Ballot Measures | Go or No-Go Decisions

by The Campaign Workshop

Ballot measure decisions : Three paper airplanes flying in different directions. Two are black and one is neon yellow.

Ballot Measure:  Deciding To Go On the Ballot- Go Or No-Go

In today’s political climate of political partisanship and mistrust, constituents are turning to ballot measures process to bypass traditional government controls to pass legislation.

Take some of the most notable ballot measures of recent years:

  • Legalization of medical or recreational marijuana
  • Minimum wage increases
  • Abortion access and funding
  • Restrictions or limitations on taxes
  • Medicaid expansion

*If you’re interested in learning more about current ballot measures in your state, check out the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s  Ballot Measure cheat sheet 

Simply put, ballot measures take a lot of work. In addition to spending your dollars on raising awareness for your issue and persuading your target audience, you need to set aside the time to invest in crafting ballot measure language that resonates with your audience and a plan to secure enough votes to win.

The sheer amount of ballot measures across our country is growing. Trust us when we say that it’s important to do the initial prep work to determine whether your ballot measure has the power to stand out in a crowd of an amalgam of other issues and the potential to win.

If you’re deciding whether your issue should be a measure on the ballot ask yourself these questions:

How well does my ballot language test? The language used for your ballot measures can make the difference between a winning and losing campaign. Be meticulous about wording. For example, does your ballot measure say the word “tax” six times? If so, you’re in trouble. It’s important to keep in mind voters often skim their ballots. Thus, for those skimming the ballot, when they see “tax” over and over it might raise red flags that the ballot measure is in support of a tax raise. Be deliberate about what words you’re using on your ballot measure while also bearing in mind that people are skimming the ballot.

Is the language I am testing actually being used on the ballot? Many folks make the mistake of testing different language that never actually shows up on the actual ballot. This can be a fatal mistake. Even slight variations in ballot language can make a huge difference. When possible, be sure to test the actual ballot language as it will appear on the ballot. It’s okay to test different language related to your issue, but be sure that your polling actually informs and influences the final ballot measure language you end up using.

What is my “hard support” number? Many campaigns make the mistake of going on the ballot by looking at the total support number, which is a big mistake. The number of people who show “hard support” (strong, definite supporters) is very different than the number of people who show “soft support” (lean towards supporting). Your hard support total should be at least 55%. If you can demonstrate that you have a substantial number of “hard supporters” than put your ballot measure or referendum on the ballot.

What is my “soft support” number? The number of people who show “soft support” in many ballot measures is a reach goal. In theory, over the course of your ballot measure campaign, you would be able to persuade some of these voters to become hard “supporters.” However, the plan should not rely on soft supporters to win. Make sure you have the hard support numbers you need.

What is the history of the community where I am going on the ballot?  In some places, it is very difficult to pass certain measures, such as marijuana measures. If you are swimming upstream you are going to need favorable ballot language, good starting numbers, more money, and a really great coalition to give you a fighting chance.   

Is the political support there for my ballot measure issue? Politicians can be fickle, and so can voters. Just because a politician lets a ballot measure go to the ballot or someone signs a petition at a shopping mall does not mean they will support the measure on Election Day. It’s important to build relationships with people who have demonstrated support for your ballot measure throughout the election cycle. Perhaps serve them digital ads or ask them to pledge to vote via a piece of acquisition that you send them in the mail.

Do I need paid signature gathering? If you do, you’ll need to add this as a line item in your budget. Signature gathering can cost upwards of $3 a signature. It’s important to remember that even before running the actual ballot measure campaign, you might have to invest money in solely garnering support.

Do I have a real coalition? Money is important, but you also need real support for your measure. An active coalition will make all the difference. Start by thinking about who your base support groups could be, but don’t stop there. Think about the groups and individuals you truly want to have on your coalition that represent or speak to, perhaps, a new subset of your target audience. Create a strategy to get that support.

Do I have the money for a prolonged campaign? With some campaigns, you will get lucky and not have an organized opposition to fight against. If you are met with opposition, your costs will increase exponentially. In addition to getting your own messaging out into the public, you will have to invest in combating the opposition’s messaging. In the initial planning of your campaign, it’s important to take this into consideration. By getting like-minded individuals to commit money and time from the start, you can make sure you have the resources you need to win.

Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. It might be evident to you that the campaign isn’t winnable. Perhaps, your polling reveals that you don’t have a shot or you don’t have the hard support numbers you need to win. When in doubt, it’s always better to regroup than run a ballot measure or referendum campaign that is guaranteed to lose.

Need More resource on Ballot Measures? Check out our blog for political campaign tips.