May 12, 2016
In a campaign year, as the votes are being tallied, the blue on the election map represents Democratic states and the red, Republican states. In a successful advocacy campaign, groups should be thinking about what I call RED in developing their message and tactics to present to an elected official.
Voting is one of the most important duties of an elected official. In a majority of cases, one, or perhaps two, and sometimes even all three categories of RED will greatly influence how a representative or senator, decides the vote.
– REASON is looking at it from a more practical standpoint. What are the numbers or statistics behind the issue that make the case? Where is the logic in it? Is it just a standard party-line vote? Is it backed by science?
– EMOTION involves personal feelings. Is the issue personal to the official? Is someone passionate about breast cancer funding because her mother died of it? Might religious beliefs play a role?
– DISTRICT includes those issues that directly impact a state or district. For example, Wisconsin leaders are fiercely protective of the dairy and cranberry industries, because the state has such a vested interest in them, while western state representatives might be more vocal about wildfires. The district influence, and knowing how constituents feel about an issue, is another reason why letters, emails, and phone calls to an office matter so much. Elected officials care about what their constituents think.
All three of these broad categories also may tie into political ideology. Ultimately, an official must balance convictions with constituency. Each official balances that differently because at the end of the day, and in the back of her mind, she always needs to be thinking about the next election. Sometimes that may compel her to vote the party-line, while other times she may need to buck the trend.
Groups traveling to the Capitol to advocate their message should spend time, before their visit, doing their homework on the official they are meeting with and the associated interests, including committees, the introduced bills, and membership in any coalitions or organizations. All of the above can provide clues on where she stands and what she might think of your cause or legislation, so that you can best tailor your message to her.
Group members should also think through their issues and be able to explain how they might impact RED. The more specific a group can be, the better. If there are examples from the home district, use them. Personalize it. If the local Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey on said topic, share those results. Highlight the facts and figures, and put faces to them. Tell the local story and its impact.
Remembering focusing on the RED will go a long way toward achieving positive results.