Want to beat the National Rifle Association? Me too. I really admire the work of veteran campaigner Vinny DeMarco, who has some gun control victories under his belt. Part of his winning recipe is conducting opinion research, like polling and focus groups, to determine whether voters in a target policymaker’s district would actually vote for someone else if the policymaker voted the wrong way on his issue. If voters care enough about an issue to vote against a policymaker on a particular issue, Vinny runs with a campaign and threatens the policymaker’s job enough that he or she votes the right way. Opinion research is critical in a campaign against an opponent like the gun industry. But it’s expensive, often costing $20,000-$50,000. Yes, it’s cheaper to spend $25K to get your message and campaign right with opinion research than spend $100K getting it wrong and losing without it, but what if you just don’t have that kind of cash?
If you’re working at the municipal and county level, you probably can’t afford professional opinion research. Instead, engage in a systematic listening campaign in the community where you’re working, holding regular and ongoing conversations with individuals and organizations around the key points you think are essential to understanding what people will support or not. Ask them about what they might want to see in a policy proposal and gauge their commitment to your issue. Though your results won’t have the same rigor or depth as they would if you paid big bucks to a reputable pollster, you can still collect qualitative data.
Sometimes newspapers and other media outlets will do opinion research on your issue if they think it’s a hot topic. They might not pose the exact questions you’d ask or frame questions like you would, but the information they gather could still be very valuable to you. Sometimes they’ll post these questions in the opinion section or letters-to-the-editor page. Try to get to the media sources ahead of time to shape the questions, and of course drive as many of your supporters to the questions so the results are in your favor.
How do you begin a listening campaign? If you’ve been living anywhere for any length of time you know people who live in your community. Start having conversations with the people you’re comfortable approaching. This kind of relational organizing does two things: 1) it deepens relationships within your community so you can see if there’s an intersection between their concerns and your issue, and 2) the feedback collect through ongoing one-on-one conversations helps shape the figures you use about what people believe is going on and what they care about.
Start with people you know. During these conversations, always ask, “Who else should I talk to?” That’s how you’ll build your base. Through planned, regular listening sessions you’ll get a good sense for what the community supports and what missing ingredients you’ll need to fill in.
And if you haven’t already downloaded these free guides, you can get them at the links below. If you can think of other tools that would be helpful, please let me know.
One of the biggest challenges organizations have is the campaign planning process. To help serve them, I’ve created a guide of the 11 essential points that I use with organizations, as well as with my grad students at Johns Hopkins. In it you’ll find the critical elements your campaign must have. Use this as an easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers.
- The 10 steps of power mapping
· The questions to ask and where to find answers
· Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
- What coalitions do
· Who to recruit
· How to pick the best coalition name
· Attracting diverse coalition partners
· Leadership & structure of coalitions