CONNECTING WITH VOTERS IS KEY TO RUNNING FOR PUBLIC OFFICE
With Ontario’s municipal elections fast approaching, many individuals are campaigning for public office because they are passionate about public service and looking to solve issues or want to help their communities.
I once asked a long-serving Councillor about his level of confidence in being re-elected, and he replied, “they’re elections, you can never be sure.” All candidates, including incumbents, are motivated to give their all throughout the campaign to engage voters at a time when residents are considering who will best represent their interests. But how exactly does a candidate engage residents in order to gain their support? Even if “you can never be sure,” there are things you can focus on during the campaign to improve your chances and gain more support.
Sharing your expertise, insight, and vision with constituents and demonstrating your dedication to public service should be the essence of your outreach. Gaining constituents’ support requires proving your competency and capacity to address their concerns, and the best way to do that is by being well informed of the issues affecting the local communities in the ward, and demonstrating how your prior experience will help present solutions to these issues. Something that I observed is that residents tend to respond more favorably to canvassers when they speak to problems and solutions for ongoing issues in the neighborhood. Addressing things like policing, traffic, construction work, service disruptions, and even lack of resources in community centers makes residents feel validated and reassured that their complaints are acknowledged and taken into consideration.
Municipal elections are more personal, close-knit, and focused than federal elections. Voters mostly consider how a candidate will directly impact and assist their community when they have problems. You must assert yourself and prove that you are part of the community and that anything that affects them also affects you, because gaining their trust and building rapport with them is essential. It’s important to keep in mind that familiarity breeds favorability, therefore candidates should make an effort to attend various events in the ward in order to gain name recognition and form close bonds with voters. Showing that you care (and genuinely caring) will make you more likable among residents. On many occasions, I frequently overheard individuals saying, “oh! I know this person, of course I will vote for them, I see them around all the time.”
Don’t underestimate name recognition. During your campaign, people must constantly be exposed to your name, face, team, and work. How that is done depends on your audience and what resonates with them most. Digital marketing and conventional methods like fliers, signs, posters, and banners can help you increase your name recognition, but that on its own isn’t enough if you fail to engage constituents with your vision. You need to communicate that your vision for the ward matches what they hope their local communities will become, by proving to them that you are aware of the challenges and developing a thorough plan with all the necessary steps to ensure that the community, your very own community, upholds the greatest quality for them. Your vision should be appealing to constituents of all backgrounds and ages and that their best interests are at the heart of all you do.
It is also critical how you interact with constituents. Candidates typically knock on doors, which is meaningful. However, you can also visit places of worship, or hold coffee meet-and-greets in cafes or supporters’ homes. Gather families and have a fireside conversation with them when you can.
The bottom line is that choosing a Councillor differs from choosing a member of parliament. Candidates aren’t affiliated with parties, thus voters select the candidate they believe will best serve their interests and address their concerns. You must establish a personal connection with your supporters. Be empathetic, make a connection, and demonstrate your commitment to them.