Why Candidates with a Good Story Win Elections

We all love a good story.

There’s nothing like seeing a movie that transports you somewhere else or a novel that you get lost in, or sitting down and listening to someone who can hold your attention captive just by the way they can tell a story.

People love stories, but not just any stories.  They love good stories.

Sadly, not all stories are good.

If you’ve ever found your mind wandering while trying to watch a movie, couldn’t get into a book, or checking the time while someone stood before you before you talking, you’ve encountered a bad story.

Stories can make or break political campaigns as well.  The candidate who can tell a good story has an excellent chance of winning their election.

The candidate who can’t and proceeds to either bore or confuse the voters will likely end up giving a concession speech on Election Night.

As a lover of movies, literature, and good old fashioned storytelling, I’ve been a disciple of the story process since I was a teenager.

I’ve studied and absorbed the wisdom of Joseph Campbell, Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler, and most recently Donald Miller.  (These are affiliate links)

All of them have broken down the elements that make a good story work.

Based on their discoveries and the principles of story they’ve emphasized, I’ve been able to apply the power of a good story to the campaigns I’ve run.

There are Six Pillars that are essential for a candidate to tell a good story and win an election.

1. The Voters

Most candidates mistakenly believe that their campaign story is about them.


The story of the campaign is about the voters because, at the end of the day, all campaigns are about the voters.

If the voters don’t hear from you, if they don’t know what you’re about, if they don’t relate to you, and they if they don’t believe you, then there’s no chance they’re going to vote for you.

By establishing a good, compelling story for your campaign you’ll be setting yourself up to be heard by the voters, to have them understand you, relate to you, believe you, and then vote you into office.

Not all elections are created equal. Some have higher turnout than others, and some have much lower turnout than you can imagine.

It’s the voters who are likely to turn out and mark their ballots in your race that really are the focus of your story.

But it’s essential to remember, it’s all about the voters.  The story is about them.  They are the heroes of your campaign, not you.

If this seems counterintuitive, it’s because it is, but as you’ll see as you keep reading, it also works.

2. The Problem

Every good political campaign is about fixing a problem.

Crime is on the rise — Our schools are failing — The budget’s been blown and services are being cut — The water supply has been polluted — There aren’t enough jobs for local residents.

If there isn’t a problem to be solved, then there’s really no need for a campaign.

As a candidate, you need to identify the problem that needs to be fixed, but it needs to be a problem that matters to the voters.

If what you’re focusing on is only a problem to you or to a small group of people, it doesn’t rise to the level of winning an election.

Your campaign needs to identify a problem that a large block of voters, hopefully, a majority, is concerned about.

Identify the issue that the voters view as a major problem is key to beginning to tell your story and win your election.

The best way to identify the problem that’s irritating or worrying your voters is to conduct a poll.  The voters will have no problem telling your pollster what’s troubling them.

Being able to state clearly what the problem is that the voters want to be fixed is a key way to show them that you understand their concerns and are in touch with their day to day lives.

3. The Candidate

Yes, now we can finally talk about you, the candidate.

You just need to remember, you’re not the hero of the story.  The voters are still the story’s heroes.

So what role do you play in this narrative then?

You’re the guide, the mentor, the wise old hermit with the knowledge and wisdom to fix the problem weighing on the minds of your voters.

In Star Wars, the mentor was Obi-Wan Kenobi and the hero was Luke Skywalker.

Luke, however, didn’t know he was a hero, but he knew he and the galaxy had a problem — the evil Galactic Empire.

But as much as Luke hated the Empire, there was nothing he could do about it. That was until his path crossed that of the wise Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Your part of this story is that of the mentor who can provide the hero — the voters — with the ability to solve the problem that is stressing them out.

4. The Plan

Just as Obi-Wan provided Luke with the plan (learning the ways of the Force and becoming a Jedi Knight) for bringing down the Empire, you as the candidate (mentor) must provide the voters (the story’s heroes) with a plan to fix the problem.

luke-skywalker-obi-wan-kenobiYour plan must be clear and concise.  It should state clearly how the problem can be addressed.

No matter how complex the problem is and how many items need to be addressed to legitimately solve the problem, you’ve got to keep it simple for two reasons.

First, the clearer and simpler your solution to the problem is, the more likely it is that the voters will believe your plan and buy into it.

Second, the more details you have, the harder it will be to sell your plan and convince the voters you know what you are talking about.

My rule of thumb is that any plan consists of three major points.  That’s it.  A three-point plan to reduce crime, fix our schools, balance the budget, clear our water, or bring jobs to the community will almost always work.

If you can state what the essence of your plan is in One Sentence, you’re in an awesome spot to win your election.

5. The Call to Action

This probably sounds like a sales term. That’s because it is.

To win an election, it’s your responsibility to get the voters to buy something.

Now be careful.  They’re not buying you.  They’re buying your plan and trusting you to implement it, thereby eliminating their problem.

But to win, the voters need to take action, but they won’t know what action to take unless you tell them to take it.

This is just as important to the story your campaign is telling as it is in any story you’ve watched, read, or heard.

In all good stories, the mentor calls the hero to action.  That action must be taken in order for the problem to be dealt with.

Joseph Campbell referred to this as the Call to Adventure.

Obi-Wan issued the Call to Action/Adventure to Luke after they digested Princess Leia’s message, telling Luke that he must come with him to Alderan and learn the ways of the Force.  That was the only way that the problem of the Empire was ever going to be solved.

Your call to action to the voters is again something very simple and directly to the point.

The call to action of every political campaign is the same:  Vote for Me!

The only way to solve the problem is to implement the plan and the only person who can do that is you.

Don’t let this confuse you into believing that you become the hero of the story at this point.

Nope.  It’s still the voters who are the heroes as they are the ones who must take action.  That action just happens to be that they cast a ballot for you.

But in the scheme of the story, that act of voting for you isn’t all that much about putting you in office.  It’s about fixing the problem.

That’s your job, fix the problem you’ve identified and can empathize with the voters.

And just so we’re clear, you must call them to action.  You may not say “Vote for Me” straight out like that, but you should always ask for a person’s vote.

Tell them you’d be honored to have their vote.  Make sure all of your campaign material calls the voters to action by saying either “Vote for Me” or “Elect Me.”

6. The Stakes

All great stories have conflict and tension.

It’s what makes us sit on the edge of our seats during a suspenseful movie.  There must be danger that the hero will fail, and severe consequences for that failure.

As much as you may not like doing this, you need to let the voters know that there are very real stakes in the upcoming election.

There are consequences if you don’t win and can’t implement your plan.

It’s not just that things will still be bad and the problem will remain to be dealt with another day.

No, the problem will only become worse if you’re not elected.

Crime will go up — More children won’t graduate from school — Taxes will need to be raised to balanced the budget — People will get sick from drinking polluted water — More people will be out of work and who knows who will get the next pink slip.

There must be a downside to not voting for you.

Which means the rewards will be greater if they do.

You’re the candidate with the plan to turn things around, and if you’re elected that’s exactly what you’ll do.

You’ll take action on behalf of the voters.  You need to tell them exactly what your plan will do if they elect you.

We’ll get dangerous criminals out of the neighborhoods — We’ll ensure that every child can read, write and do math by the time they graduate — We’ll cut wasteful spending from the budget to protect vital services without new taxation — We’ll clean up the local water supply while holding those who polluted it accountable — We’ll work to bring job-creating businesses to the area to get the economy moving again.

Putting the Six Pillars of Good Story to Work

These six pillars hold up the framework of a good campaign story.

Good stories more often than not help candidates win elections, even if they’re the underdog.

Take the time to put together your story.

Know who your voters are.  Identify the biggest problem they’re concerned with.

Introduce yourself to them.  Explain your clear and simple plan for fixing the problem.

Tell them that with their votes, you’ll put the plan to work to get rid of the problem.

But let them know there are stakes involved.  If you don’t win, things may just get worse.

However, if you do win, you’ll immediately get to work solving the problem, and tomorrow will be a brighter day.

Figure your story out, implement it into all of your messaging, and you’ll see how remarkably well the voters respond to you on the campaign trail.