IFAS | Freedom Writer | July 1996 | guide.html

A CTIVIST G UIDE
Campaign strategies

QUESTIONNAIRES

If you receive questionnaires from antichoice organizations or those which include opposition to abortion on their agenda, try to send a written response, so you cannot be accused of failing to answer or have answers made up for you by people who oppose you. Anti-choice groups like the Christian Coalition use questionnaires to produce slanted, damaging voters' guides. In many instances, such groups have filled in the questions with their assessment of what the pro-choice candidate would have said if he or she had responded to the questionnaire.

Be aware that an answer to any specific question that does not agree exactly with the group's position may be distorted, or that the question itself may be hopelessly slanted. Thus, the best solution is probably a letter stating that since the format of the questionnaire does not enable you to answer the questions fully, you have enclosed your basic position statement.

NEGATIVE ADVERTISING

A few extremist candidates attack their opponents for being pro-choice in television advertising by using deliberately offensive pictures, claiming to show the results of abortion. No candidate using this kind of advertising has received any significant vote, but it is possible that these ads will reappear in 1996. If one does show up in your area, respond by strongly stating your pro-choice position. Try to avoid any action which only calls more attention to material that many people find offensive. If asked about such advertising, calmly repeat your own pro-choice position. Let other voters and pro-choice activists and leaders speak out and criticize the ad.

Other more subtle forms of negative advertising may distort your position on certain forms of restrictions. If you have any reason to expect this or any form of antiabortion organizational activity, be sure that political reporters have information about these groups and their extreme positions.

Be alert for evidence that outside groups have initiated and/or paid for negative attacks. Monitor campaign contribution reports for such spending. Voters do not like to think that outsiders are coming into their community just to attack.

LEAFLETTING

A common tactic by some antiabortion groups is to distribute very negative, emotionally charged leaflets just before election day, especially in church parking lots. Be prepared and expect leafletting in your race.

Alert the press formally or informally, to let them know what may be happening. Talk with church boards and ministers. Ask them not to allow their church to be used in this way.

Prepare your own attractive, attention-getting flyers for distribution by your campaign in the same or similar locations, which correct any misinformation and/or state your support for positions endorsed by religious groups on a variety of issues.

The use of anonymous, negative leaflets to smear pro-choice candidates may be even more of a problem in the 1996 campaigns, because the Supreme Court recently decided that groups distributing such leaflets do not have to identify themselves by name on the leaflet.

DIRECT MAIL

Targeted direct mail is dangerous because it can deliver a negative message against you without giving you any opportunity to respond. Your campaign should stay alert to evidence of negative mail; it is useful to have some of your supporters on mailing lists to receive mail that is going out.

If you expect mail to be used against you, your campaign plan may include provision for your own direct mail program. Consider whether this effort should respond to your opponents mail or take the initiative on issues of your own.

Because such mail is often extreme in language and sometimes distorted in substance, it can be turned to your advantage. If there are any inaccuracies, be sure the press is made aware of the misstatements of the facts. Hold your opponent accountable for any misstatement. Call for a retraction or correction.

PERSONAL ATTACKS

There is no surer sign of the weakness of the antichoice movement than the harsh personal attacks used by so many of its members. Picketers with gruesome pictures may show up at campaign appearances. Epithets such as "Nazi" or "murderer" have been used against candidates. Campaign offices and even candidates' families have been targeted for abuse.

These tactics are very hard on the people who are attacked, but they are likely to boomerang and help the campaign. Most voters and the press are offended by this type of campaigning.

When dealing with harassers, don't get distracted from your main message. Remember, most voters are on your side, especially if you come under attack. If the same few people cause problems at public forums, acknowledge your difference of opinion with them on this topic and move on to another subject. The rest of the audience will be relieved and impressed.

TELEPHONE POLLING

A tactic that has been used in some negative campaigns (including presidential candidate Bob Dole's campaign) is to spread deliberately distorted information in the form of a poll. The first question asks if the voter is aware of a particular fact, which may be untrue or distorted. The second question asks if this information has an impact on the voter's decision.

The effect of this tactic is to plant negative information in voters' minds without seeming to be connected to the opponent's campaign. If you have any evidence that such calling is being done, get the facts to your local press. Voters react strongly to "dirty tricks."

THE OTHER SIDE OF NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNING

Remember that you can use negative campaigning directed at you to your own advantage by circulating it among your volunteers and contributors. Evidence of such unfair attacks can encourage your supporters to do more.

Copies of the mail against you can be an effective fundraising tool. Use quotes or replicas of a particularly offensive piece against you in your own direct mail to supporters.

GETTING OUT THE VOTE

The importance of systematic, careful efforts to get out your voters cannot be overemphasized. Remember, most voters do not share the agenda of antichoice groups like the Christian Coalition. Central to their successes has been their ability to get a much larger share of their supporters to the polls. If opposition to abortion has been an issue in your campaign, it should include a get-out-the-vote drive using this issue to motivate pro-choice voters. Pro-choice groups can provide important assistance.

If you have been able to canvass and identify all the voters in your district, you're ready for election day. But even if your campaign could not reach everyone, you can expand your ability to pull the pro-choice vote by working with pro-choice organizations and their allies.

Excerpted with permission from Winning with Choice: The 1996 Guide to Winning Elections with a Pro-Choice Message. Copies are available for $5.00 each from Voters for Choice, PO Box 53301, Washington, DC 20040-5301.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.