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50 Shades of Voters and Election Decisions

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Do you think in shades of gray? Or does the world look black and white to you?

No, Competitive Edge Communication & Research isn’t surveying people about the latest naughty novel. What we are into is learning about the ways voters think and, specific to this post, when they make decisions. It can be a critically important factor in a political campaign’s ultimate success or failure and one we can leverage.

Just as people do with anything from buying cereal to career choices, different groups of voters make decisions at different times during a campaign. Knowing this and using it to your advantage is one of the little understood ways a good research and microtargeting program can leverage the “progressive campaign.”

A quick aside: don’t confuse the term “progressive” I’m using with the ideological meaning (or a certain insurance company). A progressive campaign is one that alters its tactics as the process moves through time – it makes literal “progress” over time.

Psychological research generally describes major differences between people who think in black and white terms and those who see the gray:

Black and white thinkers:

  • Make quick decisions
  • Speak up and speak plainly
  • Are usually more predictable about making decisions and the reasons for them
  • They have less anxiety about being wrong
  • They are less likely to see or consider other opinions

Shades of gray thinkers:

  • Procrastinate and sometimes avoid making decisions at all
  • Have more regrets about their choices after making them
  • Are more thoughtful about their choices
  • Value and seek out multiple points of view

Smart microtargeting programs help identify these types of voters within a campaign setting. Black and white thinkers tend to make their voting decisions early versus on Election Day. Shades of gray thinkers will seek information nearly up to the minute they walk into their polling place. These types of thinkers should not be confused with non-thinkers – the proverbial (and real) low-information voters. I’ll deal with low-information voters in a later post, but shades of gray voters are indeed thinkers.

Why is this important?

All campaigns work with limited time and funds. Every bit of effort should have a pay-off and every dollar spent should be used wisely. All things being equal, efficient campaigns are winners. Campaigns that communicate to voters when they are ready to make their decision — not waste effort on people who have already made their choice or who aren’t going to decide until Election Day — can apply resources where and when they really count. Groups of people who have made voting decisions can be removed from the communications mix.

Mail ballot voters are on a completely different timeline than voters who go to the polls on Election Day. In a very basic example, if a voter segment is made up of 70 percent mail ballot voters, you shouldn’t send them a campaign mailer a few days before the election. But what if we can predict when a voter decides, rather than merely knowing when he or she will cast their ballot? That is the power of the progressive campaign.

The campaign that is able to accurately predict who has decided and progressively remove them from their communications efforts has three things going for it. First, it saves money on mail and other direct contact efforts. Second, it allows human resources and the candidate to be deployed more effectively. Finally, communications will be more effective as the campaign focuses its messages to meet the demands of only the remaining undecided voters.

Smartly designed research can give direction and structure to a progressive campaign and save money in the long run. Want to know more? Get in touch with us at Competitive Edge.

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