Political Campaign Budget: Voter Contact Tactics for The Win

by Elena Veatch

Neon green sticky notes with words, "yes" and "no" on them to symbolize the importance of prioritizing when running a political campaign

Political Campaign Budget? Which Tactics Belong. 

You’ve decided you’re ready to run for office and now it’s time to budget for a winning political campaign—where to begin?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting a winning campaign strategy, there are a couple rules of thumb when it comes to building a budget with communications tactics that will set you up for election night elation (and of course, some broad fundamentals to keep in mind for running to win). Let’s dig into the thought process that will drive you toward the tactics that are right for you.

Doing the Math

First things first—70 percent of your political campaign budget should go toward direct voter contact, whether that’s mail, digital advertising, or another medium. That means office supplies, yard signs, and other expenses that aren’t related to communicating your message to voters should constitute no more than 30 percent of your overall budget. It doesn’t matter what size budget you’re working with—just make sure you’re getting the ratio right.

The tactics you employ within that 70 percent will depend on the larger lay of the land, but you can’t cut corners when it comes to engaging the folks who will decide your fate at the polls. Plan ahead and be conscious about exactly where your dollars go. Just as Seinfeld showed that you can’t get away with using “yada yada yada” to skip over the most important elements of a story, you can’t win a political campaign if you disregard the details of your budget.

Thinking Through Tactics

With 70 percent of your budget going toward direct voter contact of some kind, which tactics should you use to reach people? How many tactics should you budget for? Are there any tactics that every political campaign should use?

Generally, you should choose a primary and a secondary medium for your communications. The bulk of your voter contact budget should go into your primary medium, with your secondary medium serving as a complement. These mediums should work seamlessly together to get a clear and consistent message in front of voters to build support for your campaign.

For example, you might focus your resources on direct mail and put some supplementary dollars into digital advertising. Or, you may find that digital advertising is the most effective way to reach voters, with radio playing a supporting role. No matter the mix, make sure these tactics are well-integrated to amplify your message across mediums.

No tactic will work for every single political campaign. That said, you should think through the factors below in choosing the combination of voter contact tactics that make sense for your race.

Your vote goal should inform every aspect of the planning process, as the communications tactics you use will depend on: 1) how many votes you need to win, and 2) the methods that will be the most cost-efficient and effective in getting you those votes. At the end of the day, it’s all a balancing act in determining which methods will get you the most bang for your buck in reaching the right people with the right message a sufficient number of times.

Direct mail can be a great way to introduce yourself to voters and help them connect with your candidacy. If you’re running for county supervisor with a vote goal of 10,000, mail might be a great primary medium for you (as your budget will hopefully allow you to reach your full universe quite a few times via mail). However, if you’re in a race with a vote goal that’s much higher, it may be tougher to execute a robust mail plan that reaches your full target audience. In this case, think about utilizing digital advertising or TV as your primary medium.

Timing will also inform the tactics that make sense within your budget. Consider how many rounds at the polls you need to plan for—do you have to get through a competitive primary and a potential run-off, or can you expect smooth sailing into the general election? Which round of voting will be the most competitive? How long will the voting period last for each round?

If you’re running in a primary without a challenger, you won’t be spending much of your voter contact budget during this time. Maybe you’ll send an introductory mailer out or run a light digital advertising program, but you’ll want to think through which tactics will matter most in the general election and allocate your resources accordingly. Contrastingly, if the real competition is at the primary stage, this will be the time to make your mark through voter outreach. Direct mail paired with digital advertising could be a great way for you to establish a contrast with other candidates.

If your election has a vote-by-mail or early vote period, you’ll want to be strategic about when you start talking to voters. If you’re looking for flexibility and speed when it comes to your communications, digital advertising may be the way to go. You can go live with ads fairly quickly, plan your timeline around early vote or vote-by-mail periods, and swap out different creative units with ease to react to the changing landscape of your race.

Not every tactic will make sense to employ in every geographic area. If you’re a candidate running in a rural state legislative district where Internet access isn’t universal, think twice before you devote the bulk of your dollars to digital advertising. In this instance, you might consider sending mail in tandem with running radio ads on rural stations, for example.

Similarly, some tactics may just be more expensive than others in a given area. If you have to utilize these more expensive tactics to run a competitive campaign, budget accordingly. However, if you can run a strong campaign without doling out a ton of money to cover the high cost per point for TV spots in your area, for instance, opt for other mediums like digital video advertising that may get you the coverage you’re looking for at a lower cost.

What does your target audience look like, and what’s the best way to reach these individuals? If you’re looking to engage a younger audience, direct mail likely won’t be the right tactic for your political campaign. Digital advertising will likely make more sense here, potentially with an emphasis on serving video ads on streaming services like Hulu and devices with Internet access such as Roku and Apple TV. If your audience skews older, direct mail paired with a small digital ad buy may fit the bill. Be strategic about who you’re talking to and how they get their information. Just because another campaign relies on broadcast TV to get the word out doesn’t mean you need to do the same to reach the audience you’re after.
The Bottom Line

As a reminder, no matter which tactics you use, make sure you’re devoting 70 percent of your budget to communicating directly with voters. The outreach methods employed by your campaign should always be integrated in terms of message as well as look and feel.

If you have any questions, you can always reach out to our team for advice tailored to your political campaign!