Update > Getting out the Message

Getting out the Message


Once the campaign team has decided whom they will be talking to (targeting) and what they will be saying (message development), the next step is to decide how they will be saying it. In other words, how will they get their campaign’s message out to voters.

Parties can reach people directly and indirectly. The important thing is that they keep in touch and communicate continuously during the campaign

Many voters can get to know a party through the media, but at the local level that is often a very limited option. A party’s strength and potential to grow and mobilize support will depend on how active and successful it is in reaching people and building confidence and support. There are many ways one can get in contact with people directly. Door-to-door canvassing, street meetings, forums, information tables at shops or events, and handing out pamphlets are some good examples. Below are a few methods that can be used for voter contact and outreach (OPIC 2012: 35).

Literature Drop

A literature drop is when volunteers go door-to-door leaving a piece of literature about the candidate at each household. A large number of volunteers can cover a large area relatively quickly and, the areas they focus on can be targeted to areas where there are a lot of undecided voters or other target groups. The volunteers do not talk with voters, so they do not identify supporters, but they can leave a reminder to vote at the supporters’ homes just before Election Day (a “get out the vote” activity).

Literature Hand-outs

Your campaign can also hand out literature wherever people gather in large numbers. This could be at markets, factory gates, train stations, bus stops, etc. While this may be a lot easier or quicker than the literature drop at the voters’ homes, it is less targeted because campaign staff cannot be certain that the people who take their literature live in the district or can vote for their candidate (if you are handing out literature in a city or town with several township constituencies for example).

Often this type of activity is targeted around a particular issue that will concern those gathered in that area. For example, campaign staff may want to hand out a piece of literature about saving a factory at the gates of the factory, or providing more busses at a bus stop.


Sending campaign literature to voters through the mail can be very effective at delivering the message and persuading them to vote for you. Depending on what type of list the campaign team has, they may be able to target voters either by geography or demographics (age, gender, etc.). For example, they could send something outlining their position on one issue to older voters and send a different piece outlining their position on a different issue to young women. Again, direct mail is a tactic that makes sure that the campaign knows that those who receive their mail live in their candidate’s constituency (NDI 2009:39).

Door to Door

Many voters feel that politicians “are all alike”, they have given up hope of being able to change anything by casting their vote. They say things like “Politicians do not listen to our needs” or “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, nothing ever changes anyway.” Traditional media campaigns are not an effective way to turn this around – in fact they merely tend to increase these voters’ distrust. That is why it is important to invest in direct contact with the voters.

Voters often change the party they will vote for in between elections. It is also true that voters who have voted for a party once before, are likelier to vote for that party again. This means that parties have to try and strengthen their ties with voters wherever they can. If a candidate goes out to meet the voters, this strengthens his or her ties with them. If candidates can get target voters to take an interest in themselves and their party, this may increase the chance that they will vote for them in the next election. This is often called “canvassing” (van den Boomen 2009: 95).

Canvassing can be carried out either by the candidate themselves or by the volunteers working on the candidate’s campaign. However, voters are often impressed that a candidate would bother to come meet them and candidates can gain their support just by making the effort, so canvassing has more impact if it is done by the candidate themselves. Canvassing also allows the candidate to hear the problems that voters face, adapt their message to meet their individual concerns and find out the level of support that the candidate or party has in specific areas.

Obviously this is going to be very time consuming method of voter contact. Depending on the types of neighbourhoods, a candidate or volunteer who is disciplined can talk to approximately 50 voters a night or around 300 voters a week. This is assuming that they canvass for about three hours a night and spend no more than three minutes with each voter (allowing a little bit of time to get from door to door). This is why a candidate should be able to deliver their message in less than a minute.

Voters are more likely to remember a candidate’s message if they hear it more than once, so a candidate is more likely to make an impression if they can increase their voter contact at the door from one time to two, three or four times. This can be done by first having the campaign deliver a piece of literature to the target voters’ homes a week before the candidate walks the neighbourhood, stating that the candidate will be visiting the area. This can be either mailed or dropped by volunteers and should deliver the campaign message. Then, when the candidate actually shows up, they are keeping their first promise to voters.

The candidate then walks the neighbourhood delivering the message both verbally and through a piece of literature that is left with the voter. Finally, if the campaign is able to keep track of who the candidate talked to and who was missed, it will be able to deliver a follow-up card a week later, stating that the candidate was either happy to have met the voter or sorry to have missed them.

The best way to keep the canvass on schedule is to have a trusted volunteer accompany the candidate as they go door to door. This person is responsible for carrying all the literature, knocking on the doors, and introducing the candidate when someone answers the door. The volunteer then moves on to the next door while the candidate talks to the voter, keeping a record of which doors are answered and which not. If the candidate becomes occupied with a voter who wants to talk, it is the volunteer’s role to go back and tell the candidate and the voter that they have to keep moving. In this way it is the volunteer who appears to be rude, if necessary (NDI 2009:40).


Campaign staff can use the telephone to persuade voters to vote for their candidate, identify supporters and remind those supporters to go vote for their candidate. Each of these should be a separate phone call. Most often the phone is used to identify supporters and turnout the vote. Both of these can be relatively short calls.

Phone calls can be made either from volunteers’ homes or, better yet, from a central location with a lot of phones. These central locations, called phone banks, can be either businesses or organizations with a lot of separate phone lines already in place, that allow the campaign to use them after hours to call voters. They can also be extra phone lines put into the headquarters for just this purpose.

Either way, phone banks have a number of advantages over having volunteers make the calls from their homes. First, the campaign can supervise the phone calls at a phone bank and make sure that the calls are being made and effectively delivering the agreed message. Second, the volunteers gain support from other volunteers making the calls. It is often important to share the experience, either good or bad, of the last phone call. Finally, the campaign has immediate control over the process, can deal with problems immediately, answer questions and receive instant feedback. Sometimes the script the volunteers are using when they talk to voters does not work and must be changed. Or sometimes the campaign may want to shift from phoning one constituency to another quickly. This can be more easily done at a phone bank.

In both a phone bank and having volunteers call from home, it is important to have clear written instructions for the volunteers including the purpose of making the calls and an easy to follow script of what to say on the phone when talking to voters. It may also be important to explain what not to do, such as argue with voters. Volunteers should understand that it is important to make as many calls as possible, as quickly as possible and that arguing with voters will only slow them down and is unlikely to change the voter’s mind, or worse make that voter even more determined to go and vote for their opponents (NDI 2009:40).


Visibility is anything the campaign does to catch the voters’ attention. This can be billboards by the side of the road, signs at supporters’ houses, posters on poles, stickers on cars, volunteers or the candidate waving to traffic, car caravans with decorated cars driving through key neighbourhoods, the candidates name on t-shirts, key-rings, etc. While this may raise the voter awareness about the campaign and the name recognition of the candidate, it can only reinforce the campaign message. It is a very poor method of persuading voters. It also reaches a broad audience rather than a targeted audience. People who live outside the constituency or otherwise cannot or will not vote for the candidate will see the signs. Finally, there is no way that the campaign can identify who is supporting their candidate. However this method can be used very effectively to remind voters in strong support areas to go vote (NDI 2009:41).

Meetings and Events

When organizing a public meeting or events, the campaign team must first need to identify their target group and what financial resources they have. These two factors will determine what type of meeting or event they want to organize.


A rally is the most expensive and amongst the largest of political events and should primarily be used to motivate already strong party supporters. Rallies are not very useful for informing or reporting, or for consulting the community or mobilizing new support.

Community Forums

In a community forum the party invites people to come and talk and raise their concerns. The party’s main role is to listen. Community forums appeal to both strong party supporters and to people who are interested in the party but not enough to go to rallies or more formal meetings. To get the most out of a community forum it is best to target a specific group at the time – for example the elderly and pension problems or teachers and education policy (OPIC 2012: 37).

House Meetings

House meetings target people who are not strong party supporters or who are undecided. They often target specific groups, such as teachers or undecided voters in a specific area, a street, hostel, village etc.

Generally, house meetings are quite informal with attendees numbering around 20 to 30. They are often held at the home of a person the target group knows. Speeches are short and de-emphasized – the aim is to have a discussion. Use councillors or local Members of Parliament as speakers if possible.

Publicity Tables

Publicity tables are set up in markets or other public places where many people pass. These tables serve as points of contact for talking to people and handing out information pamphlets. Though the primary aim is to talk with as many people as possible, engaging in endless debates with party opponents should be avoided. MPs and councillors should participate in publicity tables (OPIC 2012: 38).

Factory Gates And Transportation Stations

You can meet voters in places where lots of people pass during rush hours like train stations, bus terminals and factory gates. These are great opportunities to hand out flyers and pamphlets. Most people will be rushing and will not have time to talk, but they will accept something handed out to them that they can read on the bus or take home.

Popular Events

Concerts and sport events like soccer matches are other opportunities to be seen. Set up publicity tables and have MPs or councilors there before and during intermissions to make contact with people. It is often easy for campaign staff and volunteers to approach someone if they have something to give them like a flyer or a pamphlet.

Voter Outreach

Candidates have to stay in touch with what is happening in their community. They should participate in forums and meetings that affect the development of the community.

Certain strategies can be very effective at reaching new community members:

• Attend meetings, be visible and show interest.

• Meet with leaders of other organizations. Contact everyone identified on the campaign’s contact sheet and discuss their problems and programs

• Arrange for MPs from your party to visit problem areas in the community to gain greater awareness.

• Intervene on local issues and development. The Branch should participate in local campaigns and get involved in solving problems. It is good for the party to cooperate with other organizations and to be seen working on solutions to people’s problems.

• Help other organizations by assisting with activities.

• Target a sector of the community such as community centres, specific welfare organizations or high schools. Find the contact person and ask them to allow a candidate to come and address the group. Or invite a group of their leaders for a small discussion on their problems (OPIC 2012: 39).

Principles of Getting out the Message

Before looking at the various methods for reaching voters, there are some important points that apply to all of the methods. First is the rule of finite resources, which means that the campaign team must work out how much each method will cost in terms of time, money and people. Second is the “interchangeability” of the resources and the methods, meaning that a campaign team can often accomplish the same task using different resources. Finally, there is the effectiveness of each method at persuading voters, identifying supporters and in making sure that supporters vote. It is important to plan well in advance for each phase of the campaign, including turning voters out on Election Day.

Resource Management

A political campaign is a communication process and all campaigns have three basic resources available to accomplish this communication time, money and people. These resources can come together in a large number of combinations. Campaign teams should select the best possible combination and use all three resources in the most efficient manner. Campaign teams should try to make the largest impact on the voters for each volunteer hour and each amount of money they spend.

In planning the voter contact part of a campaign, it is critically important to remember that every campaign has finite resources. Every decision to do something is a decision not to do something else. When the campaign has twenty volunteers hand out literature, these twenty volunteers cannot make phone calls at the same time. When a campaign spends money on television, they do not have that money to spend on mail. Time spent greeting people at the market is time taken away from going door to door. It is important to budget all three resources time, money and people so that all three resources are used most efficiently. The aim is to make the largest impact on the voters while using as few of these resources as possible.

Diverse Tactics and Methods

It is important to remember that campaigns can often use different resources and different methods to accomplish the same objective. For example, if a campaign team decides that they need to persuade 10,000 voters to vote for their candidate. One thousand reliable volunteers can go door to door tomorrow and persuade 10 voters each to vote for their candidate (no time, no money but lots of people). A candidate can personally talk to 10,000 voters, at 50 voters a day but it will take 200 days (no money, no people but lots of time). Or a candidate can contact all 10,000 tomorrow without any help by airing a television or radio commercial.

These are extreme examples, but they illustrate how interchangeable the resources and the methods are. The campaign team will need to first figure out what they want to accomplish and then figure out which of the many ways is best for them achieve their objective. If one method does not seem possible, another method can be used. This is why planning is absolutely necessary. It is the campaign that does not have a written plan which often finds that it can not raise the money it needs, does not have the volunteers it needs and has squandered its time.

Types Of Voter Contact Activities

With all of these things in mind, it is important to ask the following questions as when considering the various types of voters contact.

1. How much does it cost in time, money and people?

2. Does the campaign team know what voters are being reached?

3. Are they being persuaded?

4. Can the campaign team find out if they support their candidate and make sure that they will vote for their candidate?

Each of the following types of voter contact meets these various criteria to varying degrees.

Combining Methods

Different campaigns at different levels will use different combinations of voter contact to reach voters. National political campaigns, which have to reach millions of voters, cannot afford the time of going door to door.

They may use a combination of earned media and radio advertisements to get the message out. On the other hand, small local campaigns may not be able to afford the amount of money that advertising in the media would cost to reach a small number of voters.

Here it might make sense to have the candidate go door-to-door talking to voters, combined with a direct mail campaign to convey the same message to the same voters again. Following a direct mail program, a campaign with many volunteers may want to set up phone banks to call all the potential voters to identify who supports the candidate and who has been persuaded by the candidate’s message.

With the varying resources of time, money and people, the combination of voter contact methods that can be combined is unlimited and no two campaigns will ever be the same. This is why it is vitally important to take all the data possible on the district, the voters, and all the candidates, and then the campaign must develop a workable, written plan to deliver the message.

Use the following chart to help determine which voter contact method the campaign will choose. It is important to be realistic. No campaign should consider using all of the methods listed. This would just spread their resources too thin and ensure that they did none of them well. Campaign teams will want to consider realistically what resources of time, money and people they will have available to them and how much each method will cost. It is also important to choose various methods that, when combined, will accomplish all of the tasks persuading voters, identifying supporters and making sure that supporters actually vote (NDI 2009: 44).

Campaign teams should make a list of all the methods that they have decided to use in their campaign and try to determine in hard numbers how much time, money and people these methods will need to accomplish their objective.