Know your Competition

Assessing your Competitors

Before jumping in any pool, it’s often advisable to stick your toe in and test the waters; maybe take a quick look to see how deep it is before you jump in head first. In the same vein, before making your decision to jump into a municipal race, it’s important to first assess who you might be racing against. The looming question is: “How many votes will I need to win?”

Many experienced political minds spend much of their time trying to guess who will enter into each race. This is for good reason – big name candidates have the potential to dramatically change the landscape. The voting pool is essentially a pie, as there are only so many electors to draw from. Someone with a lot of name recognition will often pull votes from those with less recognition, so it has an impact.

As we come closer to an election date, the candidates will register, and it’s simply a matter of checking with City Hall to find out who has entered. However, many “big-name” candidates will not register until much later in the nomination period so that they have the time to assess their challengers, to achieve an element of surprise, and to time a “splash” entry. If you are a challenger and are comparatively lesser known, you will likely need to start early in order to get your name known amongst the local electorate.

Early in the race, it’s a matter of simply putting your “ear to the ground” and assessing what you hear in the community. Depending on the size of your municipality, sometimes you will notice familiar faces appearing at the same community events. Your fellow potential candidates might take up certain causes in the community to get more publically recognized.

Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to predict who will jump in a race and more often than not rumours are just that, rumours. So without knowing for certain whom your opponents might be, how can we size up the challenge before us? If we don’t know specifically who our challengers are, the next best thing is to look to the past.

By taking a look at previous municipal elections within our respective communities, we can analyze in a rough order of magnitude the task ahead of us. It will help determine what kind of goal we need to set for ourselves in order to win. Essentially, it’s about figuring out how many votes you will need to win.

By visiting your local town hall, either in person, or online, you will be able to get past results for your ward or city-wide race. When examining previous results, there are three very important elements to focus on: How many votes it took the incumbent to win, how many votes were cast in total, and how many candidates were in the race. These three things will be major drivers in determining your chances of winning.

Take for example one randomly picked – Council Race for Ward 6 in Burlington in 2010

Candidate 1           2,574    43%
Candidate 2           2,449    41%
Candidate 3              575    10%
Candidate 4              248      4%
Candidate 5              176      3%

Now, in the next race the names will change, and maybe the number of candidates will be different, but one simple approach is to set your target vote to 2,600 votes to win. You know it took roughly that amount for the incumbent to win last time. So, setting your target to 2,600 votes, and building your campaign around that would be a safe bet. Seem daunting?

Of course, if the incumbent and the runner-up entered the race, and your campaign posed a formidable challenge (as it should), this would change the dynamics of the race significantly. So, using a simple excel spreadsheet, we could see how the dynamics might change in this hypothetical scenario.

Assuming a few things – like the incumbent will run again, you will influence a change in voting selection among the top two candidates in your favour, and there is a slightly higher turnout (from population growth and greater attention garnered from your entry into the race), it might look something like this:

You                    2,100      30%
Candidate1         2,050      29%
Candidate2         1,980      28%
Candidate3             900     13%

So, in this case, we can slightly adjust our target vote count to be 2,100. You can see this doesn’t greatly alter the challenge at hand significantly. Any way you cut it the challenge (in this particular race) comes down to you getting more than 2,000 people to come out on Election Day and mark the box beside your name.

Everything else we do in a campaign is really centered on that one goal, and by formulating a target vote count, it starts to become more science than art. How will I find 2,000 people to come and vote for me?

Again this is just one scenario for this particular race – and we are writing this with no knowledge of the dynamics at play in this particular race – will this incumbent run again? Was he/she effective as a councillor, and did he/she remain popular among electors? How do your credentials stack up against the incumbent? Is there another well known challenger ready to enter the race?

It is easy to see why so many very knowledgeable candidates work so hard to run in races where no incumbent is going to run – where they may have retired or moved on for greener pastures. In the absence of such an advantageous situation, it is important to remember the following: Every vote counts, and any method you can use to divine the number of votes you will need to win can only serve to crystalize your objectives and solidify your chances of victory.

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