You may have heard that American elections are about bringing out the “base”—and in many ways, that is true. There is no doubt that successful political campaigns maximize turnout among their supporters. But, at the same time, persuadable voters (or swing voters) matter just as much. Gaining a larger share of swing voters to support your side could be the difference between winning and losing an election. And let’s face it: Nobody runs to lose. If you’re ready to start your next campaign on the right footing, read on to learn how to reach persuadable voters.
An Overview of Persuadable Voters
A persuadable voter is also known as a swing voter. Broadly speaking, a persuadable voter is an individual that is open to considering multiple candidates (or ballot issues) in an election. According to data from the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who identify as “swing voters” hovers between 20 and 25 percent in most elections. An analysis from FiveThirtyEight found that the number of genuinely persuadable voters in presidential elections is likely lower than the self-reported number. Though, the specific context always matters. People are typically more willing to break with their preferred party in local elections.
Persuadable voters usually fit into the following two categories.
#1 Persuadable Voters Who Always Vote
Some persuadable voters will almost certainly vote in all upcoming elections—even if they do not currently have a preferred candidate. Therefore, it is essential for campaigns, PACs, and other advocacy groups to connect with these voters who are highly likely to vote and highly open to persuasion.
#2 Persuadable voters With a Sporadic Voting Record
Some persuadable voters may or may not show up at the polls on election day. But why? Put simply, there are persuadable voters with a sporadic voting record who may stop paying attention out of boredom. Perhaps neither candidate is particularly exciting. But on the other hand, these voters are likely to show when they find an inspiring candidate with a strong message that reflects the voter’s values.
The Two-Pronged Approach to Running a Successful Political Campaign
Elections have become increasingly competitive in the era of big data and big money. As a result, campaigns, PACs, and grassroots advocacy groups need to develop an effective strategy to get out the vote (GOTV) for their side. In most cases, a successful campaign relies on a two-pronged approach:
- Develop a strategy to mobilize the base—maximizing turnout among individual voters and broad demographic groups that are most likely to support a campaign; and
- Develop a strategy to persuade the swing voters—identify and connect with the voters who might still be willing to give their support.
It is a common misconception that a campaign has to choose between base mobilization and swing voter persuasion. With micro-targeting options available, it is entirely possible for campaigns to reach both these audiences simultaneously.
Swing Voters & The Bottom Line
We already know the importance of mobilizing the base and persuading swing voters to win an election. However, it is worth emphasizing that the persuasion of a definite voter is essential—especially in a competitive two-way race.
Imagine that you are running a campaign for a congressional candidate. Voter A is deciding between casting a vote for your candidate or simply staying home. If that voter stays home, your campaign loses another vote. As every voter matters in a close race, that is certainly a significant loss.
However, imagine Voter B is deciding between casting a vote for either you or your opponent. In the end, they choose your competitor. Not only did you lose out on one vote, but your competitor also gained one vote. In practical terms, there is a two-vote swing every time a persuadable voter flips from one party to another.
The bottom line: Losing out a persuadable voter can have double the impact. Consider a candidate who loses an election 10,150 votes to 10,000. They fell 150 votes short. They would have prevailed if they had brought 151 more supporters out to the polls. Though, they would also have succeeded if they flipped just 76 voters from their competitor to their side.
Five Steps to Help Campaigns, PACs, and Advocacy Groups Reach Persuadable Voters
Step #1: Identify Persuadable Voters
The first step to reaching persuadable voters is to identify them. There are many different strategies that campaigns, PACs, and political advocacy organizations can use to identify persuadable voters, and the right political data can provide a solid foundation for an informed campaign. In identifying persuadable voters, campaigns and political groups should start by examining voter history. Some key attributes of persuadable voters include:
- Participation in primaries of both political parties; and
- Cross-party political contributions.
Communication is another essential strategy for identifying persuadable voters, and it’s as simple as asking people what they want. It is helpful to contact voters and record information about who is likely or unlikely to support your campaign and who is on the fence. Only when your campaign knows who the persuadable voters are will you be in the best position to reach them.
Step #2: Know What Motivates Them
Always ask yourself, “Why is a particular voter open to persuasion?” Often, they are open to being persuaded because of their feelings about specific hot-button issues. Reaching and connecting with persuadable voters requires understanding where they are coming from. You should know the following:
- What issues matter to persuadable voters; and
- How they feel about those issues.
Of course, not all persuadable voters will see eye-to-eye on every key policy issue. Still, campaigns must be ready to persuade voters about issues that matter to them. For example, The Washington Post reports that voters cite “inflation” and “abortion” as the two most important issues in federal and state elections in 2022. It is difficult for campaigns to persuade voters if they are ignorant about or unprepared to respond to questions and concerns about hot-button issues.
Step #3: Hone a Message for Persuadable Voters
As a general rule, candidates, PACs, and political advocacy groups should not use the same exact messaging for both their persuadable voters and base. By definition, swing voters in the United States have shown a willingness to consider (and cast votes for) candidates for both political parties. Therefore, a message designed to reach persuadable voters should be well-honed to suit their particular views and needs. Most often, the messaging for swing voters should be more positive, collaborative, and forward-thinking. But, of course, that is certainly not always the case. Studies have shown that swing voters respond to negative campaign messages as well.
Step #4: Make Contact With Persuadable Voters
Once you identify your swing voters, analyze and understand their views, and develop a communications strategy for connecting with them, it is essential to actually make contact. This is where the “persuasion” part comes into play. Ultimately, a persuadable voter presents an opportunity for a political campaign, PAC, or advocacy group. The voter has at least some willingness to join your side—but they need to be convinced.
There are many ways to contact swing voters—from traditional advertising to social media to direct mail to phone calls and text messages. By identifying your swing voters—as noted in step one—you should be able to make an informed decision on which advertising mediums your audience prefers.
Step #5: Follow Up with Persuadable Voters
Finally, it is generally best practice to follow up with the persuadable voters you have identified. For example, imagine your campaign identifies a high-propensity voter still deciding which candidate to support in the upcoming election. A well-crafted follow-up strategy can help you determine when (and why) that particular swing voter made up their mind. Follow-up efforts with potential voters are essential for several reasons. First, they increase the chances of successful persuasion. Second, they increase the likelihood that voters will actually show up on election day. Finally, your campaign or political group can gain valuable data and insight into how swing voters make their decisions.
Achieve Your Goals with Data-Driven Campaigns
Reaching persuadable voters is a never-ending challenge for political campaigns. There is no single solution, but there are best practices you should adopt as part of an organized and disciplined plan to get out the vote. If you can engage swing voters on the issues they care about, find multiple channels of engagement to communicate with them, and get them to make a clear plan to vote, you will be well-positioned to reap the rewards on Election Day.
At Aristotle, we are proud to be the leader in political data and campaign management technology. With a comprehensive National Voter File and regularly updated voter lists, we help election campaigns and grassroots political advocacy groups better identify and engage with primary voters. Our team is here as a resource if you have any specific questions or concerns about targeting primary voters. Call us now or send us a direct message to learn more about our services!