How to target votes in a lobbying campaign
Given the limits on time and resources in any campaign, one of the most important things you have to do is create an effective targeting plan. Lobbying is no different, which means you need to decide...
Who will you target?
While all legislators involved should get a letter stating your position, some legislators definitely will be with you, and some definitely against. It’s not worth spending a lot of your time lobbying either group.
Your job is to focus on the votes in the middle – the “swing” votes. This requires research, organization, careful note taking, and close coordination with your allies. Use the following guidelines:
- Develop a target list: Find past votes on identical or similar issues that can help predict future behavior. Also, the general impressions from lobbyists as well as your leaders inside the legislature should be put into the mix. Lastly, depending on whether legislators are up for reelection, the narrowness of their former election victories may be a factor as well, (they all want to get re-elected!).
- Organize the list: Most lobbyists rate legislators on a 1 to 5 scale, (1 = absolutely with you, 2 = leaning with you, 3 = undecided/unknown, 4 = leaning against you, 5 definitely against you.) Keep tabs on all legislators, then add up the numbers in each category to gauge how you are doing. Focus your lobbying on the 2’s, 3’s and 4’s.
- Keep track of developments: Lobbying is usually a constantly evolving process right up until the final vote is cast. It s not a one time event where you make your voice heard and then go home. Winning requires consistent follow up. As you and your allies lobby the same target list, information will be coming from every direction if everyone is doing their job. Of course, legislators have been known to tell one person one story and another person a different story, (imagine!), so targets will move up and down the scale depending on the most up-to-date intelligence. You have to keep all this straight to gauge where you stand and whether you might consider compromising if you think you will lose. Consider using a notebook (or a computer spreadsheet) with one page for each target.
Key Information for Tracking Officials
· Who made the contact with the elected official
· When it was made
· What the official said about his/her position
· How they rated on the scale of 1 to 5
Armed with this information, you will begin to get a feel for which arguments are working and which aren’t, and what objections need to be overcome.
Remember, the argument that you may feel is the most persuasive may not be the same one that they feel is the most persuasive. You have to meet them on their own terms.
Use the latest intelligence to your advantage.
The information you gather is only as good as the degree that you put it to use, so maintain close coordination with your coalition partners.
Since maintaining multiple lists will only breed confusion, one person should be designated to keep the master target list, (a “List Coordinator”).
All information should then be passed through them. In the thick of the fight, such as the days leading up to a crucial vote, the coordinator should be touching base with coalition partners on a regular basis. Most of them can’t be at city hall or the state capitol all the time, so pick a list coordinator who is close to the action, (such as a legislative staffer or even a legislator). Their job is to tell everyone else when to weigh in and who to target.
As General George Patton once said, “Information is like eggs; the fresher the better”. So when it comes to lobbying, the “fresher” your information, the better the odds that you’ll be successful.
- Keys to lobbying coalition success
- Good groundrules for lobbying groups
- Picking a leader for a group lobbying effort
You can find more great tips for effective grassroots activism in my Grassroots Training Series. Check it out!
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