Sunday, February 1, 2015

Campaigning for Party Nomination in the age of Android, Smart Phone and Teleprompters: lessons for 2016 Presidential Aspirants

Keywords or Terms: Presidential Aspirants, Early Primary States; Communication; Tiffany’s thing; Almost Treasonous; Swanson’s strategies; Systematic Communication tools; Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn; Country first; and, Effective Communication

The immediate goal of virtually all Presidential aspirants is to see themselves through the early stages of the nomination process. The early voting states set somewhat the tone for subsequent primary exercises and results. There are indeed some hopeful signals at the beginning of the exercise in states as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Primary Results from these early voting states determine whether the party is likely to end up with a brokered convention or not. That of course is why some presidential aspirants and campaign strategists crave for a shorter presidential nomination process.

No candidate wants to be in a situation, where he or she hasn't received commitment of majority of delegates at convention time or end of voting. Mitt Romney was so brutalized from a long hard fought primary process because of his failure to achieve a threshold of number of delegates required to win the nomination in 2012. Further, the outcomes of many contests in states with greater number of delegates tend to swing the faith of aspirant’s campaign. To help free candidates of the anxiety of going through the grueling yearlong nomination process, the entry today contemplates addressing one huge factor, in getting aspirants message to the voters: communication, communication, and, communication.

Regretfully, Sarah Palin learnt a thing or two about her candidacy when in her outing at the Iowa Freedom Summit; she failed the litmus test of communication: speaking to be understood and communicating to make necessary impact that improves candidate’s fortunes in the run to party nomination. Normally, aspirants and speakers at similar states’ summit dread commenting on hot button issues; however, this was a case in which the speaker was left hanging because of excessive reliance on technology, a teleprompter. Dramatic reversal of ability to reach her audience professed her probable downfall because of inability to communicate; and, she suffered dearly for this in the media. If she was hanging acceptance of her candidacy on that outing, she got a resounding no because of the inability to speak coherently; or spread around her intentions and goal for launching a campaign for nomination.

At a time when aspirants are building big dreams, seeking voters’ attention and organizing campaign teams, Sarah Palin is forced to junk her dream? An open microphone capturing a candidate’s bias or skepticism regarding support for his or her candidate have in the past done candidates in; however, this was a case in which the candidate was probably unprepared because she had no grasp or hardly studied the facts she was attempting to pass on to her audience. Communication has grown to be a conduit for making initial impact, whether electronic or print media. Candidates have persuaded even the astute antagonist of a campaign effort through early effective communication in the primary process. Governor Palin may have gained some measure of momentum for her ambition, if she had not had an overwhelming dependence on communication technology at Des Moines, Iowa that night.

Aspirants stand the chance of withering or edging away on perceived front runner or stronger candidacy status through carefully orchestrated delivery of campaign messages. You must remember in 2012 that a singular decision to push the Iowa caucus to immediately after the New Year’s day with New Hampshire primary barely a week, stifled the opportunity of some candidates to reach voters effectively with their campaign messages. Likewise, this same dilemma gave some effective speakers or political aspirants opportunity to reach supporters with their campaign messages; this could only have happened if the communication of the campaign messages was effective. Effective Communication here is defined as a two way information sharing process which involves one party sending a message that is easily understood by the receiving party. Serious candidates, seeking to make a difference on the campaign trail pay attention to effective communication.

In situation where campaign strategists or undertakers had relied heavily on the personalities of their candidates to managing communication on their election schedules, some presidential candidates had fallen apart when the pressures of travels or failures of past efforts in another state get to them. A glossary of past mistake in communications are documented in newspapers across the nation: 1) Readers will remember poor communication from Republican aspirant Michele Bachman in 2012 as she confused John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy; 2) Herman Cain’s inability to remember Libya is rather telling, in a videotaped newspaper editorial board meeting; 3) Governor Rick Perry’s inability to remember the federal department he wanted eliminated once in power; 4) Governor Perry’s declaration that Federal Chairman Ben Bernanke is “almost treasonous” on account of aggressive Federal Reserve Bank’s policies to manage interest rates; 5) Gingrich “Tiffany’s thing”, of his line of credit at the upscale retailer store; 6) Vice President Joe Biden joke: ‘“I’ve heard some people say, ‘Barack, you’re not as young as you used to be’ at the 67th annual Al Smith white-tie charity dinner; and,  7) President Obama’s admonition to supporters, “be ready to go, or I may get fired”. To combat ineffective communication on campaign trails, it is not unusual to have strategists and undertakers work with the aspirants to articulate their message in various states and before different audiences.

Effective Communications on Campaign Trail

Now, to support strategists and aspirants on campaign trails, here are some wise effective communications strategies, which a lengthy state-by-state primary process or enormous amount of campaign cash can hardly buy; but, which can give an edge to an aspirant as he or she moves through the primary process: 1) adopt enhanced  systemic communication tools in messaging – address context variables by ensuring candidate understand the context in which  deliverance is being held or information is sort by media outlet - modern campaigning communication research points out that communication can be reflective or inflextive; it may be electronic media centered or print media centered; new development are adding social media, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and host others; 2) adoption of Swanson’s strategies for managing theoretical diversity, avoidance, pre-theoretical and meta-theoretical: political aspirants must understand the cultural background of a state where the primary is being held and avoid complex hot button issue that may throw off aspirant’s campaign message; 3) adopt quantitative and qualitative research to construct message, including sharing experience of prior politicians working the line or crowd of voters in a new state to the aspirant – this process exposes theoretical assumptions about voter’s preference in the cycle of elections; analyze variety of theoretical data and expose those data to current campaign data results from immediate state performance of the aspirant’s efforts; 4) master talking points about policy issues designed to influence voters opinion of candidate – avoid getting off message as you deliver the message to audience, keeping the message broad enough in order to attract most potential voters; 5) consistency – ensure campaign message  is simple but not too narrow to alienate voters; and, 6)  dynamism – remain cognizance of party controlled and uncontrolled nuances in election campaign speech or communication. Whatever a candidate does, it is important he or she keeps on his or her heart that the ultimate goal is to influence the decision making process of a voter within a specific group, a party or nation.

Now, there is nothing wrong in adopting other strategies to remain effective; it is however essential for the candidate to appreciate the essence of keeping the message short, crafting response to meet the demand of the moment and avoiding long and winding campaign messages. Nowhere in political science literature are campaign messages asked to admonish indoctrination; efforts as these are seen as qualified propaganda and free mined citizens frown at such efforts. The theme of campaign communication may embrace patriotism such as John McCain’s 2007, “Country First”. However, it must not cultivate an all-embracing patriotism that it becomes a turn-off. No candidate must put himself or herself in a position where the failure of a communication tool or equipment will derail deliverance of the campaign message. Effective Communications often gives campaign team and supporters reasons to hope; and this hope translates to votes for the candidate, if well marshaled.

The biggest problem with aspirants delivering campaign messages, however, is the failure to remain on message. Once the aspirant gets off message, especially in a public arena, with all the lights and cameras glaring, a potential disastrous event may follow that leads the communication to a tunnel of unyielding deliverance. Therefore, the message must not only be crisp, it must continue to dominate the essence of the moment. The candidate and aspirant must therefore ensure two things: 1) that the dominant theme of the campaign message remains sacrosanct; and, 2) the momentum of delivery is maintained and the confidence and participation of supporters are preserved. Failure to adhere to these assurances will allow resistance to reception and concordance from voters and or, the audience.
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