Political Campaigns-- Something Needs to Change

OK, time to slip into Cranky Old Guy Mode, but someone needs to say this:

It is bad enough that my mailbox fills up with expensively printed glossy pieces of political propaganda, bad enough that radio and television airwaves are unsafe during this time of year if you want to avoid exposure to political posturing and attacking, bad enough that unwanted visitors knock on my door to spread the word of their candidate or cause, and I really hate the phone calls. Even my email isn't safe. 

This isn't educational. It isn't informative. It's advertising a product, and after awhile it becomes nagging and/or harassment.

But what I really can't stand are the volunteers who stand on busy street corners, holding signs and waving and smiling. It's wrong I tell you, wrong! Couldn't this activity be considered a threat to public safety? It is hard enough paying attention to driving hazards without this distraction.

Something is wrong with the way we select our elected public servants. It's degrading for both  candidates and voters.

OK, I know JT will say, "stevenl is always in Cranky Old Guy Mode," what's the difference?

The end.


What do you suggest?

Before this post turns into a long complaint about how things are done now, I'll ask:

What would be better? How, exactly, should political campaigns change?

Any suggestion needs to meet several criteria:

1. They must allow for full freedom of expression.

2. They must not depend on candidates voluntarily doing something that might put them at a disadvantage against other candidates.

3. They must not require all the voters to suddenly want to pay lots of attention to the candidates and campaigns.


Good questions Matt

The fact is that mailings, GOTV, and other campaign tactics work. They work because they deliver votes. I'm not sure campaigns will change until the voters they are trying to sway change. Here's a few suggestions:

  1. Well attended candidate forums. Every neighborhood association should sponsor a forum that might run 1/2 debate, 1/2 questions from the floor.
  2. Get involved with the political party of your choice. Thurston County Dems and Repubs meet monthly. Greens meet less often but they do meet regularly. Other parties meet according to their preference. These meetings are open to all. Each Dem and Repub meeting has a section called 'For the good of the order.' This is opportunity to ask questions.
  3. All campaigns have a web presence. Use their contact information to find out more about the candidate. Volunteer for the campaign that moves you the most.
  4. Contact campaigns and let them know what works and what doesn't for you. Any smart candidate and their managers will take that info under consideration.
  5. In local campaigns the vote totals are between 10 to 40 thousand votes with winning margins being 5% to 15% of that total. This means any motivated activist has the possibility to make the difference between winning and losing.
  6. Give money, but more importantly, raise money for the candidate you like. As I've written before $500.00 to 1,000.00 at the right moment can make all the difference. A grand is 10 people giving $100.00, 20 people giving $50.00, 50 people giving $20.00 etc.. A good campaign manager can help you with the details of how to do this.
  7. Public funding of campaigns. This proposition seems to be dead in the water this year but the law that allows this will be on the books for the foreseeable future.
  8. Get involved with organizations that represent your beliefs long before campaign season. This will allow you to shape the debate come election season.
Changing the campaign environment, at least on a local level, is a lot more possible than than most people realize. Get involved. It's not hard, it is fun, and if nothing else it gives you a ticket to the best party on Earth, an election night party. Thanks for reading my opinions. Laurian

Regarding public funding of campaigns

The Olympia public campaign funding proposal will not be on the ballot this November. But the city council is discussing it in committee, the organizers are recruiting supporters, and it could be on the ballot in the spring, to take effect in time to be used in the November 2009 council elections.

Back to the main point of this thread, while public campaign funding has lots of benefits, it won't change the glossy mailings and the ads and the people waving signs on street corners.

when I run for office (which will never happen)

In the fantasy world of me as candidate, I won't doorbell, I'll spend just a little on mailers (non-glossy and specific to neighborhoods, I loved Rhenda's last year), and I'll sit around and wait for people to talk to me.

I have this idea for reverse door-belling. It would be a  candidate sitting around a park, a parking lot, or anywhere you could freely sit and wait for people to come up to you. They'd have a sign or t-shirt ("I'm running for x, have any questions?") and the candidate would let anyone who comes by have five minutes or so. If someone wanted to chat longer, they'd be invited to do so over email or the super bad-ass blog the candidate would have.

Although I've never seen anyone do this, I think it would accomplish the same purpose as doorbelling, but it would be less invasive. And, depending on where and when you sit, you could end up getting a lot of the people that could vote for you. 

reverse door belling

Such a great idea! Have you considered running for office? You know what they say: "never say never". :)


How about this. One week before an election, no political advertising. Get it all out then give the voters a chance to make up their minds without hearing last minute attack ads.

I've heard they do this in France. 


runs contrary to Matthew's condition #1.

So Frustrating

I spent 15 or 20 minutes this morning writing a comment for this, and whoosh, it has apparently disappeared into the ether. How frustrating!

Anyway, it was full of information about various ways to improve political campaigns. Namely two great ways - one is Instant Runoff (or 'Preferential') Voting (IRV) where voters are able to rank their choices, 1, 2, 3, etc. - NO MORE LESSER OF TWO EVILS, because you can rank the evils down the list. The Olympia Food Coop uses this system for matters that members vote on.

Another interesting possibility is public campaign financing. This would get rid of the inordinate influence that those with the most money (and interest) have on politics, and political campaigns. In Olympia, we have Oly Voter Owned Elections. They meet regularly, information can be found on OlyBlog. There is also Washington Clean Elections - a state group organizing for public campaigns.

Yeah yeah, check 'em out.

You often only get

Campaign 2.0

Think for a minute about a source of campaign info that didn't get stevenl's goat, the voter's pamphlet. Essentially, it's a facebook. How about one that instead of giving us a couple of paragraphs of only text and a headshot, is online and gives us links to videos, podcasts, pictures, text and more from the candidates themselves. There could be links to endorsements, contributors, PDC records etc.

This wouldn't be public financing of campaigns but it would place the government in the position of being a rich source of primary campaign info that could possibly equal or surpass what Steve mentions.

I was born in the year of the Goat

I like what you suggest, CIAGuy.

I also like the idea of a public space devoted to a public speaking soapbox. Sort of like TCTV only live.  

Also, thanks to MG for giving this Cranky Old Guy thread a positive spin. It is always easier and lazier to attack than to propose.  

wonderful idea

This is a great idea, information in a variety of forms to look over at our leisure. 24/7, we could contrast and compare candidates, learn as we go along, and definitely this could get more folks involved.

I like this idea.

In my experience running campaigns, I found that the voter's pamphlet statement is crucial to the candidate, because it goes to every voter and it has the clout of an official non-glossy government publication (even while the candidates, not the government, write the statements -- which is good of course). Enriching this information, much like some websites try to do by collecting statements and voting records and such (see www.votingforjudges.org and www.votesmart.org), can only be good for voters.

That said, this kind of information is more powerful in smaller, quieter elections. Multi-million dollar campaigns can drown it out.

Vote Early

Although this is hardly a solution to the current electoral strategies that stevenl sees as "nagging and/or harassment," it's worth noting:

Political campaigns know when you've turned in your ballot.  (The fact that you voted is public record - who you voted for is always secret.)

If you vote early (ie: as soon as you get your ballot) they will stop calling you, sending glossy mail, and knocking on your door during the three weeks of voting.

The nagging is a campaign's way of reminding you to vote.  Why do they think that's necessary?  Because so many people really do forget.

If they forget

to vote does that mean they don't care? And if so, what does that say about our system of selecting public servants if they have to be prodded to the ballot by commercial-type advertising?  

Personally, I like the vote early philosophy. It leaves the voter less vulnerable to last minute smear jobs. 




No. I don't think that

No. I don't think that forgetting means that someone doesn't care. It just means that they forgot. People live busy lives. Kids, work, family, and health problems can all push activities like voting to the back-burner. For some of us, politics is a top priority. For some people, it's a necessary chore. Either way: vote early and you won't be pestered (as much.)

A suggestion

One method I like to use when deciding on a candidate is to ask them a question directly through email.

Out here in Grays Harbor County we have a County Commissioner race with seven people in the primary. I didn't know very much about most of them. So I picked a local issue I care deeply about and posed a question to all of them in the same email. The query had to be fashioned in such a way that it was not rhetorical nor give away my own leaning on the issue, as I wanted an honest answer.

The results were very illuminating. They all answered at very different speeds. I learned who made assumptions and generalizations, who knew how to spell and write, who was cautious, who was critical minded, who was pandering, who was ambitious.

None of them really came close to my side of the issue, but I did come away with a feeling of who I wanted to vote for.  I would not have been able to make this decision if I was forced to rely on ads in the mail, phone calls, door-to-door volunteers, sings in yards, etc.

I used this method in 2004 as well, even for statewide races. Dino Rossi was the only statewide candidate who never answered me. Everyone else took the time to address my questions. Bill Eickmeyer, my local (and lame duck) House Rep, not only sent me an eloquent and highly personal answer, but I saw him come and quietly visit the site I was concerned about with no fanfare. He never knew I observed him. I was impressed.

One disadvantage to this method-- you get on the email lists of certain candidates forever. One person I have never voted for still sends me her campaign updates 4 years later.

Even so, contacting the candidates directly is my suggestion. Democracy, after all, is a responsibility. If enough of us do this, maybe the people who are running won't have time to litter our lives with all the campaign junk. 

that would be an awesome feature to a blog

Ahem. Why isn't there an McCleary Blog yet anyway?

Why No McCleary Blog?

The world isn't ready yet.