The Power of a Three-Point Plan in Political Campaign Messaging

A key part of a candidate’s winning message is the plan. The plan tells the voters what you want to do on their behalf should they elect you to office. The dangerous temptation every candidate faces is to offer a plan that’s dense with information and details. Don’t do that.  Stick to a three-point plan if you want to win.

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Your campaign messaging must always be clear and concise. As I wrote early this week, your winning campaign message must always have the three C’s: Credibility, Coherence, and Consistency. If your message doesn’t have them, then you campaign is in the weeds and you’re on your way to defeat.

But even if your message is credible, coherent, and consistent you can still shoot your electoral chances in the foot by over complicating things. Never do this.

Always keep things simple on the campaign trail.

The biggest area I see candidates go wrong with their messaging is with their plan. They want the voters to know how enlightened they on the issues or how much thought they’ve put into fixing the existing problems.

While those are worthy and important goals that do help add to your credibility, they also work against you if you aren’t careful. Most voters don’t have the interest nor the attention span for you to deliver a campaign message that is akin to a college dissertation.

There’s too much going on on their lives. They are extremely busy people. They don’t need a page long point-by-point plan of action from you. They only need to see the big picture of what you want to do in office for them.

That’s why I almost always insist that my candidate’s refine the plan within their messaging down to three-points. Occasionally, I’ll let them get away with a five-point plan if necessary for their race, but in almost every circumstance a three-point plan will do the trick.

The more points and the more details you add to your plan, the more likely you are to fail to connect with the voters. And if you can’t connect with them, you can’t turn them into supporters and motivate them to vote for you on Election Day.

Look at Mitt Romney in 2012. The former governor of Massachusetts had a very good shot at making Barack Obama a one term president that year.

The economy was sluggish. Many parts of the country had yet to experience a recovery from the “Great Recession.” Obama’s party lost its majorities in both houses of the Congress two years before. A Republican was even elected to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy.

Yet Mitt Romney didn’t win. Why was that?

To be honest there are many reasons, including the fact that Barack Obama was a far better campaigner than Romney. But the main reason was because Mitt Romney didn’t connect with enough voters.

I still haven’t figured out the central message of Romney’s campaign and I do this for a living.

Part of the problem was that Romney didn’t focus on a small list of things he wanted to do if elected, then repeat the plan over and over again.

He couldn’t because his plan was too complex for that. In September 2016 he even released a 59-point Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth.

Hay caramba! That’s 59 points just on economics!  How many more points did all of his other plans have? I’m not sure I even want to know.

Had the Romney campaign been serious about making Obama a one-termer they should have looked at the last two elections where a sitting president was denied a second term when America’s economy was struggling.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won a historic victory over Jimmy Carter. And he did it with a message centered around one sentence, not a three point plan. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Reagan asked. The answer came back “no” and Carter became the first president since Herbert Hoover in 1932 to be denied a second term in the White House.

Twelve years later Bill Clinton made Reagan’s successor, George Bush, a one-termer too. Clinton did this in spite of numerous personal scandals surrounding him and the country’s enormous approval of Bush’s handling of Operation: Desert Storm against Iraq.

But the economy had stalled out and the Clinton campaign and its famous “War Room” focused on three-main message points:

  • Change vs. More of the Same
  • The Economy, Stupid
  • Don’t Forget Healthcare

That three point internal plan and the discipline to consistently stick with that message, propelled Bill Clinton from the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas to the White House.

If these messaging rules work for presidents, then trust me, they will work for you too.

Candidate Take-Aways

Always keep the plan in your campaign message as clear, concise, and simple as possible.

Stick to a three-point plan as much as possible. You can go up to five-points if you can’t narrow it any further, but don’t go higher than five and really try to keep it to three.

And should you be tempted to unload all of the specifics and details you have available into the plan of your campaign’s messenger, please pause and take a moment to think of Mitt Romney and his 59-point plan.

Not a single one of those points ever got implemented. Why? Because he didn’t win his election.