If you’re not running a program to survey all candidates, then you’re missing out on a great chance to effect public policy!
As you approach the next election cycle, I hope you and your organization are gearing up for a fight!
If you are trying to change public policy, it takes time.
If your bill was shot down again this year, you absolutely have to make the legislature pay a price for their behavior — or else they will just do it to you again.
If you need help designing an election plan for your organization, see my article on that here.
And as part of that election program, it’s essential that your organization design and implement a candidate survey program!
Of course, when I talk about getting involved in the election cycle, I’m referring to a campaign wherein you expose bad candidates over their votes or survey answers.
You can educate the voters about these facts. You can advocate for and against your issue.
But you can not advocate for or against any candidate. If you do not take this seriously, you will get burned.
That’s why your survey program is so important; it helps to keep you ‘in between the lines’ as you run your election program and simply report the results of your survey program.
Educated voters can make up their own mind on how to vote.
Getting Them on the Record!
Your survey program is as simple as it sounds.
By sending all candidates your organization’s candidate survey, you will have hard facts to report to your members about where their candidates stand on your issue.
(Please note, I’m only talking about serious candidates. If you think it’s your job to waste your time and donor money on third party candidates, you should read my article on that.)
Understand that candidates hostile to your issue won’t answer your survey.
By refusing to answer your organization’s survey, they just answered the survey and made it clear that they are aggressively opposed to your issue.
To be sure that your political opponents can’t claim they never received your survey, feel free to send your surveys certified so that you get proof of their receipt.
No Wiggle Room!
Do yourself a favor and make your survey simple.
I would recommend no more than eight questions, so that you can fit the results of this program into a piece of direct mail to your members.
And don’t ask weak, open-ended questions like, “Do you support the Second Amendment?”
No, you want their answer on specific policy questions, like, “Will you support Constitutional Carry legislation, similar to HF1234 filed last session by Rep. Smith, which removes the requirement for government permission before carrying a firearm for self-defense?”
Check out the sample question below, as a reference.
Similarly, you only want to give them three possible replies.
“Sponsor,” “Cosponsor,” or “No.”
They can scribble notes on it if they want to, but if they refuse to answer “Sponsor” or “Cosponsor” then that’s a “No.”
I don’t care if they say they hunt, own an AR-15, bought their grandson a .22 last Christmas, or belong to the NRA.
Anything other than a “Yes” is treated as a “No” for purposes of how I report these results to my members.
When To Mail Them?
Every state is different. But regardless of the state, work backwards from the date you want to drop the results of your survey program in the mail (or deployed by email.)
If election day is November 7, you would, ideally, drop the first round of your results mail into the mail stream on or close to October 25.
Your second round of results mail would deploy on or close to October 31.
So with October 25 being your drop date, go back from there.
You should figure that the mail shop will need a week or so to handle your job, unless you are doing this in-house.
And you’ll need a week, or two, to layout and design the package armed with the replies from your surveys -– depending on the number of races you’ll be working in.
You also need to build in time to generate the list that you’ll be mailing each mailer to. Plan on another week.
Maybe it’s just your internal list, maybe you are adding in lists from friendly groups, or maybe you’ll rent/buy data of people who are likely to be sympathetic to your issue –it all takes time.
And of course, you have to build in time for the candidates to reply to your survey in the first place. I would say you need to allot at least two weeks for their response. Maybe more.
This means that you’re dropping your surveys in the mail at least six weeks prior to election day.
But that’s under normal conditions. You may need more time for your first time doing this.
And, that’s not taking into consideration early voting.
In my home state of Iowa, early voting accounts for close to half of the votes cast! And it usually starts 40 days prior to election day.
This means that we have to be in the mail around the 25th of September, for round one of our survey results mail!
If early voting is a big factor in your state, you may have to do this too. You may be dropping your organization’s surveys in early August in this scenario.
And of course, this only applies to the general election.
If you’re going to be involved in the primaries, you may have to drop them months sooner. In Iowa, we have a primary around June 7 every two years.
This means that we’re dropping candidate surveys as early as late April!
Bottom line: there is no magic date. Think through your goals, the number of races you are hoping to be active in, whether or not you’re getting involved in primaries, and your organization’s capacities to design all of this and pick a date.
Don’t Forget the Obvious!
The results of your survey program are only part of your election program.
Don’t forget to include information from the incumbent’s voting history! This could come from the most recent legislative session, or from years in the past.
When you use this, be sure to provide details to make your case as strong as possible. Bill numbers, dates, links to the vote, amendment numbers — all of this makes for compelling copy.
How to Disseminate the Results?
Once you have completed the survey program and have the facts that you want to show to your members and others who care about your issue, you have to decide how to disseminate that information.
This question will be determined by how much money and time you have to work with. If you’re part of a group that’s raising $250,000, or higher you can do a lot.
For those raising under $50,000, you are more limited.
Either way, the answer is to do all that you can with what you have to work with.
In my article on elections, I layout the program that you should follow from cheapest to most expensive. Follow those steps, until you have exhausted your budget.
However you disseminate the results, be sure to include a roster of results, to make it very easy for your members to see the results.
More, they are more likely to pass it around to their friends and family if it’s easy to interact with.
So in our emails and direct mail, we use a roster like the one below wherein we list off all of our questions, the answers received, and any detailed information that strengthens our case.
Easier With Time
Like anything else in life, the more you do this the easier it will become.
Maybe this year, your group can only focus on two races and can only afford to get the results out by email. That’s ok, there are elections right around the corner!
The point is, you have to start somewhere.
In doing so, you’ll be doing far more than most activists who talk big about holding people accountable and then totally fall apart during the election season.
But none of this is possible if you don’t first start with a candidate survey program where you get the candidates on the record.
Our movement is full of big-talking wanna-be ‘politicos’ who are too lazy and self-absorbed to get their hands dirty and do the hard work of holding politicians accountable at election time.
But by using the tactics laid out above, you’ll be able to lead your group in fighting for your freedoms directly.
Few people ever have that chance.
Don’t waste it!
And remember, if you need more specific help for an upcoming election fight, feel free to contact me or schedule a 1-day training seminar in your area.
er part of running and growing a political organization, don’t hesitate to contact me!