Anatomy Of A Campaign (Part I)

He has been likened to James Carville, Karl Rove and David Axelrod, the strategists who respectively oversaw the elections of Clinton, George W. and  Obama.

Toby Tiangco, the campaign manager of the UNA, says he is afraid of him: “He is what makes my job difficult.”

In 2007 he was invited by Binay, Erap and Cory to manage the successful Senate Genuine Opposition slate against GMA. He was brought in (but subsequently left) to do the same for P-Noy and Mar Roxas in 2010. So he now has worked intimately with both the Team Pnoy and UNA pricipals. The rumor is he had been asked to run the former but declined. He is ostensibly advising Grace, Risa, Bam and Jun M. on an unofficial capacity.

He is an avid student of politics and a data wonk. He is credited for his street smarts and disciplined execution of a campaign using surveys, demographics, messaging, scheduling  and media strategy.

He is Senator Serge Osmena.

 In an interview, Serge O talks about the anatomy of a campaign, a behind the scenes assessment of what it takes to win an election. The answers are his but the wording is mine. I am guilty for any discrepancies between the two. My personal observations are in parenthesis.

I. The Candidate

Not anybody can be a national candidate or win an election. He must have the basic raw material and a level of public awareness in Manila. Politicians who remain in the province will have a hard time building a national brand e.g. Mayor Duterte has limited national awareness despite his work and popularity in Davao.

II. The Voter

The Filipino votes based on five factors: Social values, personal traits, utility, conditionality and private bias.

Social values are the candidate’s stand on issues like morality, the environment and women’s rights. Risa Hontiveros possesses social values.

Personal attractiveness is the candidate’s likeability and physical attributes, the stuff that gets media stars elected.

Utility refers to the candidate’s perceived usefulness in improving a voter’s life e.g. in getting him a job or his child an education.

Conditionality is the candidate’s relevance to the times: People will vote for a military man when law and order is an issue, for a businessman in a recession.

Private biases are the voter’s idiosyncrasies e.g. women often prefer a woman candidate.

Voters will assign different weights to the above factors depending on their circumstances (The educated will emphasize a candidate’s technical qualifications, the poor will look for those who can get him a job). Not any one factor will get a candidate elected.

III. Polls

Polls are important because they drive the funding. (Polls also help condition the electorate and make results self-fulfilling.)

The key to polls is not ranking but voter preference (the percentage of respondents who will vote for you) and, more important, the conversion factor (how many of those who say they will vote for you will actually do so).

 Senatorial races typically fall into 4 buckets: The leaders, the middle of the pack, the borderline cases and the rest. The difference among candidates in any bucket is within the margin of statistical error. The challenge is therefore to convert voter preference to actual votes (Voter mobilization becomes critical e.g. busing voters to the poll stations.)

Survey numbers will fluctuate in the early stages of a campaign but will harden towards the end.

The critical queries are the what and the why questions, not the who ones: What is important to you, why would you vote for a candidate, not who would you vote for? Qualitative answers provide the basis for messaging.

IV. The Message

 A winning message is possibly the single most important element in a campaign: What is your story and how does it connect with the voter? This is particularly so in a multi-candidate race such as the Senate where it is not a one-on-one contest but a competition for the top 12 slots. The goal is not to beat an opponent as it is to emerge from the pack. Messaging helps define the uniqueness of a candidate.

There are rules to developing a message: It must be genuine and reflect the voters’ perceived (not necessarily real) image of the candidate. A wealthy candidate cannot pose as poor.

It must have context. The message must relate to what voters are searching in terms of social values, likeability, utility, conditionality and personal bias. P-Noy’s  “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was successful not because it spoke of integrity as an ideal but because it connected corruption to the well being of the voter. It combined social values with the utility factor.

There is a difference between a slogan and a message. A message must have content (“Basta Happy Ka” is a slogan, not a message. It worked for JPE because of his proven record but would not for anyone else.) Candidates should avoid the gimmickry of one-liners presented by ad men.

(In Part II Serge O talks about funding, strategy, tactics, myths and the outcome.)


About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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