The United Nations projects that by 2050 three-quarters of the world's population will live in urban areas. This is the century of cities, and mayors are key political figures across Europe.
Campaigns for local elections in European capitals have generated more interest from politicians who may aspire to even higher office—Anne Hidalgo in Paris and Sadiq Khan in London are just two examples.
Of course, running for a local office in Europe is much different than running for a regional or national spot. In many cases, it requires a more comprehensive campaign plan with an increased focus on grassroots campaigning, advertising, and voter contact.
Here are three fundamental areas to focus in on when putting a game plan together for such a local campaign.
In terms of population, European capitals are large, with sizable numbers of residents who hail from other cities and countries. Therefore, critical to devising a winning electoral strategy is properly dividing the territory of the city. Madrid is a good example. Madrid has 3.2 million inhabitants, among whom 2.3 million are eligible to vote in local elections. Almost 21 percent of its residents were born outside of Spain (many of them are from Latin America). Furthermore, Madrid is divided into 21 districts. The largest (Fuencarral – El Pardo) has 179,209 voters, while the smallest (Barajas) has 34,342.
The first step is dividing those districts into at least three categories: solid districts, battleground districts, and weak districts. For this, you should rely on factors like past municipal electoral results and the socioeconomic profile of each district’s voters. While you may very well supplement this basic voter analysis depending on what additional data is at your disposal, this step is crucial to predicting both your level of support and voter turnout.
The overarching goal here is to better understand how to prioritize the campaign’s time, allocate resources, and organize campaign activities. In almost any large city, your battleground districts will be the ones that define your campaign.
Developing and Delivering Your Message
Madrid, where I am based, is one of the biggest cities in Europe and its inhabitants engage every day not only with local issues but also with national and European issues. This happens in almost every European capital.
While local issues are certainly important to any campaign, the current political environment in Europe necessitates the creation of a message that touches local, national, and European issues, especially when running a race in any European capital.
Take London Mayor Sadiq Khan, for example, who rightly spends a good deal of time talking about the potential consequences of Brexit, and about a possible second referendum, which is a critical issue for his constituents who largely voted against leaving the European Union.
Once you have conceptualized your message, it’s important to spend some time examining what delivery channels you should prioritize. Your supporters, or potential supporters, may over-index on a particular broadcasting channel or social media platform. Therefore, creating a plan with the right mix of media is crucial.
In Madrid (and in Spain more generally) broadcast TV and Facebook are both important mediums, but Instagram is increasingly popular. And there are specific viewing and user patterns that further inform how a campaign in Madrid, for example, may employ these channels. Be sure you are doing a comprehensive media analysis in your target city before deploying your media resources.
The principal characteristic of municipal politics is getting in front of voters. In any municipal election in Europe, the candidate must understand the value of laying the groundwork and connecting with potential voters. But the candidate cannot be everywhere, which is why it’s so important to establish a sizable grassroots operation with motivated volunteers who generate political activities in places where the candidate cannot.
Sadiq Khan’s campaign offers a good example of the importance of volunteer feedback. Campaign staff tasked their canvassers with maintaining detailed notes of their face-to-face conversations with voters. Those details then allowed campaign headquarters to evaluate the message it was having volunteers deliver when canvassing, and ultimately refine that message to better focus on the issues voters cared about. The campaign also created a website where volunteers could access campaign materials and a schedule of the campaign’s events to better answer questions from voters.
These are all quite basic steps to consider when running any local campaign, but many campaigns across Europe would be better served with a greater focus on these fundamentals: 1) invest comprehensively in precinct analysis to better understand where your voters are, 2) Ensure you are developing a message that mixes local, national, and larger European themes, and 3) Spend the resources necessary to create a grassroots operation with the goal of better understanding what is motivating your voters and using that information to mobilize them.
Gabriel San Miguel is a Political Advisor to Ciudadanos in Madrid. He is a former Deputy Chief of Staff of El Hatillo City Hall (Caracas). Gabriel holds a Masters Degree in Social and Political Leadership from the Carlos III University of Madrid.