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Ballot Initiatives 101

1/16/2015
Experienced campaigners will recognize the process. But there are differences in running a ballot issue campaign rather than a campaign for a candidate. For certain, candidate behavior isn’t a concern, though actions taken and comments uttered by pro- and opponents can make a big difference. But issue campaigns don’t have to deal with candidate personality.

Or, do they?

There’s this thing called “ballot language.” It will make or break the issue. Plus, it is often out of your hands, as actual ballot language usually synopsizes the text, crafted by the state’s A.G.’s office.  In a candidate campaign, voters see only name when making a choice. Not so in an ballot initiative. We’ll tackle ballot initiative language in a later post.

Otherwise the process is familiar. For proponents, having properly focus-grouped the legislation’s language, the next step is determining whether or not “this dog will hunt.” On both sides, teams must speculate on the pros and cons and expose the measure to likely voters through research. Consider your research project to be a microcosm of the upcoming campaign itself.

For money reasons, you may be tempted to skip this phase. Don’t.

Test approximated ballot language, then present arguments for and against, followed by a second ask of support. In a perfect world (which arguably doesn’t exist, though it has happened) the research output should mirror final campaign results.

Results in hand, if it looks doable (or beatable) hit the streets for money. But be realistic about how much it’s going to take. An experienced ballot issue campaign consultant will be able to translate your research into dollars.


Keep your messaging on track with arguments proven through your research if you can, unless dialog takes an untested course. If it does, and you have the resources, test the new dialog to find out what’s going on. Robos can help guide you at this point (but not before.)

The biggest variable in your media campaign will be the strength of your creative. Although most are driven to tell the story and stick to the facts in their media, but for highly-charged and publicized issues people just don’t care about you (sorry). Whether charged or not, voter decisions will be more emotional than logical, so get used to it. Additionally, you'll need to at the same time motivate voters away from your opponent and toward your position. These tactics differ and require appropriate creative.

Be prepared to match or exceed your opponent in media spend according to the leverage your research has suggested your arguments carry against your opponents.


Good luck!