Elections. They are around the corner. Whether you stop and look every time Charlie Cook changes his assessment of who is up and who is down or you can’t look until it is all over, the outcome this November will likely impact your issues.
Don’t wait until the elections are over to start planning your response. Time is of the essence here, and how you position your organization ahead of time will make a big difference for your leadership, board members and supporters once the final votes are counted (or contested).
Get ready to be responsive and take advantage of this opportunity to communicate about the issues that are important to your organization. Ask yourself these three questions to get ready:
1. What might the election results mean for your issue(s)?
What are the possible scenarios and outcomes you can plan for in advance? How did the record number of women running impact your issue(s)? What did turn out among specific constituencies suggest are their priorities moving forward? Where there were reports of voter suppression, how can you generate a conversation around protecting people’s rights to vote? What trends do you want to highlight? Which ones do you want to minimize?
Think through which stories you want to see in post-election conversations and what you need to have ready to go, from fact sheets, to graphic posts and media-genic spokespeople. Everyone will be scrambling after Election Day to make sense of things. By considering these questions in advance, you’ll be able to get moving immediately once the results come in.
Last year, Danica Roem became the first openly transgender woman to win a seat in the Virginia state legislature. While the press certainly heralded this accomplishment, stories like this NYT opinion piece captures the sentiment that shaped the post-election coverage of her historical win around universal issues, like fears of not fitting in: “Roem dedicated her victory speech last week ‘to every person who’s ever been singled out, who’s ever been stigmatized, who’s ever been the misfit, who’s ever been the kid in the corner.’ Those were her opening words, which poetically universalized her experience as a transgender woman without explicitly invoking it.”
Roem used her platform to make a universal point. How can you use yours post-election?
- Make the momentum behind the election results stand out for those that got elected. If you have been organizing constituents, now is the time to have them write a “why I voted for you” letter. This will remind elected leaders what they’ve been sent to office to do.
- If the elections didn’t go your way, consider how you will talk with your supporters who you need to move from a depressed state to an activated one. They need outlets for their feelings. How can you channel these feelings in a strategic and proactive direction?
Tip: Wait for the actual results to avoid finding yourself on the wrong side of what actually happened.
2. What is now possible?
Well, there are 36 governor races, 435 House races, 35 Senate races, 87 of 99 state legislatures have elections, and more mayoral races than I can count (ok I could count them, but I am not wading through 26 pages on Ballotpedia.) Note: just looking at these numbers does not mean you are electioneering…you are strategizing. That’s a lot of people who will be setting new agendas in their first 90 days, a lot of new staff to educate, and based on why they believe they ended up in office, a real chance to advance an issue that may have been stagnant.
Consider how you can take advantage of these changes.
- Can you help get educated staff in place? Many organizations will start thinking about how to educate those in power about the importance of their issue. Why not consider a short-cut? Consider well-qualified people in your network who might be the perfect staffer with the right experience. Upside for you: they are already educated on your issue.
- Is there pressure that you can take advantage of?The tightening job market forced Amazon to raise wages. While organizers have been trying for awhile to make this happen, outside circumstances gave them a needed tailwind and they took advantage of it. According to Wired, Amazon couldn’t afford the reputational damage the negative campaigning had on its ability to hire.
- What is the state of your network in the new order of things?Consider what access you now have and what access you have lost. Will you need to consider new and different partners in order to have the power you need to succeed? This is a good time to go to staff, board members and allies and map out what you have to work with and how to activate a network that will make a difference.
3. How will your response to the election to strengthen your organization’s brand?
Many organizations are nonpartisan; yet, depending on the results, you might be sending mixed signals if you are overly celebratory behind a party, rather than an issue platform.
Consider how you can comment in a way that reinforces your identity and doesn’t confuse it. Follow the likes of the Human Rights Campaign after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage or American Alliance of Museums, which played up the importance of museums at a time of unrest and give people a chance to celebrate about the victory of an issue.
Tip: this is a good time to remind staff what your social media policy is.
Answer these questions, have the necessary discussions with your leadership and staff, plan your next steps and harness the narrative for your issue or organization. Then you’ll be ready – no matter what happens – on November 7.