How to Run for Office: Urban vs. Suburban vs. Rural
How your field plan will be different from all the rest
One-size-fits-all rarely ever actually fits. While this is usually said in the context of clothing and the wide variation in body type, this applies to campaigns too. Just like how each individual person has a different size and shape, campaigns are unique, influenced by several variables.
Urban races are run very differently than rural races, with suburban campaigns falling somewhere in between the two. While the basic structure of how to run a campaign stays the same, the tactics you use to contact voters vary depending on the type of district you live in. Basically, someone who is running for city council in San Francisco is going to run a very different campaign than someone running for the same office in Montana.
When you’re building your campaign plan, doing your research, and getting advice on how to run your campaign, you need to consider the context of your election. How does the advice you got over coffee with that former elected official compare to your election? (For advice on how to get a meeting like that, check out our blog on Networking and Rolodexing).
Here are some factors you ought to consider when comparing your campaign to past elections:
- the time in which the race was run
- the demographics of that region
- the political climate of that era
- the type of district the race took place and if it’s similar to yours
Even if you’re getting advice from a former elected official who ran in the same district you are for the position that you’re trying to get elected to, it’s possible that the region has evolved. Population shifts, redistricting, and a ton of other factors can influence a district, and it’s important to be cognizant of these kinds of changes.
Another thing to keep in mind is internet accessibility. I know that those of us who live in urban and (most) suburban areas take fast, reliable internet access for granted. While we can (usually) expect webpages with a ton of data to load quickly, this isn’t always the case for folks who live in rural areas. If you’re running in a rural area, be conscious of this factor when creating your campaign website and uploading content to social media. Consider how many photos you’ll be using, if you’ll be using a fancy website design, the length of videos you’ll include, and gifs you might use. Anything that can take a lot of data to load ought to be used minimally so that people can actually access your content.
Campaigns will find the most variation in their voter contact tactics. Here we’ll break down the differences in urban vs. rural methods to give you ideas for what’s best suited for your campaign.
- Canvass, canvass, canvass! Because your turf is so populated, it’s easy for you to knock door-to-door in just a couple of hours. There’s less travel time involved and more chances for you to make contact with voters.
- Because of densely populated areas, you can build your canvass packets to be bigger than they would be in a rural area (think 50–75 per packet).
- You can let people fly solo when they’re canvassing — volunteers don’t necessarily need to be in pairs and can cover more ground if they’re split up.
- Assign “building captains”: these are people who live in apartment buildings in your turf and can be in charge of canvassing the doors in that building.
- Phonebanking is a higher priority in rural districts. You’ll want to do this early so that you can clean up your contact lists and be sure that you have the doors to knock on that make traveling worth your time before you even start canvassing.
- Prioritize canvassing in target-dense precincts. Make sure you hit the areas that will benefit you the most so that you don’t waste your time traveling to areas that aren’t going to help you.
- A tactic you can use for canvassing is the ‘drive and knock’ method: have one person drive and navigate while the other gets out to knock on doors and contact voters.
- One thing to keep in mind: in many rural areas, people have never had their door knocked on by a candidate or volunteer. Be the campaign that gets to the doors that no one else does!
- Host house parties: an easy way to get face time with voters is by inviting them to events hosted by your campaign. This saves you or volunteers from going door-to-door and can help foster a sense of community around your campaign by having your supporters (potential or promised) under one roof.
- Decentralize your network: while this might be helpful for urban campaigns, it’s especially important in rural races. When you have a geographically large area to cover, you need people you can lean on for support. Having people that can help you organize canvassing, host events, etc. can make your campaign extremely effective. Having designated neighborhood teams with assigned captains helps you cover more ground.
- There isn’t specific advice for people running in suburban areas because usually those districts are a blend of urban and rural areas. Some suburban areas are more rural while others are more urban. We recommend that you take advice from both camps and create a plan that works best depending on how your area is set up.
Every campaign is different. While the basic structure for campaigning is applicable to every race, the difference in details is what will define your field plan. Be comprehensive and aware of how things will be unique for your race.
Tomorrow, we talk Finance Committees.