Why Winning Candidates Keep the Message Simple

In a tough election, the candidate with the clearest and most concise message typically follows the old adage of marketing and campaigning known as KISS:  Keep It Simple, Stupid.


These candidates know that keeping their campaign message as clear and as simple as possible is a key component to connecting with voters.

And when you connect with voters, you tend to win elections.

The Crazy 2016 Presidential Primary Elections

The power of clear and simple campaign messaging was on full display during the 2016 Presidential Primary contests for both major political parties.

Oddly, it didn’t come from the mainstream candidates.

This messaging method and discipline came from two people that almost everyone wrote off when they declared their intentions to seek the presidency:  Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Trump and Sanders couldn’t be more different when you look at that their backgrounds or beleives.

But in 2016 they were each able to upset the apple cart of each major American political party.

Yes, Sanders did not become the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, he significantly affected Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He also changed the Democratic Party of which he is only nominally a member of.

Just look at what all the major candidates seeking to be the 2020 Democratic nominee are talking about and you’ll see Sanders influence.

And despite a heart attack this year, Bernie Sanders could still be the candidate the Democrats choose to face off against Donald Trump.

That could be a very intresting campaign, and not for the obvious reasons.

Trump and Sanders each keep their message simple and know how to connect with voters.

In 2016, their rivals hounded them on specifics that for the most part did not materialize, but it didn’t matter to the voters.

Daniel Henninger pointed this out in a Wall Street Journal column back then titled Trump and Bernie: Less Is More:

If you did a word-association game with people for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, it might go like this:

Donald Trump: wall, trade, terrific.

Bernie Sanders: billionaires, Wall Street, income inequality.

With these words, Donald Trump, the host of “Celebrity Apprentice,” defeated a platoon of professional Republican politicians and is the party’s presumptive nominee.

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont socialist, won’t be the Democrats’ nominee but he has transformed Hillary Clinton into the incredible shrinking heir apparent.

Of the Republican frontrunner who would go on the be president, Henninger wrote:

All of Mr. Trump’s main opponents—Messrs. Bush, Cruz, Rubio and Kasich—were policy wonks.

For them, what mattered was hands-on political experience.

Their specific heavy approach didn’t work.

Nor did it work for Hillary Clinton agasinst Sanders (or later Trump):

Hillary has tried to be a more rational alternative to Bernie the way all the Republican candidates did with Donald Trump.

She’s getting hurt for the same reason: At least half the electorate this year isn’t into hearing how much she knows about policy.

Mr. Henninger saw this as a result of constant media bombardment that puts a premium on minimalism.

From my perspective this is nothing new in either advertising or political campaigning.

It’s about staying on message and keeping it simple.

That has long been a staple of winning elections.

It worked for Donald Trump in 2016.

It worked for Boris Johnson in Great Britain this week.

The Power of a Clear and Simple Message on Display

For three and a half years, Britain has been politically paralyzed by failing to leave the European Union after UK voters approved Brexit.

This political paralysis led to Boris Johnson rising to Prime Minister this year.

To break the inertia and Parliment’s inability to find a way to get Britain out of the EU as the voters directed, Johnson called for new elections.

This could have been a disaster for Johnsnon and his Conservative Party.

When previous Prime Minister Theresa May called for elections, the Conservatives lost seats and the Labour Party gained them.

But Mr. Johnson did what Ms. May did not on the campaign.

He made the Conservative campaign message simple and clear:  Get Brexit Done.

This resonated with the voters — especially the 52% who voted to Brexit in 2016.

Johnson and his Conserative Party won a huge victory on Thursday, picking up 47 seats.

Conservatives will now hold 365 seat majority in Paraliment.

This is the strongest showing of the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

The Labour Party on the other hand with all of its plans and promises lost 59 seats.

This was Labour’s weakest election since the 1930s.

Conservative’s actually picked up seats in areas that had been uncontested Labour strongholds for decades.

That’s the power of a clear and simple campaign message.

The Conservative victory also provides a clear mandate from British voters for Parlimanet to “get Brexit done.”

What You Can Learn from Donald Trump and Boris Johnson

What Trump and Johnson have in common — other than their goofy hair and ability to rub a lot of people the wrong way — is that they know how to connect with the voters.

They craft a clear and simple message, and then they stay on it at all times.

Because of this, both Trump and Johnson have performed far better than most people ever thought they would.

Their clear, concise, and yes simple message penetrates the noise of everyday life and struck a chord with their voters of their respective parties.

Looking back over the last generation of presidential campaigns, the candidate who had a simple, clear message won on Election Day.

Ronald Reagan 1980 and 1984: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

George Bush 1988 : “Read my lips: No new taxes.”

Bill Clinton 1992: “The Economy, Stupid”

Barack Obama 2008: “Hope and change”

As you run for office you don’t need to copy the substance message of Donald Trump or Boris Johnson or any of the other successful candidates listed above.

But you should keep yours message simple and clear like they do.

It’s a crucial part of winning an election.

You can know all the facts and figures that exist, and you can be the master of policy specifics, hopefully, you are as you’ll need them if elected, but first you need to get elected.

You’ve got to win over the voters and keeping your message simple and to the point will go a long way to accomplishing that.

Boris Johnson has again proven to us all that clarity does connect with voters and wins elections.