Outside of the quality of a candidate or cause, the success of any campaign hinges on all the components of the campaign working in synch. Political, communications and fundraising capabilities form the foundation of any winning campaign. However, not one of these essential ingredients can function independently, and certainly not without a research capability.
None of this isn’t rocket science. Without research, a campaign will be unable to understand its limitations, frame a narrative about the opposition, and ensure the accuracy of materials. More specifically, a campaign must take it upon themselves to invest early in research for three primary reasons:
First, you need to understand potential weaknesses and anticipate where the opposition will strike by conducting a vulnerability analysis. Doing so will allow you to a.) Map out a game plan to inoculate the campaign from potential vulnerabilities, b.) Anticipate the opponent’s line of attack, and c.) Defend against whatever charges or allegations opponents make with ready-to-use information for rapid-response.
Second, inform the campaign with everything there is to know about an opponent with an opposition study. Building a narrative against a rival – defining the opposition before he or she can identify him or herself – is crucial. A campaign must have a working knowledge of the opponent. That doesn’t necessarily have to include the “black bag,” dumpster-diving kind of investigation most people think of, but rather a qualitative analysis of personal, legal and legislative records, including discovering who is contributing money, how a candidate has invested his or her money, and looking for scandalous or controversial aspects of an opponent’s public life.
Think about it, without a thorough working knowledge of the opponent, how can a campaign put together a strategy against an adversary if the campaign doesn’t know the nuts and bolts of their rival from the start? How can a campaign effectively communicate why voters should vote against their challenger or chose the campaign’s product over another without having the information it takes to make the case?
Third, the information gleaned through a careful analysis of the campaign and against the opponent must be fully integrated into the game plan, specifically the political and communications strategy from the get-go. The intelligence compiled by a research capability needs to more than just a reference book that a campaign or consultant flips through from time to time. It must become the bible that all aspects of a campaign works from.
Fully integrating a research capability ensures that a campaign has all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. Without it, an expensive ad with perhaps hundreds or thousands of dollars for a media buy will be open to ridicule, maybe even taken off the airwaves, if the assertions within the ad aren’t verified with conclusive information. That would be a waste of money and lead to potentially devastating negative publicity.
How many times have campaigns imploded or a candidate lost to another candidate because thorough research wasn’t a key focus of the campaign’s efforts? It has happened all too often. Remember the Democrat Primary Election for Lieutenant Governor in Illinois where political neophyte Scott Lee Cohen, a pawnbroker, won the primary. Only after the nomination was secure did accusations of anabolic steroid abuse and domestic violence with a convicted prostitute come to light. Runner-up Art Turner wasn’t doing his homework. How about Alvin Greene who came from nowhere to win the Democrat Senate Primary in South Carolina despite facing felony obscenity charges. A simple Nexis search would have turned up that gem.
Campaigns often think they can accomplish all of these goals and more, getting by with inexperienced staff or relying on Google. While saving precious resources for an ad campaign is a prudent decision, scrimping on the line-item budget for research is foolish. The cost of research is a bargain when you compare that against the costs of what you don’t know. Just ask Art Turner or South Carolina Democrats.