Opposition Research for Advocacy Campaigns

 Opposition Research

Advocacy Opposition Research - Don't Skip It

Opposition research is an important component of any advocacy campaign’s messaging strategy. This research is more commonly associated with candidate campaigns— however, being able to articulate a contrast with the other side is equally important in the advocacy space. If you want to be successful in effecting policy change, you need a comprehensive understanding of the landscape you’re operating in as well as how people feel about your cause. So, where to begin?

Does My Advocacy Campaign Need Opposition Research?

If you’re running an advocacy campaign, you will likely need some form of  advocacy research to advance your goal. What that research strategy looks like and how much money you spend on it will depend on the size and nature of your advocacy campaign and overall goals.

Before you pin down a research plan, identify your campaign’s primary goal. Is your public health coalition aiming to pass a tobacco tax? Is your environmental group trying to get supporters to hold state legislators accountable for protecting rivers and streams from pollution?

Once you’ve identified your goal for the program at hand, you can figure out the tactics and develop a clear message that will help achieve that goal. To craft a message that resonates, you’ll want to understand the lay of the land in your environment by addressing some key questions:

  • How well known is the issue? 
  • Do folks have a defined opinion on the issue? 
  • How much support is there for your issue among the public?
  • How much opposition is there for your issue among the public?

•    Who is the opposition? (Think legislators, organizations, funders,  etc.)  What tactics do you expect your opposition to use to undermine your goal (grassroots, grass-tops organizing, paid media?)

How much money will they spend? what is the timing of the action? 


  • Who are your supporters? (Think legislators, organizations,  activists, community leaders etc.
  • How can you leverage this support? (Think resources like time, money, and people)

•    Why have previous efforts to advance this goal been unsuccessful?
•    How will your campaign frame its goal?
•    How will your campaign frame your opponent’s goal?
•    What will your opposition say about their goal?
•    What will your opposition say about your goal? 

Conducting opposition research can help you answer these questions and more to strengthen your overall campaign and messaging strategy.

What Are the Options for Advocacy Opposition Research?

The tactics you’ll use to conduct opposition research for your advocacy campaign will depend on your goal and your budget, but here are a couple of routes you may consider:

DYI Basic opposition research -  even the smallest advocacy campaign should do basic research on what the opposition is up to and what the coalition for or against an issue is.  Doing basic donor research, understanding what has been tried before and who cares about an issue matters - this basic research can done by volunteers.   

 Hire an opposition researcher if you are running an advocacy campaign against a well funded opponent or multiple special interests hiring a researcher can be a smart move.   a opposition researcher can help you  understand where funding and opposition support is coming from, what other endeavors the funders are connected to and what public statements they have made. 

Impact Analysis -  understanding the potential impact of the policy can help sway public opinion for against an issue. This kind of analysis can be done by a policy or topic expert- think economic or environmental impact analysis. 

Other Advocacy research: 

  • Self/Issue research - Understanding your issue and where it stand in the community and with elected officials and key opinion leaders  is important before your undertake a community advocacy campaign. Understand your strengths and weaknesses including your own funders, supporters and stake holders and how they are seen in your community. This research is as important as opposition research. 


  • Polling. Conducting a poll can help you test messages (both positive and negative) to gauge quantitative stats on how people feel about your cause. There are different types of surveys (tracking, IVR, benchmark, etc.) that can garner varying degrees of detail in responses across digital, phones, and other mediums. The type of poll that makes sense will depend on your goal. Costs will depend on the length of your survey, the number of people you want to survey (sample size), and the level of complexity required to execute the survey, among other factors.

Before you pay for a poll, make sure you talk to other organizations to see what data they’ve gleaned on the issue. If there are no recent or relevant polling data out there, polling resources with other groups in your community that want to achieve the same policy outcome is a great way to fund opposition research.

  • In Person Focus groups. To capture qualitative, in-depth data on how people feel about your issue, you may want to conduct a focus group. The COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person focus groups less feasible, but the time will hopefully come when you can safely gather 5–10 people in a room to get their thoughts on an issue. In-person focus groups are on the expensive side, with costs depending on the firm you hire, the issue area, the number of participants you’re recruiting, the location of the group, and the facility required to host the group, among other factors.


  • Online focus groups are a cost-efficient alternative to capture the nuances of people’s opinions. These groups function similarly to their in-person counterparts, but with greater flexibility in terms of timing. Depending on the online focus group structure, you can avoid the typical “group thinking” that often occurs when hosting in-person focus groups.


  • Online panels. Similar to online focus groups, online panels are a great tactic for testing creative and short messages. You can typically set this up so that there are several sessions across multiple days, lowering the bar for participation. This can be a cost-effective method to glean both quantitative and qualitative data for your campaign. 

Do you have more questions about opposition research for advocacy, ? Reach out to our team!

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