How Winning Candidates Use the 5 Second Rule to Reach Voters

If you’re serious about winning your election, then you need to understand the 5 Second Rule. No, this has nothing to do with dropping a piece of food and picking it up so you can eat it as quickly as possible. It means if you’re going to connect with busy and distracted voters (which is most of them) then you need to know how to do it as quickly as possible. Do you?

In 2015, Microsoft conducted a widely reported study stating human beings now have a lower attention span than gold fish.  As The Telegraph reported:

The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.

Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.

So what does this mean to you as a candidate? Practically everything.

If the voters you are trying to reach and convert into your supporters have the attention span of that sweet little Regal blue tang fish starring in Finding Dory, you must use this information in your campaigning.

You don’t have time to beat around the bush.  You need to get directly to it, grab the voters attention, and make your point as clearly and a succinctly as possible. If you don’t do that, then you and your message will be rapidly forgotten.

That’s why I tell candidates that if you can define your purpose for running down into one simple sentence, you’ll see great campaign success.

Here’s how you can get right to the point with the voters you are trying to connect with as quickly as possible.


The most effective way to win a local election is by picking up one vote at the time. Going door to door as you walk precincts is the best way to do this. Making personal phone calls is the second best way.

When you meet a voter at the door or get them on the phone, you don’t have time to waste. You need to get into your pitch as fast as possible.

“Hi, my name is ____________ and I’m running for ____________.  I’m really concerned about X, Y and Z, and I have a plan to fix those problems.”

The voters that are interested and want to talk, will then talk.

The voters that don’t will likely thank you for your time and send you on your way.

The busy voters (which remember are most of them) will also probably dismiss you, but you’ve stated your name clearly, the office you’re seeking, and the problems you want to fix.

You’ve imparted the most important information.  Combined with other forms of voter contact, that personal connection will help them remember you come Election Day.

Speeches, Forums or Debates

The worst advice candidates receive when it comes to giving speeches or giving opening statements at candidate forums or debates is to start out by talking about themselves or thanking the sponsor of the event.

Don’t do that. At least don’t let them be the first words out of your mouth. Your audience is already zoning out and you’ve done nothing to bring them back from the Facebook scrolling they’re doing on the down low.

You need to open and close strong. The first words and the last words of any speech you give, and the opening and closing statements you make during a debate or forum, should make people sit up and pay attention.

Make your opening as powerful as possible, usually by stating the problem.

“The number of people who had their homes broken into last year was the highest ever for our town.”

“Too many kids in our school district do not have the skills needed to get into college or find a good job when they graduate.”

“Did you know that the average resident is paying three times as much for water as our three surrounding communities?”

And if you can make the issue personal, that’s all the more powerful.

“Our home was broken into three times last year in the middle of the day and no one was ever arrested.

“My daughter graduated from our local high school last year but couldn’t get into college because she doesn’t know how to write a complete sentence.”

“I about had a heart attack the first time I paid my water bill.  It’s three times higher than what I paid where I used to live.  It’s higher than my car insurance.”

Statements like that will really get people’s attention. But don’t be dramatic for the sake of being dramatic.  If you can really relate to the problems facing most people in your community, then go with the personal example.

If you can’t, then jump right by stating the problem that needs to be fixed without your personal narrative added to it.  But be specific when stating the problem.


Mail is the most effective form of mass communication on a local campaign. I love writing and designing mail.  It’s probably one of my favorite parts of a campaign.

That said, I must admit I know that most of the mail I help my candidates send goes directly into the trash. In many instances, a political mailer is the first thing that gets thrown away.

That’s why your mail needs to be eye-catching and punch through. It needs to draw the voter in.

In the best case scenario, what you’ve printed on your mailer will give them pause to stop and read it.  But even if that doesn’t happen, your mail still needs to make an impact.

In the few seconds it takes for the voter to realize they are holding a political mailer, you need to convey your message.

Your name needs to be huge. Your picture and imagery big.  Your message points big and bold and clear. Even though your mailer’s headed for the circular file, it still can make a powerful impact in that brief amount of time.

Inversely, candidates who minimize their name and use too much text, do not get remembered by the voters. They shouldn’t even be sending mail as it’s only wasting their money if it’s done wrong.


The 5 Second Rule applies to any videos you produce to, whether they are aired on television or only go up on your website, Facebook, and YouTube.

Just like when you give a speech or send a mailer, you don’t have time to waste at the start of a video. Get right into it.

Don’t make the voters wait because they won’t. 

They’ll go to the next video, which very well may be your opponent’s.

State the problem that needs fixing and state it clearly.  Introduce yourself, give a quick overview of your qualifications, then get into your solution to fix the problem.

Make sure your name is subtitled on the video so you can plant your name with the voters. Don’t make them guess who you are or what you’re about. Make it clear while also keeping it brief and simple.


When a voter comes to your website it needs to load fast. If it takes longer than five seconds, many people won’t wait for it to load. They’ll ignore you.

Make sure your website loads fast and that it’s optimized for mobile viewing.

Most Americans do their searching on their phones now, so your site better load and format properly for an iPhone and such.

And when the voters get to your site they need to see your name, your picture, and what you stand for without scrolling.  It needs to be obvious who you are and why you’re running from the first pixel.

This is another reason I’m a huge proponent of knowing what the one sentence is that defines your campaign.


The two most important parts of your email are what you write in the subject line and who sent the email.

The subject line must be clear and the sender identifiable.

Most people are not going to open let alone read the email you send them. Make it easy for the voters to get the message. Put it all there in the subject line.

Make it clear you are the sender, or who the sender is if you’re using an endorser for third party credibility.


Signs exist to convey one thing and it is your name. Signs that are too busy don’t adhere to the 5 Second Rule and they don’t help you win.

With signs, as most people are driving past them, you probably have even less than five seconds to make an impact. It’s probably more like two or three seconds.

Keep your signs simple and understandable.

And if you don’t know how to do that, what to focus on and what to leave off, then do yourself and your campaign a huge favor and read our free e-book, 5 Secrets of Winning Campaign Signs.  You’ll be glad you did.

Candidate Take-Aways

You have five seconds to connect with a voter.  Always keep that in mind.  If you do you’ll be far ahead of your competition while they’re stuck trying to figure out why no one is paying attention to them.