When dealing with a public that has lost all interest in yet another round of elections, do parties still have what to campaign for? Are there any tricks in their arsenal that they still haven’t used?
The answer is yes. Here are some ideas we had:
Number one: What's your story?
Bennett’s government, which was dismantled only one year after it was assembled, failed to uphold the impossible political mechanism it relied on. Even so, it left us with a legacy that will linger at least into the opening phase of the upcoming electoral campaign: the blurring of ideological differences between the parties. There is of course a positive aspect to this phenomenon: it showed voters which parties and which individual politicians are capable of putting aside old feuds and working together to address the country's pressing issues. On the other hand, your Average Joe may be wondering: if the parties that are supposedly radically different from one another are joining hands in a broad coalition — what is setting them apart in the first place?
The lack of distinction between political parties is crucial, and it’s not only relevant to those who recently made up the Bennett-Lapid coalition. It’s should also be of concern to the non-Likud politicians from “Netanyahu’s bloc": their ambiguity serves as an invitation to their voters who already support Netanyahu as prime minister — to take the shortcut and vote for him directly (we are already well-acquainted with Netanyahu’s tendency to suck up votes at the expense of his loyal allies, last minute).
If you’re a political campaigner, you need to find your story, the story of your party. A unique and mobilizing story that appeals to your supporters, as well as potential supporters. Once you’ve found that story, you can then begin to refine its unique characteristics and values, setting it apart from the others.
The uniting force of hate
It’s unfortunate, but it’s true: In elections, just like in soccer, people love to hate more than they love to love. Corresponding to the above, when you highlight your story about why you stand out among the others, you should also be emphasizing why you’re not like “them”, and why you must prevent “them” from sitting in power. In other words, you shouldn’t be choosing between a mobilizing story and a negating campaign. A mobilizing story is a must, it should definitely be your starting point. But once you’ve got that mobilizing story, it becomes more powerful when it’s contrasted with a negative mirror image.
Candidates and runners-ups may say that the polarization within the political discourse and the growing rifts in Israeli society are exactly the issue: “People are tired of being pit against each other!” they will say, and point out that the elections are, among other issues, about this very negative dynamic: “We want to unite and bring people together!”. Honestly, that’s very inspirational. But there you’ve got it! you’ve just articulated exactly what you’re not, and what you will be unifying your voters against.
Adopt a reporter
Traditionally speaking, breaking news and scoops would make their way into the headlines because reporters always had inside sources that wanted to spill the beans; driven by personal interests, grudges and interpersonal disputes. Generations of political reporters learned from their senior colleagues that the key to preserving high-quality sources is to seek out the “disappointed ones." But in Israel today, with very few journalists striving to be objective, the “disappointed” inside-sources have been pushed aside. These days it seems that the main motivation of journalists is to become media stars with their very own fanbase, and thus ‘taking sides’ is part of their attempt at creating a public persona. This phenomenon does not belong exclusively to journalists from the right or the left: it’s the case across the political spectrum, whether it’s a journalist who says "I used to be a leftist, but I’ve seen the light and now I’m all for Bibi", or the self-proclaimed “gatekeepers of Israeli democracy”.
Given this reality, as a political campaigner you want to seek out the journalist who will essentially campaign for you: feed them with stories and be ready to make an appearance on their platforms. Make the journalist into a political activist.
Don’t overthink, just dive into the swamp
Politics was never a sport for English royals. It was always a dirty game, but now, it has become seriously gross. Social networks are flooded with brigades of bots, fake profiles, avatars, sock puppets, screenshots with “evidence” of things you’ve never said, botched up videos “showing” you do things you never did, and a smorgasbord of slander and hate speech. Any random tweet can go viral and get picked up by mainstream media, creating a PR crisis for you as a candidate.
This means that you’ve got no choice but to jump straight into these murky waters.
In the political arena, as it plays out on social networks, nothing appears out of nowhere, and you have to be willing to invest time and money in getting your story out there. If using an army of bots defies your standards — good for you (seriously). But don’t just stand there helplessly: do whatever it takes to combat fake information, and expose spreaders of fake information one by one. If this requires that you establish an intelligence task-force, do it.
Adopt commercial methods
Rallying at the main square with bated breath for the TV broadcast to break the news to us is clearly a thing of the past. But even when we say about one public figure or the other that “they’ve got to have an online presence”, we basically know that social-media duplicates a lot of what mainstream media does anyway. So if you’re looking to draw some attention, perhaps you can get some inspiration from the online commercial world. For example, an “influencers” campaign, but not one that will only consist of the recitation of election propaganda. Take a look at the recent campaign to encourage Jewish women to maintain ritual purity, for example. The campaign was designed in such a way that it would trickle down from social networks into traditional media, so that even the outrage and the public debate it evoked — were part of the strategy.
TikTok is a hotspot, and shying away from it is basically shooting yourself in the foot. But there is a certain language one needs to acquire, if you don’t want to end up looking like a boomer that’s trying to ‘kick it’ with the ‘youngsters’. There are plenty of content creators on TikTok who specialize in tutorials and instructional videos on a variety of topics; they’re in-depth, yet short in order to fit the format — and that’s an art one needs to master.
Another method that can be imported from the commercial world into the political world, is fashion brands and accessories. Although the law prohibits fashion brands from associating with political parties, it doesn’t forbid printing tees with a popular motto on them, or a hashtag linking to digital assets. The Election Law in Israel has recently been updated and for the first time in Israeli history, it imposes a provision of transparency on political content on the Internet. Simply put, the law provisions that a campaign or candidate must provide information about the parties involved and who holds responsibility for which role. Will the change in the law immediately become a dead letter? Will anyone bother to enforce it? And what will you do when everyone but you decides to ignore it? These are questions that will presumably be answered on the go, as the election campaign gets into gear. As of now, all we can say is: Don’t volunteer to be the only righteous one around.