As part of our special issue on political marketing, Sridhar Moorthy wrote a piece explaining electoral strategy. This uses ideas from competition theory and analytical models — models based upon mathematical theory. (Empirical models are based upon observed data).
Moorthy starts with the observation that advertising spend does not necessarily deliver elections. Hillary Clinton’s team put considerable resources into the 2016 election but it did not turn out as she hoped. This all or nothing outcome is a peculiar feature of electoral strategy. Coke and Pepsi can both do well selling colas, between Clinton and Trump someone had to lose (and so have wasted the effort).
Yet electoral strategy is not completely different to commercial marketing strategies. Both worry about whether people participate in the market (vote for someone) and who they ‘buy’ from (who they vote for).
There are problems. Many have noted that messaging in politics can push facts beyond what seems reasonable. “Unlike the commercial sphere, however, political candidates are not bound by “truth-in-advertising” laws such as Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act which bans “unfair methods of competition” and “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Political messaging is effectively a free-for-all. Although factcheckers in the media exert some pressure toward truth-telling, legal remedies for falsehoods are virtually non-existent.” (Moorthy, 2019). When Facebook tries to be hands off in allowing political speech it isn’t clear anyone else will combat falsehoods.
Moorthy shows some analytical models of competition. He notes that uncertainty is a key factor of many models, which makes sense. Although better strategy/candidates will win more often it is impossible to make any firm promises about what will happen in an election. (Except perhaps that Jeremy Corbyn and his flunkies weren’t vote winners).
One challenge noted is the problem of firing up pre-disposed voters to vote, which, unfortunately could backfire and motivate supporters of the other side to turn out. Electoral strategy is complex; using the discipline of strategic thinking can help us get a better understanding.