Tips for winning a runoff election

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

Tips for winning a runoff election

Win Your Runoff Election with our Tips

After a hard-fought election, your campaign made it into the runoff election. Depending on election law, these runoff elections could be held weeks or months after the original election. You know the type of voter who turns out for a runoff is unique from other types of voters, so how do you effectively communicate your message and make sure you win in the runoff election? Regardless of if you were the top vote getter or came in second place, below are a few tips on winning your runoff election:

Target people who voted in the first election

The best indicator of if someone will vote in a runoff is if they voted in the original election that preceded the runoff. While you may have targeted people who voted in 2 of 3 primaries for the first election, the best targets for the runoff will be people who voted in the election that preceded it. This is not to say that you can’t expand the universe if budget allows, but these voters should at least be a part of your total communication universe.

Know under/over votes

You see that 20k people voted in your specific race in the original election. You then go into your campaign voter file and see that the total voters in your district were actually 25k. How could this be? The reason is undervotes and overvotes. Undervotes are people in your district who came out to vote, but didn't vote in all the races. Most of the time, these people didn’t know enough about races further down the ballot to make a selection. Overvotes are voters who marked multiple candidates in the race in which they needed to make a single selection. Undervotes and overvotes are a great target for your runoff campaign, because if they didn’t know enough about you the first election, or they made a mistake by voting for you and the third candidate who didn’t make the runoff, they should be included in your communication universe this time around.  

Communicate to voters that there IS a runoff

When communicating around a runoff election, it’s important that you start off by telling voters that there IS a runoff in the first place. Most voters are not as plugged into politics that you are. It also doesn’t help that most runoff elections are held on random Tuesdays that can switch all the time. When communicating with voters around the runoff, make sure you communicate the fact that there is a runoff election and what date that will be held on.

Target vote by mail/absentee voters

In some districts, if you registered to vote by mail or absentee in the first election, you’ll automatically get a ballot for the runoff election. Make sure you know the rules around vote by mail/absentee voting in the runoff election and, if resources allow, follow each ballot with a chase piece that reminds voters about your core messaging.

Get the endorsement of the third place finisher

It’s true that endorsements can be over relied on by many campaigns. That said, if there is one endorsement that couldn’t hurt, it would be the endorsement from the third candidate who didn’t make the runoff. And if, for whatever reason, you can’t get this person’s endorsement, its important to at least think of the type of person who would have supported the third place candidate and that you’re doing specific outreach to this group of people.

Don’t stop knocking on doors!

After you win a runoff, its more important than ever to hit the doors and communicate face-to-face with voters. Sure, the day after Election Day, give yourself one day off to rest, but you should be right back out on the doors the next day, talking with people who voted in the original election about how you’re the best choice in the runoff election.

If you weren’t the top vote getter, you’re not sunk

So you came in second in the original election. This is no reason to give up in the runoff election. The people who turn out for runoff election tend to be the real hard-core voters. And luckily, these are just the type of people who really value face-to-face political discussions and love to dig in on the issues. If you weren’t the top vote getter in the original election, make sure you’re hitting the doors twice as hard and talking with voters.

Fire up your base for fundraising

It’s well known that instilling a sense or urgency or a deadline is a fundraising best practices. That’s why fundraising for a runoff is great, because there’s never a higher sense of urgency than a runoff election. Make sure you are re-soliciting your past donors and telling them that you need their help, now more than ever, to cross the finish line for the runoff.  If they’ve already made an investment in your campaign and you’ve proven your viability by getting into a runoff, there’s a great and strait-forward argument to be made to potential funders.


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