Election Day is finally behind you. All votes have been cast, victories have been celebrated and defeats have been mourned. Whatever the case for the Green Party, the campaign is not over. It never is.
Preparing the next campaign
Regardless of the results on Election Day, you need to start focusing on the next elections as soon as you’ve caught up on that sleep you’ve been craving for.
The first step in preparing your new campaign is making an honest and thorough evaluation of the one that just ended, thus enabling yourself to clearly identify your strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you also talk to journalists who covered the campaign and with academics that have a more distant look at what you’ve done. They will point you to flaws or successes in your strategy and communication that you yourself might not see.
Thanking your supporters
The most important thing to do after an election is oft forgotten: thanking your supporters. Use your campaign machine to send out thank you notes as soon as the votes are in. Mail, text messages, Facebook and Twitter posts, for the occasion banners on your campaign posters… any way is good to let your voters know you are grateful for their support. Even when that support is smaller than you expected. Let your base know from day one that you will not let them down and will continue the fight for a greener society.
You should also thank the hundreds or thousands of hard working staff and volunteers who made your campaign possible. Be generous and throw them a special party after the elections. You know they earned it.
Keep your members involved.
Many parties tend to fall back into business as usual after election, concentrating on the work in parliament or government. While this is of course extremely important, it also puts a lot of weight on your party structure. For parties with a smaller staff, this behaviour tends to limit the internal democratic process thus risking alienating your members.
A party can’t just put their members’ political engagement in the freezer and re-use them in the next campaign. If the party doesn’t give them an engaging platform for their political energy, they will seek to use that energy elsewhere, e.g. in civil society organisations. Regaining their enthusiasm, confidence and involvement might be much harder than you thought. Successful parties are therefore organisations that work the whole year around on a variety of issues.
During the campaign, you collected a lot of information on issues that are important for your potential voters. Some of these issues became the building blocs of your campaign. It is of course very important to keep working on these issues. But you should also explore new topics.
The data your party collected during the campaign, e.g. through a door-to-door survey, is a very valuable source of information to keep your members occupied. Look at issues that other parties neglect to help broaden your base. This will help you to get in touch with new potential voters. It will also help you as a party to build political credibility outside your core topics. Develop small campaigns around these topics to keep your campaign machine well oiled. It will give you a clear advantage on your political opponents.
Working on issues identified in the campaign is not to only thing you can do, though. The calmer period of a non-election year should also be used to do new research around both your key issues and new issues. A political party cannot keep running on the same promises and proposals. They will start to seem old to the electorate, thus giving your potential voters the impression that your party is no longer political relevant and up-to-date with current day’s questions. Ask your members for their input in updating your platform.
While identifying new issues, be aware of a common mistake to only identify negative issues. Although it’s often easier to gather support against an issue rather than in favour of a policy, your party might be conceived as negative and naysayer if you focus too much on what goes wrong. This negative perception will work against you in the next electoral campaign and will make you vulnerable for critique once you yourself are in power.
Finding a good balance between updating your core issues and exploring new topics will help you strengthen your base and attract new potential voters. This cannot be done by the party headquarters or your elected officials alone. Your members and supporters are vital for success.
Adapt your party to the new reality
Whatever the result of the elections, you are working in a new political reality. As a party you will have to deal with your defeat, victory or status quo. But you will also have to deal with the results of the other parties. After all, you are not working in a political vacuum.
The first thing you’ll have to do, is to evaluate your internal communication structure and your decision making process. It may have become too heavy after losing the elections or too rigid after a big win. Adapting your party structures to this new reality will avoid frustration between staff, elected officials and members.
But you’ll also have to adapt to the external reality. As the political landscape has shifted, so will your political action. A party that continues to work with the same political attitude as before the elections – especially after a major political shift – will likely be seen as political irrelevant, thus losing a lot of its support. Your party will need to find a new balance on the political scale, without betraying its core principles.
Finally, start planning again
So you have some years before you need to run again (if you don’t have any elections on another governmental level). That does not mean that you shouldn’t start planning right now. The easiest way to improve your election result is to start earlier. Make a four (or five) year plan from the past elections until the next. You can already schedule time for all these mini-campaigns we’ve talked about in this chapter. Use your time to organise fundraising events, to train your (new) members on campaign techniques and to strengthen your internal and external communication. Look at the world around you and learn from other campaigns, but don’t try to imitate them. And most of all make sure to have some fun while doing all this.
By Wim Borremans, long-time Green activist and former campaign manager with the Belgian Dutch-speaking Green Party Groen