Why is it important to do issue research before the campaign begins? In an ideal world, candidates are supposed to stand for something, have positions on issues and a platform. If you don’t, rethink what you are doing. If you do, you need to know what you are talking about the very first day of the campaign.

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There was once a man running for Governor of Arkansas. In his announcement speech the candidate advocated doing away with the sales tax on prescription drugs. Since he had not bothered to do his homework, he didn’t know that years before, the legislature had already done that. He looked like a fool and his campaign never recovered from the Faux pas.

A budding Congressional candidate in the Hudson Valley once asserted in a public meeting that Republicans were solely responsible for the liberation of Europe in World War II. Apparently she did not know that the allied victory was a bi-partisan effort. Tape recorders were on when she said that…a clip of which made the evening news. She never recovered.

A candidate in a New York City Mayor’s race once advocated that the city abolish taxes on bread. What he did not know is the city had done that in the previous century. He didn’t last long.

Why do issue research before the campaign starts?

  1. As a candidate you are expected to know what you are talking about. If it becomes clear that you don’t, you will be ridiculed as a joke not ready for prime time. That will kill your fundraising.
  1. Voters will not remember every detail of what you say, but they will remember whether you were able offer details to support you position. If you can’t voters will regard you as shallow.
  1. iPhones and iPads are everywhere, and millions of Americans now have twitter accounts. If you cannot easily articulate your core convictions, and why you feel the way you do, you’ll find yourself the subject of nasty tweets and embarrassing videos that will quickly go viral. Make a factual mistake and some smart person will notice.
  1. During the course of a campaign, reporters will ask you questions, and they will play gotcha games if they sense that you are ill-informed, or unable to cite facts and figures in the defense of your issue positions.

Not sure where to start on what issues to research. Here are some examples.

Foreign Policy. This is especially important if you are running in a federal race, such as Congress or the United States Senate and especially important when our country is at war.

What is your position on foreign aid, when or when not to fight wars, the role of the United Nations, feeding the poor and the hungry in other countries, missile defense, the size of our military, what we pay our soldiers, and how we deal with despot countries and terrorist organizations?  What should be our posture in the Middle East?

Before you leave your house as a candidate for public office, give these topics some thought and be prepared to discuss them in public. Read the newspapers, opinion columns, spend some time online. It isn’t hard.

Economic Issues. Where are you on tax policy? Do you believe in tax cuts? Do you favor raising taxes on millionaires. If not, why not? Where are you on corporate tax rates, the capital gains tax, the death tax, income tax credits, the Alternative Minimum Tax, incentives to companies to create jobs, buy new equipment or do you believe that we should junk the entire tax code and tax everyone at one flat rate?

Who do you believe should get more of the federal pie and who or what kinds of people should get less? What is your position on free trade? Immigration policy? Putting a fence on the Mexican border? A path to citizenship for the undocumented. Zoning and development rules? The budget deficit? Entitlements and how to preserve them. These matters affect the way our economy works and you should expect to be asked about them on the campaign trail. If you look or act clueless, voters will assume you are.

Social Issues. What is your position on abortion? Stem cell research? Gay marriage? Charter Schools. Tuition tax credits? Merit Pay for teachers? Climate Change and who should fix it? Protecting the environment? The death penalty? Health care? Limiting Campaign contributions? The Fairness Doctrine? Ethics reform. You may not want to wear social issues on your sleeve, but it is safe to assume that during the course of a campaign you will be asked about them.

This is not an exhaustive list of what you need to know. But it is a good start to making sure that you sound and act like a well informed candidate.

Have Questions? Call me at 845-458-1210. Or email me at [email protected].

Last Week’s Video: Running for Office? Preparing for the Campaign: Demographic Research

Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.

How to win an election:

Running for office and knowing how to win an election is a challenge, especially for first time political candidates just learning how to run for office. Discerning the fine points of how to campaign, raise political contributions, and execute a political campaign strategy often requires the help of someone who has served as a political strategist or who has experience as a political consultant.

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