5 Biggest Lies Political Candidates Believe



It won’t surprise anyone that lies and politics often go together like peanut butter and jelly, franks and beans, baseball and apple pie, or any other simile of your choosing.

While there may be times on the campaign trail for subterfuge and guile, a candidate’s default policy should honesty.

Candidates should be honest with the voters about their policy positions, their experience and qualification, and even their shortcomings.

Likewise, candidates and their main supporters also need to be honest with themselves, especially about how the race is really going and what it will truly take to win the election.

As the old saying goes, “Don’t believe your own press releases.”

Too often candidates fool themselves into believing they are doing better than they are in reality. In fact, I’ve seldom met a candidate who thought they were going to lose – even those who got blown out on Election Day – because they believed many things about campaigning that were not true.

There’s a Mark Twain’s apocryphal quote that warns, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That’s how many candidates get into trouble.  They and their well-meaning supporters unintentionally believe things that are not so.

These”lies” can get a candidate into trouble and possibly sink their chances of winning the election.

I don’t want that to happen to you, so let’s dig into five of the big “lies” candidates wrongly believe and in the process hopefully keep you and your campaign out of trouble.

The 5 Biggest Lies Political Candidates Believe (That Can Destroy a Campaign)

1. “The money will be there”

No, it won’t be. Not unless you raise it or donate it to your campaign.

Too many candidates falsely believe that when they decide to run for office that people will just send political contributions without being asked.

A small handful of donors may do this, but it won’t be enough money to run a winning campaign. It might not even be enough to pay for your yard signs.

Big donors tend to give money to many different candidates and causes, but they like to back the winners. They like to see that the money is there before putting their dollars on the line.

If your campaign doesn’t have enough money to run a competitive race, large donors will either give a tiny contribution or take a wait and see approach.

If you’re serious about running a winning campaign, you must fundraise. You have to ask donors for campaign contributions. You have to take the time to cold-call potential donors to introduce yourself and ask for support.  You have to have fundraiser and specifically ask the attendees to contribute to your campaign.

The only way for the money to “be there” is for you to go get it and put it “there.”

Ironically, when you get good at fundraising, those big donors tend to show up with a sizable contributions.

Like I said, big donors like to back winners. When you demonstrate that you are a winner, the money does seem to somehow “be there.

If you want to learn how to successfully raise money, the Jump Start Your Fundraising course is a great place for you to start.

2. “We do it differently here.”

This is one of my all time favorite “lies.”  I’ve been hearing candidates saying it and believing it for all of my political career.

I was first warned about this lie way back back in 1996.  Bill Clinton was running for re-election, I was merely a year out of college, and having lunch with a seasoned Democratic political operative named Enrique Vela.

Enquire told me that people always think that their local area is the exception to the rules of how a successful political campaign is ran. His words have stood the test of time!

I don’t think an election year has gone by when someone hasn’t objected to a campaign strategy I’ve laid out by telling me “That may work where you’re from, but it doesn’t work here.”

That’s funny because I’m from a small town (by Southern California standards) named Norco.  And when I did my first campaign there as a professional consultant the Norco politicos told me the exact same thing about how campaigns are run there.

It was untrue then and there.  It’s untrue now and wherever you might be running.  At their core political campaigns are the same everywhere in America (and in other free democratic nations).

The fundamentals of running a political campaign that can win an election are absolutely the same whether you are running for a school board seat or for the United States Senate.

“We do it differently here” is merely a polite way of someone saying “I don’t like your idea” or “I’m afraid of trying something different.”

The answer to this objection is simple.  Say, let’s give it a try and see what happens.

That’s what we did in the Norco city council election way back when. My clients (Herb Higgins and the Norco Fire Fighters Association) paid attention to the fundamentals of campaigning and taking our message directly to the voters, while the opposition went and sat in.front of the  Stater Bros grocery store on weekends with their literature.

On election night our three-candidate slate won by large margins and we retired a three-term incumbent that before then had been invincible.

3. “Nobody reads mail anymore.”

I’ve been batting this lie down for years too and will continue to do so until the data demonstrates otherwise.

First, the premise about the effectiveness of sending mail to promote a candidate for office is the wrong one.

You’re not necessarily sending direct campaign mail so that the voters read your mail. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but the primary purpose for a political candidate to send mail isn’t for the mail to be seen and to be touched!

Yes, there are voters who will read every line in every piece of campaign mail they receive. Some will even contact the candidate to correct their grammar and spelling in a mailer they’ve read.

Those people are outliers and part of your targeted audience of voters.  But they are in the minority.

The majority of voters may not read political mail, but the voters who pick up the mail look at every piece their receive.  Even if it’s just for a few seconds between their mail box and their trash can.

If your mailers are well-designed and produced, they have a chance of catching a voter’s eye and causing them to take longer looks (maybe even read your mail) before tossing them into the trash.

When that happens, the mail has definitely fulfilled its purpose. Just make sure your name is the biggest thing on the piece so it sticks in the voters minds.

(Quick Aside: If you’re running for school board always triple check your literature for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.  Voters don’t typically elect school board candidates that can’t use basic English properly in their mailers!)

4. “The voters will understand.”

The voters understand far more than most candidates and elected officials give them credit.

That’s why election results frequently confound the pundits and the pollsters, as the voters deliver results on Election Day that will line up more with common sense than professional prognostication.

This can make a candidate mistakenly believe that voters understand things that they don’t.

The majority of voters don’t understand technical issues and terms, insider jargon, or acronyms. Most of them do not understand budget numbers, staffing ratios, or the big words George Will likes to use.  (Pontificate is my favorite)

Keep your sentences and words short and clear when whether they are written or spoken. Don’t get fancy or complex, keep is simple. No, you’re not dumbing it down. You’re being a normal human being. And simple doesn’t mean simplistic.

Now you also can’t expect the voters to understand that when you are falsely attacked during a campaign by an opponent or outside PAC that the understand either the motive behind the attack or that it lacks of truthfulness.

The voters won’t understand any of that. Unless you clearly respond that the attack against you is untrue or that the motives of your attacker are devious, the attack will be taken as the truth.

Rather than believe that the voters will understand the truth about an attack, tell yourself that an unanswered attack is accepted as the truth unless it’s properly refuted.

You must respond to most attacks that are made against you during a campaign.

Yes, I said most. Some things said about you are not worthy of a response. If the attack is about something that doesn’t matter in the big scheme, ignore it.

But if it’s an attack that if believed could hurt you at the polls, you better respond if you want the voters to know the truth.

5. “Negative campaigning doesn’t work.”

Sorry to break this to you, but yes it does work.

Negative campaigning works extremely well. If it didn’t campaigns wouldn’t go negative.

15 or 20 years back, campaigns used to send out recorded messages known as robo calls to the voters. Why? Because it worked.

We don’t do many robo-calls these days.  How come?  Because they stopped working and campaigns stopped doing them.

Have political campaigns stopped going negative?  Nope.

Campaigns still send out negative mailers and run negative commercials. These attacks work even if the voters say they are tired of all the negativity.

And to be honest, a component of negative campaigning is to depress turnout.  Sometimes it’s impossible to get voters to switch from backing one candidate to backing another.

In those cases, a campaign will go negative not to win over voters, but to cost an opponent votes by making that candidate also an unacceptable choice.

If a campaign can get enough of their opponents needed supporters to stay home on Election Day or to skip that particular race when marking their ballot, then the negative campaigning has done it’s job.

But I’ll be honest with you. Negative does not always do its job. Typically because it’s not done the right way. Sometimes a line of attack is ineffective because its is on a topic that does not matter much for the voters.

Or the attack is on a topic of interest to the voters, but done so poorly or over-the-top that it boomerangs and harms the campaign that went on the attack.

So don’t believe the lie that “negative campaigning doesn’t work.”  A well-done attack campaign against you could hurt your chances of being elected, as detailed above in point 4.

Going negative can also help when you are behind in a race by knocking the candidate who is running ahead of you down.

With that said, only go negative if you have to.

And if you must go on the attack, then be sure to do it right.  Which is further explained in this article 7 Rules for Going Negative on a Political Campaign.

Candidate Take-Aways

Don’t believe the lies of conventional wisdom that many candidates buy into.

The money won’t be there for your campaign unless you go and raise it or have the means to loan it to your campaign.

Campaigns are not done differently in your area. If there are local traditions you need to follow, then do so, but the fundamentals of winning an election are the same everywhere.

Direct mail is a most effective way to communicate with the voters, as long as your mailers are designed to connect with voters who are skimming rather than reading your mail.

The voters understand a lot more than we give them credit for, but they don’t understand insider jargon or that an attack against a candidate isn’t true unless you explain it to them.

Everyone says they don’t like negative campaigning, but that does not mean negative campaigning doesn’t work. It does work and quite well if the attacks are done right.