How to Know if a Voter is Really Going to Vote for You or Not

Most candidates who lose an election honestly thought they were going to win. Every voter they’ve talked to said they were voting for them. But the results on Election Night told another story. How could this happen? Did the voters you talk to lie to you?

Probably not.  In all likelihood you either didn’t talk to enough voters, didn’t ask the right questions, or both. This happens way too often and it doesn’t need to happen to you. Let’s break this down.

A lot of candidates base their assumption of winning on the fact that “everyone” they talked to said they’d be marking their ballot for them. The problem with this is that “everyone” you talk to is not a large enough sample of the voters.  It’s also probably not a representative sample of the voters in your jurisdiction, but rather of your friends, family, and inner circle of influence.

It’s nearly impossible for you to talk to “everyone” so the notion that “everyone” will be voting for you is faulty from the start.  A good poll will give you a good representative sample of how you’re doing.  So will walking and calling all of the likely voters in your district.  Yet you need to know how to analyze the data you’re getting.

For instance, when conducting a poll, the pollster will first ask which candidate the voter intends to support. After the voter says the candidate (some won’t as they have not made up their minds and are undecided) then the pollster will ask an important follow up question:

“Will you definitely be voting for this candidate or are you just probably voting for this candidate?”

If a voter says they are definitely voting for the candidate, you can take that to bank as a solid supporter. If they say they’re probably voting for the candidate, this person should not be considered a supporter. Yes, they are leaning towards the candidate but the deal has not been closed. That person’s vote is up for grabs as much as anyone who said they didn’t know which candidate they planned on supporting in the election.

We’ve all seen statewide or national elections where the polls showed that one candidate would win but is upset on Election Night. All of the pundits seem surprised by the results. They shouldn’t be.

To simplify matters, most news organizations only report total support (which includes definite and probable support) when reporting on polls. Election results differ because probable supporters and undecided voters went the other way or didn’t bother to vote.

The same happens in smaller races. It’s the main reason many candidates think they are winning, but after the ballots are counted they’re shocked to find out that victory is far from their grasp.

The good news however is that you don’t need to be surprised by how the vote goes down on Election Night.  

If you do you job right you’ll know well before the close of the polls whether you’re going to prevail or not. In fact, over the last twenty years there have only been a handful of races I’ve worked on where I didn’t know how things would work out well in advance. Most of the time we knew a week or more before Election Day whether we’re going to win or not.

How did we know? Because like a good pollster, we asked the right questions when canvassing voters, either at their doors or on the phones.

When you’re talking to a voter, either as you walk precincts or work through a phone list, you must ask them if you can count on their vote. If you don’t ask for their vote, there’s absolutely no reason for them to vote for you.

Without exception, you must ask voters if you can count on their vote.

You’ll get one of three answers to this question:  1) Yes  2) No  3) Let Me Think About It.

A voter who says that “No” they won’t be voting for you is a solid answer and should be considered a vote for an opponent. Mark that down and don’t contact them again. If you can pull them out of your mailing list, that’s good too. There’s no reason to spend time or money on voter that’s already made up their mind against you.

If a voter says “Let me think about it” or something along those lines when you ask if you can count on their vote, mark them down as a maybe or undecided. They aren’t likely against you, but they aren’t for you. You’ve still got a good deal of work to do here to win them over. Do it and see if you can convert these voters from undecided to committed supporters. Committed supporters are what you want.

Oddly enough many voters will say “Yes” you can count on their vote, but you can’t mark them down as committed supporters. Why? Because they may not be. They may either be probable supporters who need more convincing or undecided voters who are simply trying to be nice to you.

Candidates who count these “Yes” voters as committed supporters are fooling themselves and doing their campaign a disservice. These voters are not 100% in your corner. But you’ve got to find that out. And you do so just like a pollster, with your follow up questions.

Obviously it’s going to be extremely awkward to ask someone who said you can count on their vote “Are you definitely voting for me or just probably voting for me?”  You’ll look weird and possibly desperate. Such a question might even cost you support. So how do you find out if these “Yes” voters are definitely voting for you?

You ask them two things.

1) Can I put a sign in your yard?

2) Would you publicly endorse my campaign?

If a voter doesn’t want to do either, then you can’t count them as supporters and need to treat them as undecided.

But when a person says puts one of your signs up in their yard, they are definitely voting for you. The same is true when someone signs an endorsement card and allows your campaign to publicly use their name as a supporter. You can count on these voters. These voters are with you.

Their actions signify a secondary level of commitment.  Putting a sign in their yard or endorsing you shows that their “yes” does in fact mean “yes.” Some voters will do both, others will only do one.  Either way, you know you can count on them.

When you tally up your supporters, these are the ones you count on your side. If it’s enough to win, then you know Election Night is going to be a wonderful experience.

If you’re short of having enough to win, then get back out there and get on the phone and keep working those probably yes voters and let me-think-about-it undecideds until you have enough committed supporters to ensure your victory.  That’s a big part of how elections are won.