Thursday, June 23, 2011

Winning Transit Elections, part 1

This week I've been attending the Center for Transportation Excellence conference on "Transit Initiatives and Communities". It's about best ways to fund transit, with emphasis on winning funding elections. There's a lot of good info, so I'm going to break it up into more than one post.

Confession time: I'm totally new to politics. Worse yet, I hate politics. But you've got to "do politics" to fund transit in a democracy, and I wouldn't want to be part of any other kind of government, goes!

You might be familiar with how elections are won or lost, but apparently there are important differences between electing candidates and passing funding proposals. We were fortunate to have at the conference not only consultants who specialize and have a lot of experience in transit funding campaigns, but also advocates and politicians who had worked on them. They shared their experiences of losing and winning, and were able to give us tips on what to do and what not to do.

I'll start with something that's probably well known to political activists, but was relatively new to me - and was presented in a very clear fashion. It's how you categorize voters by when they vote and how they vote.

How People Vote
    For Proposal Undecided Against
When they vote Always Educate + Enlist
Educate + Persuade
Sometimes Educate + GOTV
Educate + Persuade + GOTV

The critical point is who to talk to, and how. That's shown in the shading of the squares. The short version is this:

  • Educate everybody about what the transit plan is;
  • Persuade people who are undecided and get them to vote; (GOTV = Get Out The Vote)
  • Get all who support transit out to vote, especially if they only vote sometimes;
  • Don't try to persuade people who oppose transit or taxes - it doesn't work, and of course, don't try to get them to vote.

Presenting transit issues usually works much better in "off" elections - that is, elections that are not presidential or congressional contests. If you want to advertize (you probably do!), it's much less expensive in "off" election seasons. Fewer people come out and vote during "off" elections, and the ones who do are more likely to be in favor of transit. But if university students are a big part of your constituency, the election shouldn't be in August, when they're not in town! They usually vote enthusiastically for transit.

OK - enough for now. More later!

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