Advocacy Tips: Preparing for the Midterm Elections

Recently, I had the opportunity to join a panel, “Countdown to the Midterms: What it means for advocacy and what you need to do to prepare” hosted by CQ and the Grassroots Professional Network. I was honored to speak on CQ’s first all-female panel with experts from the International Copper Association, Veterans Leadership Academy, and Shoreline Strategies. Key takeaways from the panel include:

Get Prepared Now — Don’t assume anything, plan for everything. There’s a chance we end up with a divided government after November, but a lot can change in six months and we’ve learned polls aren’t always accurate. Begin scenario planning now and remember these two key milestones:

  • Don’t wait until August recess to kick off advocacy campaigns. Placing local op-eds, running ad campaigns, and hosting events in lawmakers’ respective districts and states are great ways to show members of Congress that their constituents care about your issue. However, it is critical that advocacy organizations educate members of Congress NOW to ensure they are aware of your priority issues before the rush sets in. Come August, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to break through the noise.
  • Don’t forget to prepare for the lame-duck session. This is a period in which members of Congress have less accountability. Lawmakers on their way out may loosen tight holds on issues they previously stood up against or may fight to push through their champion issue at all costs. Identify threats and opportunities, identify your issue champions, and nail down a strategy to utilize the lame-duck session to your advantage.

Define, Humanize, Localize and Politicize Your Priority Issues — For maximum impact and to avoid ill will following midterm elections, center your campaign on the issues.

  • Know your audience, tailor your message. Craft different sets of messaging for each of your top policy priorities that appeal to target members of Congress on the left and right if possible.
  • To support champion lawmakers, provide constituent success stories (ex. how tax reform has allowed him/her to grow business or hire new workers) and local economic data that members of Congress can point to leading up to the midterms.
  • Create legislative scorecards on lawmakers’ voting history or create a pledge to send to candidates to sign if they want your industry’s vote.

Create an Echo Chamber — As an advocacy organization, it’s your job to make sure your issues are prioritized and part of the debate. Activate your advocates and coordinate with allies to surround target lawmakers with credible narratives.

  • Setup voter education, activation, and registration campaigns. Make sure your advocates know the priority issues, where candidates stand on those issues, and are prepared to vote accordingly. Give them the tools needed to engage on your issues (i.e. talking points, editable media kits, opportunities to participate or host events, fly-ins, etc.).
  • Identify relevant and credible think tanks, influencers and third parties. Brief allies on your issues and approach, keep them updated with relevant data or advocate stories and encourage them to utilize the information in their advocacy efforts.