Next year’s primaries are set for as soon as March 1, and November 2022 will be here before you know it. Everything in campaigns is starting earlier, as it should. Still, some expenditure items pay better dividends when initiated early.
The advantages of investing early in opposition research and polling on a campaign include saving money, defining your message, targeting the right voters, and improving your digital and field efforts. But not everyone is sold on early spending on research. In fact, here are four common myths about research and polling, particularly for first-time candidates:
1. Research and polling are expensive and only suitable for big campaigns.
Polling and opposition research are not only affordable options on any campaign budget, but can save you significantly over the course of the campaign if done early enough. Proper opposition research, followed by a benchmark poll can identify your opponent’s vulnerabilities allowing you to spend your hard-earned war chest more effectively over the course of the cycle. Sometimes, a silver bullet found in the research process, and verified by your pollster, can even knock your opponent out of the race entirely.
2. My candidate knows their track record and that of their opponent, and therefore doesn’t need research and polling.
An easy trap to fall into is thinking your candidate knows everything in his or her own past or that he or she can run on just a few key issues and expect to score a win. Far too often, candidates overlook their own vulnerabilities and those of their opponent that can be uncovered with a concerted research effort. Inoculation research (self-research) on your own candidate is critical to any campaign effort in identifying possible vulnerabilities and contrasting them with the opponent. Comprehensive research, followed by a thorough poll, will help you define your campaign message to what the voters care about and make your campaign much more effective at identifying the key issues of a campaign.
3. I know my district. All I need is a voter file and I can figure out who to target.
Once you’ve performed your initial opposition research and polling efforts and have begun to define your message, you may realize that some messages resonate with some voters differently than others. Polling can identify the top battleground issues in a district and research can uncover where your opponent might be weak on those issues. With this information, you can begin to effectively target voters with the right message, instead of wasting your hard-earned campaign dollars sending out messages that don’t shift voters’ opinions. Not only will you be targeting the right people, but you will be saving money in the process. Without oppo and polling done early, advertising and persuasion efforts may not be as effective.
4. Research and polling is only for big TV media buys.
Sure, TV ad buys will be the center of the attacks most people see, but the same messages can be effectively parceled out to different audiences as well. Field teams canvassing door-to-door, direct mail teams, and digital teams delivering ads on social media, OTT, mobile, and elsewhere can use this information very effectively to get your message to the right crowd.
Ethan Todd is an opposition researcher and Vice President & Senior Partner at Capitol City Research. Brent Buchanan a nationally-renowned pollster and Founder & CEO of Cygnal.