Different Party, Different Tactic
It might be an off year for big elections, but political fundraising never takes a hiatus. You can be sure that even with almost two years left in the current presidential administration, copywriters around the country, from every political party, are gearing up for the next big push.
Well-known political direct-mail strategist Hal Malchow recently spoke with FundRaising Success about raising money for political campaigns and how to connect with political donors. Malchow also is an author and president of Washington, D.C.-based communications firm MSHC Partners Inc.
FundRaising Success: Do potential political donors respond better to mail with a negative spin (bashing the opponent) or a positive one (celebrating the candidate)?
Hal Malchow: It varies by party. Mail for Republican candidates and Republican Party mail tends to be negative. I have almost never seen a reply card in a Republican mailing without the word “liberal Democrats.” On the whole, positive mail performs better for Democrats. There are exceptions. During the 2004 presidential elections, a very negative mailing about George W. Bush was the top performer of the year. But, generally, Democratic donors respond better to positive messaging.
Some of this pattern arises from the different directions from which these donors approach government and politics. Republicans become Republicans because they believe government is too big and people need to be protected from the government — which is an essentially negative view of government. Therefore, Republicans need to be reminded of the threat that Democratic politicians pose.
Many Democrats are Democrats because they believe government can and should do good things to advance opportunity and help people in need. That is a more positive vision. Democrats like to know what their candidates want to accomplish.
FS: Is there a happy medium? Or would a more balanced approach not have enough impact either way?
HM: Generally, the best strategy is driven by the personalities and the issues that are at play in politics at the time. Negative mail worked better for Democrats in 2004 because the dislike of George W. Bush was more prominent in the donors’ minds than a love for John Kerry. For either party, positive or negative can work. Or, a happy medium might be the best strategy. It depends on what’s on the minds of the donors. If they are really angry, negative mail works better. If they’re finding inspiration from a candidate, the positive mail works better. Sometimes a mix is the right strategy.