions, and give the most telling insights, when they are alone with you. In larger media led campaigns this means it can be very difficult to ever get to the truth. Put a few people in a room and all you are going to get is a lot of chin stroking and people asking and saying what they think will sound intelligent to everyone else. Or get them a clap. One or the other. People love clapping. Don’t ask me why. The only genuine views will come from people who have a long ago made up their mind before they ever asked the question in the first place.
- There will be abuse
Sorry folks this one just goes with the territory. There will be abuse and lots of it. Just remember nobody has the high moral ground on this one. Nobody thinks that what they say is abusive and everyone thinks the other side are worse at it. The problem is once you start to slag off your opponent personally, you can be sure your supporters are going one step further. Of course the other side will always engage in lots of whataboutery and hurl abuse at you suggesting it’s ok because someone once said something to them.
- There will be a media conspiracy
Ah bless. The old media chestnut. There is not a party, campaign or grouping that doesn’t think there is a media bias against them. The questions asked of their leaders are always tougher than the questions asked of other leaders. The media is always populated by your opponents or their family and they are trying to scupper you. It truly is amazing to watch every political grouping have the exact same gripe at the exact same time but with totally opposing points of view. Of course this ‘conspiracy’ is necessary. It’s how you dismiss bad PR and errors. It is how you keep your flock together by telling them everyone else is against us. All questions dismissed, if a doubt should creep in tell everyone that is ‘what the media want you to think’ and they will dismiss the doubt soon enough. The media meanwhile are off having a few drinks and couldn’t care less what any of them think.
- Options are in fact limited
Despite all the talk of ideology and focus on policies the voter’s options are quite limited. The candidate is either:
a) Somebody allied to a view you could never agree with
b) Someone willing to agree with any view anyone wants them to
c) Someone you voted for before and got burned
d)Somebody who just might be crazy
7. Politics is an open relationship
When you start out you gather lots of like minded people around you. You serve these people. They work hard for you and they believe in you. Great. The problem is that this becomes a committed relationship. They expect you to always be there for them and do what they want. Unfortunately to be really successful in politics you need to woo other voters. Politics requires your supporters to accept an open relationship. You cannot always do as they want you must appeal to others. You spend your time winking and smiling at others while your arm is around your own voters. In time you must convince them that an open relationship is good for all or you hit a ceiling that you cannot grow beyond.
- Tell them what they want to hear
In fairness it might not be pretty but if you want to win a campaign it is a good way to go. A comforting lie is more appealing than an inconvenient truth. People have things they want to believe and will find any reason to believe them. Everyone wants it to be simple. So why do politicians have focus groups and opinion polls and research? Well to find out exactly what the public want so they can pretend to be that. Like the Taxi driver who always has the answer to everything, the politician always knows what to do until they are in government. Tell people what they want to hear and they will love you, but be prepared that if you end up in power you will then break loads of promises. But then that’s the problem with comforting people: it’s all fine until reality kicks in.
- Believing the hype
With all the razzmatazz of a campaign it is easy to get swept along. There are a few steady heads who know that it is all show for the most part. They don’t believe it all and keep themselves grounded. They are rare though. It is far more common to either have a candidate who thinks they are amazing, with an ego the size of an alternate universe or they get utterly crushed by it all and sound beaten before they start. If a candidate believes they are as good as the hype says then a disaster will not be far away. As an advisor if you pause for a moment and feel you have to ease the blow of telling them an interview was bad, then you have a crushed egg right there, start sending out your CV.
- I’m just like you
It is a fairly simple rule but when all is boiled down that is the essence of any campaign. The trick is simply to convince voters ‘I’m just like you’. In reality I’m nothing like you but that’s not the point. Once a candidate can show they identify with you, understand you; think like you, feel like you, then it’s like voting for yourself. Why wouldn’t you trust them? The candidate who wins is always the candidate who convinces the most people of this. It is all one massive piece of theatre designed to prove just how much like a normal person I am. But of course I’m not. You will be disappointed in time.
It doesn’t take long for whoever wins an election to become unpopular. This is usually because they have said what people want to hear and tried to prove they are normal. Suddenly you can’t find anyone that admits to voting for whoever it was that won. ‘Who voted for this? Not me!’
- The circle of life
In the end every dog will have its day. Ups and downs may come but if you hang around long enough eventually the wheel of fortune stops on you. Politicians grip this moment and squeeze it for all it is worth. It will eventually be taken from them and all end in disaster and abuse. Not long after it is over they will wonder why they did it and why they clung on for so long. It is at this moment they actually do become a normal person, look back and think ‘What the hell did I do…’