How to Succeed in Political Campaigns: 29 Surprising Marketing Trends

Craig Huey Current Events, Marketing Leave a Comment

Over the last 30 years of participating in the intersection of politics with advertising and marketing, one thing is clear to me:

Candidates and causes that implement the most advanced direct response advertising and marketing strategies and tactics are the winners.

It’s not about money.

Trump proved that. While Hillary spent $1.4 billion, Trump spent $957.6 million…and won.

When I first started off in the advertising world, it was in political fundraising and candidate marketing.

What I’ve learned now, versus best practices then, is a completely different landscape of tactics and strategies.

Dramatic new changes. Surprising new results.

While the tactics have changed, the basic principles are the same.


Because human nature – and the direct response marketing rules – don’t change.

The greatest game changing principle today is this powerful formula: Money + Data Collection + Message + Advanced Digital and Traditional Targeting + GOTV = Victory

Today’s political market has created new opportunities and choices.

The most advanced political direct response machine ever created was President Obama’s 2012 campaign. It transformed the way people marketed candidates.

But things change fast—very fast.

Hillary Clinton tried to improve on Obama’s radically excellent campaign—but was caught in the past—and with poor messaging, old data and old tactics.

Trump took what Obama did and used great messaging combined with super-targeted, advanced marketing…better than Clinton’s.

And in 2018, Democrat Socialists used strategic new marketing tactics to sweep the nation with a progressive “blue wave.”

For 2020, know this: Staying one step ahead is critical to winning.

For 2019-2020, there are 29 important trends – surprising to many – that impact the political world today. Here they are:

Trend #1: One strategic marketing formula for victory.

In 2018, radical Democrat Socialists swept the midterm elections in a “blue tsunami.”

They used this strategic formula to win:

Money + Data Collection + Message + Advanced Digital and Traditional Targeting + GOTV = Victory

This is a calculated approach to combine targeted data collection, powerful messaging and the most advanced digital strategies to produce results that are all tied to a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaign.

It doesn’t matter who is using the formula – This is an equation for certain success.

Trend #2: Multichannel, Integrated Marketing

Just as the integration of direct marketing data has had a huge impact on the success of marketing for commercial products and services, so it is with political advocacy and fundraising.

That means that for the same select group that you’re marketing to, you use a combination of direct mail, email, Facebook, Google, Amazon, pre-roll commercials and retargeting to the same names – all with a dedicated landing page. Right now, I’m doing multiple campaigns using this strategy.

Everything is targeted. Accountable. Scientific

Trend #3: Ballot Harvesting

Ballot harvesting allows one person to gather hundreds of ballots from potential voters and drop them off at the polls.

Ballot harvesting is legal in 27 states … some with no restrictions, like California. 18 states outlaw it.

It produces 6–12% higher voter turnout for a candidate – enough to win most elections.

It was also the strategy used widely by Democrats to win the midterm elections of 2018 in California and other states.

Ballot harvesting is a highly strategic method of GOTV (Get Out the Vote) … allowing paid workers and volunteers to drop off hundreds of ballots … without any sort of filtering process. No records are kept of who delivers the ballots. No audit “trail” exists.

In 2018, Democrat Socialists outmaneuvered and overwhelmed their opposition in the following ways:

  • They held potlucks and events to collect ballots.
  • They visited low-income housing projects and went door-to-door in massive organized efforts.
  • They engaged in a manipulative activity called “granny farming” – going to nursing homes and collecting ballots from the elderly.
  • And they used volunteer and paid workers to register and identify key potential voters. Then they tied it to a data-driven, door-to-door, Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaign.

And it was all tied to powerful marketing using the formula, Money + Data Collection + Message + Advanced Digital and Traditional Targeting + GOTV = Victory.

Ballot harvesting is sneaky … but it’s not voter fraud. It’s a clever and organized ground game, devised to increase voter turnout of voters unlikely to go to the polls themselves.

In the midterm elections of 2018, it helped Democrat Socialists win “unwinnable” seats by:

  1. Registering potential voters.
  2. Using advanced digital and targeted marketing to identify likely voters – creating a database.
  3. Organizing paid staff and volunteers to go door to door in highly targeted, data-driven GOTV.
  4. Picking up the ballots.
  5. Helping voters with voter guides, impacting the lower offices.

These ballots were brought in to the voter registration office by ballot “harvesters” who had used strategic data on voters to collect identifiable, friendly votes.

Here’s what one ballot harvester, caught on camera, said at the door of a potential voter. She had gone to this house multiple times. She did not want to talk to the parents of this target – an independent millennial. Here is what she said, looking for “Brandy”:

“I came here to pick up your ballot…We’re offering this new service, but only for people who are supporting the Democrat party…I’m just trying to pick up your ballot and show you how to do it if you don’t know.”

So…if the person wanted to vote for a Republican candidate, this ballot harvester wouldn’t take the ballot.

She even volunteered to show “how to fill out her ballot.”

Ballot harvesting was tremendously successful in areas where votes were critical in election outcomes – and helped leftist judges, candidates for Senate, Congress, Governor, state-wide and city offices and propositions to win.

Ultimately, it was one of the critical keys that helped Socialist Democrats win in the “blue tsunami.”

Trend #4: Church Ballot Harvesting

Church ballot harvesting takes ballot harvesting to the next level, by mobilizing pastors to educate evangelicals and born-again Christians, help them fill out their ballots, and turn them in.

Some fear their church could lose their tax exemption with this plan. But that’s false.

Since 1954, church ballot harvesting would have been illegal because of the Johnson Amendment.

Under the Johnson Amendment, pastors were forbidden to speak about politics from the pulpit, if they wanted to keep their non-profit status.

But President Trump took a stand for religious liberty and suspended the Johnson Amendment … giving pastors back their freedom of speech.

Church ballot harvesting is legal for pastors now – giving conservatives and Christians a massive opportunity to mobilize the evangelical vote (Note: Ask for our special report, Church Ballot Harvesting: A Guide to Transforming the Election of 2020 by emailing

Trend #5: Database Building

Building your database and coding it properly is one of the primary and starting functions of a strategic campaign. Any consultant who does not understand these basic fundamentals of winning an election is marketing as if they were in 1990.

Trend #6: Identify General Demographics

At the basic level, database building involves identifying the demographics of key voters.

This includes income, ethnicity and other data that will enhance the voter file, knowing the high propensity voters from the low propensity voters and their voting history.

Database building includes adding additional polling information from the field. It means keeping data constantly updated. It means searching for the new move-ins. It means tracking people who have moved within the district. It means growing an email list of people who are persuadable and another email list of those who are supporters. It should be broken down between contributors, volunteers and lawn signs.

Trend #7: Identify Donors

For fundraising, database building identifies high donors and low donors and what their issues are. But this identification isn’t basic; data collection should identify their belief systems on abortion, marriage, economics, minimum wage, social security, what their highest response buttons are.

This data collection can be done through the field, going door-to-door, recording the messages and translating the data. These can be done through a survey or a poll, petitions or a variety of other sources to be able to build a rich dynamic database.

Trend #8: Transactional Data Matrix (TDM)

I also use a tool called the Transactional Data Matrix (TDM) to help identify and target potential donors.

The TDM looks at actual purchases or transactional history, not just “likes,” “clicks” or search history.

Transactional data includes how much people have given to political causes and campaigns…helping us identify likely political donors.

Trend #9: Strategic Branding and Positioning

Your brand and positioning can’t appeal to everyone, only to targeted audiences. Trump positioned himself as a “Washington Outsider” and won the support of millions of Americans who wanted a candidate that would “tell it like it is” to Make America Great Again.

Remember Hillary’s branding and slogan?

Trend #10: Microtargeting Markets

Direct mail, email, satellite radio, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and pre-rolls can help target special niche markets. So can direct mail ads and other media.

During the 2016 election, Trump reached out to the evangelical vote in America…and received 81% of their votes. Clinton, however, ignored this powerful voting base and got only 16% of their votes.

In 2018, Democrat Socialists focused on getting votes from college students.

Democrat Socialist Tom Steyer’s organization “NextGen America” sent out 490,065 digital ads; knocked on 83,125 doors; sent 689,091 texts; and sent 1,673,680 direct mail pieces to target specific races and propositions in California.

By the end, Steyer spent $3.8 million to help register 28,766 young voters on college campuses across the country.

The result was 200,000 new voters in the mid-term election…significantly impacting election results.

Trend #11: Direct Response Copy

Use only direct response copy in all of your marketing efforts. Direct response copy directly addresses prospects with “you-oriented” copy that highlights the benefits of your political campaign.

Direct response copy will also highlight your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)—whatever sets you apart from other candidates. As described above, Trump’s USP was his positioning as a “Washington Outsider.” Or, look at Bernie Sanders: His main messaging is about medicare for all.

Trend #12: Direct Response Landing Page

A special landing page will be the foundation of your multichannel, integrated campaign. Drive all traffic back to your landing page, with clear messaging and a powerful call-to-action.

One of the biggest mistakes any candidate can make is drawing people to just the general candidate site. What’s needed are a landing page for each segment you are marketing to that matches up to their marketing media messages.

Trend #13: The Email Evolution

Email has changed. Less hard sell, more relationship building. As mentioned in Trend #1, our integrated approach will boost return by showing the mailing piece ready to be received.

The email below is a piece I created for one client that shows recipients the magalog they can expect to receive in the mail.

 But email is more than just mailing in an integrated way as mentioned in Trend #1. It should also be used where your goals and objectives are to build as large an email list with as much data in it as possible to raise funds or move people to your candidate.

 In 2016, Trump sent 10 million emails with a 23% open rate. Clinton sent only 2.1 million…with a 19% open rate.

 Trump’s most successful email was sent the day before election day…Clinton’s emails mostly included poll monitoring, asked for money and promoted GOTV (Get Out the Vote) to increase voter turnout.

 In business and consumer marketing, segmentation is critical to success. It’s even more so in politics. For candidates, you need at least to be able to know who your supporters are, who the persuadables are … and who is a waste of time, money and effort.

Auto responders make it easy to create a conversion series – a 4 to 12-part series to develop relationships, overcome objections and achieve your objectives.

Trend #14: Banner ads

Banner ads are digital ads that are an important part of any integrated, multichannel campaign. The same prospects who receive your emails, see your ads on social media and receive your direct mail, will see digital ads all over the internet. Banner ads are especially powerful when combined with retargeting, which will retarget prospects who have already visited your landing page.

Above is a banner ad I created for a political conference.

Trend #15: Facebook Basic

Engage. Motivate. Activate. Carry on a deeper conversation. And, with objectives well defined, fill your townhall, raise your money and create an army of volunteers. Facebook will help you identify the right prospects with a variety of easy-to-use tools. It was Trump’s #1 source.

In 2016, Trump had 20+ million followers, while Clinton only had 10 million followers.

Today, Trump has over 25 million followers, and Clinton has lost followers, at around 9.5 million followers.

Trend #16: Facebook Custom List Marketing

Facebook also has multiple ways of being able to leverage a campaign for specific targeting. For example, Democrat Socialists use Facebook custom lists to overwhelm elected officials, change policy by mobilizing support, and achieve success beyond its numbers because of the perception of overwhelming support or opposition.

To create a custom list, you feed select, microtargeted emails into Facebook. They identify the target group members’ Facebook pages so you can have separate messages for: donors, volunteers, media, persuadables, prospects, etc.

Trend #17: Look-alike Audiences

Building a look-alike audience is a powerful tool to expanding your prospect base. Look-alike audiences identify prospects who “look” and behave like your best prospects. They can be built on a variety of platforms, including:

  • Direct mail
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • AdRoll Prospecting
  • Bing
  • Pre-Roll
  • Private Companies

 Look-alike audiences are best created using transactional data—this will produce the most targeted, responsive audience.

Trend #18: Social Media with an Objective

It’s great to use Tumbler, Instagram and other social media. But only spend the ad money if you have an objective.

Trend #19:  Twitter

Twitter can be used to build a loyal following. I use it for multiple purposes – fundraising, recruiting, meetings and more.

Take a look at how Trump and Clinton measured up on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election—and now.

Trump: 51% positive mentions on Twitter during 2016 election; 24.8 million followers in 2016

Clinton: 51% negative mentions on Twitter during 2016 election; 13.2 million followers in 2016

Trump also had 2:1 more mentions than Clinton.

In 2019….

Trump: about 62 million followers

Clinton: about 26 million followers

Incidentally, I have two Twitter accounts for politics, Craig Huey (@CraigHuey) and Election Forum (@RealityAlert).

Trend #20: Envelope Direct Mail

In 2020, the candidates will use direct mail. Some will use it poorly. Some will use it well.

Envelopes today can be highly personalized so no one knows they were mass produced.

And tease envelopes still work very well. Use a letter, PS, value-added piece and pre-canceled stamps.

Here’s an example of an envelope I sent, with high-quality personalization of the address.


Trend #21: Bookalogs

A bookalog looks like a book and feels like a book. But it’s really a sales piece. It can be used for persuasion, to undercut an opponent, to persuade the persuadables and help rally the supporters. It can be used to raise funds. It can be used to generate volunteers. A bookalog has 14-point type and at least 110 pages broken into chapters. It appears to be a regular book, but it’s written with direct response copy, and it has powerful results.

It only takes me 6 weeks to write a powerful bookalog. All of a sudden, the candidate is now an author. All of a sudden, he has a persuasive, powerful tool that distinguishes him from the competition. Many candidates understand the principle, but books they write are pretty unreadable, without much purpose.

Trend #22: Magalogs

A magalog is an infomercial in print. It looks like a magazine, feels like a magazine. It too can be created for different audiences and different purposes. With the magalog, you’ll have 16-24 pages of copy, pictures, cartoons, graphs and charts to  make your case and stand out from the opposition. It can be used for fundraising and persuasion, either to the voters or to the supporters.

Here’s a magalog cover we created for an investment newsletter.

Magalog Cover

Trend #23: Videologs

A videolog combines the power of video with the power of direct mail. You open up an envelope and within it is a 4-page, thin letter. You open up the letter and the video will play; it can be 30 minutes, it can be 3 minutes, and it can be to any audience you want. Here is a link to explain full details about the videolog.

For high donor outreach, tools like the videolog are extremely powerful in treating high-end donors and supporters differently than anyone else.

Trend #24: Video

Video keeps changing and the opportunities to place videos in a variety of places keep changing.

Use video on your landing page, Facebook ads, and banner ads to increase your credibility and boost response.

Use direct response principles in your video. Video created in a PowerPoint format typically gets a high response.

Trend #25: Pre-Rolls

One of the best ways we use video are in pre-roll ads, the commercials before videos you may watch on YouTube for example. Pre-rolls get great response and can be used to retarget people who have visited your landing page.

Trend #26: Programmable TV

Programmable TV works just like Facebook or any other form of digital advertising, where you can target specific viewers with a custom list or look-alike audience.

You simply feed the data to a cable TV station, and they can run your specific ads in the homes of viewers.

It’s a powerful way to deliver messaging…right into the living rooms of your most likely voters.

Trend #27: Telephone Outreach

The telephone is still a powerful tool. That’s why today, landlines versus cellphone data is essential. In the past, candidates and sometimes causes relied upon robo-calls. Robo-calls have a limited amount of benefit to the candidate or fund-raising campaign and certainly should be a tool to be tested.

Probably more dynamic today is the telephone townhall. A telephone townhall for raising funds, motivating volunteers, talking to the persuadables or talking to your support base is powerful. It’s easier to do and has more listeners than a webinar.

Many in Congress under-utilize it today and very few campaigns utilize it. What happens is that every household that provides a telephone number gets a phone call. Those who answer are immediately placed into a live conference. Those who don’t answer receive a well-prepared, recorded message.

Trend #28: Texting

Texting can be a powerful direct response marketing tool to reach out to your audience and get amazing response. Trump’s text messages received an amazing 99% open rate, 87% within 3 minutes during the 2016 election.

Here is one I sent for a speaking event:

It’s Craig Huey. Don’t forget my talk. Make California Great Again/El Segundo Public Library, Mon. 7 PM. See details.

Trump’s texting campaign was superior to Clinton’s campaign in that it was fast (Text Trump to a shortcode vs. Text to a phone number), immediate (Immediate text upon sign-up vs. emails – text to phone #’s), and aggressive (Texted 3 times a week vs. once a week or every other week).

Trend #29: Geotargeting

Geotargeting is a radical new marketing strategy that allows you to strategically target prospects based on their physical location.

It could totally change the game for political marketing, as it allows you to identify people based on event attendance. For example, a political candidate could send their targeted messaging straight to the phones of people who had attended a rally, a church or another event that would identify them as likely voters.

For one political campaign, we “fenced” 74 different Evangelical churches in the candidate’s district and gathered 94,000 mobile IDs – building a large database in a short amount of time. In the end, we collected the contact information of 10,000 highly motivated voters who were also considered “low propensity” voters.

We also gathered….

  • Over 10,000 petition signers
  • Over 100,000 landing page visitors
  • 942,000 ad impressions
  • And 288,000 video views

We spent $21,000 on geofencing – and got extraordinary results.

To win an election:

  • Integrated marketing works
  • Digital ads with a ground game are critical
  • Principles and conviction win over political positioning

Where are billboards? A waste. AM/FM radio? A waste. Each of these might be justified with significant niche marketing (like Christian radio) in a broad market.

But the key is:

  1. Build the data base and market to it aggressively.
  2. Use only targeted, accountable marketing—don’t waste finite research.
  3. Combine the data with an aggressive, integrated campaign, like The GOTV (Get Out the Vote) campaign.

Bottom line: Use the formula Money + Data Collection + Message + Advanced Digital and Traditional Targeting + GOTV = Victory.

These are some of the latest and greatest media trends impacting the political world.

To see how these trends work in action, look at this amazing case study of how we helped a no-name political outsider get amazing traction in the Congressional race.

Combine these with a powerful field operation and you have a powerful, almost unfair, advantage over others. If I can help you implement any of these, let me know.

What do you think? Email me at

Here are the rest of this week’s articles:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.