When measuring the health of political campaigns, as with any measurement program, the type of system you put in place depends on your objectives and your role. Below are examples of three types of political measurement, with a list of tools you need for each type of program.
One important point first...
is more critical than usual
Because the length and success of voter measurement programs are so strictly defined by the election cycle, you can't afford to waste time or opportunities. Probably the most important element in any political measurement program is to have the data on hand when you need it. And you need it whenever there's a decision to be made about how much money to spend or what tactics to use. You don't need it after the votes have been counted.
Measuring PR Efforts on Behalf of a Candidate
My company, KDPaine & Partners, measured political PR for one of the country's best political PR pros, Doug Hattaway, former spokesperson for Al Gore and Tom Daschle. Doug was working on Chellie Pingree's effort to unseat Susan Collins as Senator from Maine. What Doug needed was a measurement system that would tell him which tactics were working or not working in a campaign. The challenge was to do it fast enough so the data would be useful, and cheap enough so the campaign could afford it.
The good news about working with political campaigns is that volunteers are generally plentiful, and in this case the volunteers were charged with collecting the clips from the local publications. If you don't have volunteers to do the clipping, you need to hire a local clipping company or someone like Bacons or Burrelle's to collect the clips for you. Small-town newspapers are just too important to miss. Electronic data aggregators like Nexis and Factiva do not work on local or statewide campaigns; they do a terrible job collecting clips from anything smaller than the Boston Globe. Even Cyberalert and Custom Scoop miss far too many of the small town weeklies.
One we had the clips about both Pingree and Collins in hand, we began to analyze them for positioning on key issues, tone of coverage, type of article, subject of the article and who was quoted. We compiled them monthly and issued a report that included charts like this (click the charts to see them bigger):
We could quickly identify the tactics that were most successful. For example, a visit by Hilary Clinton in support of Pingree was far more successful in garnering visibility for Pingree than any other action. However, Pingree's visit to Washington in support of her health care reform legislation, while it didn't get anywhere near the visibility, was more successful in positioning her as "the health care candidate."
The analysis also revealed weaknesses in Pingree's campaign and strengths in Collins' campaign. While Pingree was almost entirely focused on her health care message, Collins was making points with the voters on the environment and campaign finance reform.
Additionally, the research enabled the campaign to track the correlation between visibility and contributions. By tracking Pingree's share of exposure over time against the contributions over time, the campaign could determine the level of additional exposure necessary to generate the requisite contributions.
In the end, the earned media that was generated by Hattaway's PR efforts narrowed incumbent Collins' lead substantially.
Lobbying Efforts on Behalf of a Company
We ran into a government relations person for a major organization who wanted to know how to measure the impact of his efforts. He was trying to get a bill passed that would be highly advantageous to his company. We began to design his "dashboard," and asked him what success meant. He got as far as "If the bill passes, I'm successful." We pointed out that if the bill failed it would be too late to do anything about it.
So what he really needed was to monitor the tone of conversation around the bill in question so that he could tweak his PR program according to its progress. We recommended that he establish a system that gives him feedback all along the way.
There are several ways to do that. The easiest method is to track who is saying what to the media or in local speeches about the bill. Are key influentials supporting it or trashing it? Or is no one talking about it at all? More important to track, however, is the bill's progress through the legislative process. Is it being heard, tabled, or moved? Who are the cosigners to the bill and are they actively promoting it? Is the opposition gaining or weakening? What do bloggers say? What's being discussed in news groups? Are there any list serves you need to track?
Some of these data points can be gathered via media analysis, others should be part of your regular legislative tracking process. Still others may require a poll of the constituency to determine the level of support, and the perceptions of the voters and/or legislators.
If at all possible, a once-a-year survey of your key legislators is recommended to test and evaluate the health of the relationship between your organization and the elected or appointed officials you are striving to measure.
Measuring Relationships with Publics on Behalf of Yourself as a Candidate
Your constituencies come in several forms, from students to senior citizens. You should measure relationships with as many different stakeholders or constituencies groups as you can afford. It may be useful to segment the different publics by gender, age, length of time in the area and political leanings so you can identify any pockets of opportunities or threat within the community.
Clearly active stakeholders who are most likely to protest, boycott or otherwise cause trouble are the most important to understand. However, inactive stakeholders that are clueless about your programs and therefore don't care and won't get engaged can be just as dangerous.
We recommend using the Grunig relationship model to test your relationships and in particular the level of trust that each public feels towards you. Trust is a key component of success in any political campaign. If it's not there, or if it is recently lost, you will have a significantly harder time achieving success. Alternatively, if your constituents trust you, as do those of Alan Greenspan or John McCain, you have a lot more leeway with those publics. Therefore it is critical to establish a benchmark level of trust to begin with. Subsequently you should conduct regular trust/relationship measurement studies to gauge the level of trust and engagement over time. Conduct these studies as often as possible so you can tie any changes in the trust and relationship scores to actual actions you may have taken.
The Ultimate Measure: Votes
There's a ton of great data in any set of election results. The challenge is to use it to make more informed decisions. When I ran for town council here in Durham five years ago, I knew that my efforts to go door-to-door in specific communities paid off since the number of votes I received from those communities far exceeded my expectations. I also knew that my signage (bright purple and white with the slogan "No Paine, No Gain") was successful since I had the highest name recognition, and ultimately the highest vote count of all the candidates.
In larger elections, there's far more granular data to be gathered, and much of it is readily available online. Using this data you can frequently identify the specific areas or pockets or demographics you've targeted and thus measure your success in getting those groups to vote and/or vote your program or candidate.
(This article is reprinted with slight changes from a similar article that appeared previously in The Measurement Standard .)
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, a Salience Insight company, part of News Group International. KDP&P delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements. Katie and Beth Kanter are authors of the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” to be published this year by Wiley.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.