Unlocking Success: How Embracing Cygnal Values and Industry Excellence Propelled My Student Body President Campaign 

Winning election as Student Body President of any college or university is not easy. I know; I tried twice. I first ran for Student Body President of Patrick Henry College my freshman year in the spring of 2023. As the campaign went on, we truly believed we had a shot at winning, but as a freshman, my youth and inexperience were perceived as too great of flaws to overcome, and we lost the race. 

Despite the defeat, we earned the most votes of any freshman ticket in the history of Patrick Henry College elections, and that kept a spark alive to perhaps take another shot at the office. Sure enough, in the fall of 2023 I found myself running for President again. The field was tough. There were five viable candidates, each notable and well-loved members of the student body, all with well-formed and organized campaigns.  

We immediately got to work and built a campaign team full of people from all corners of campus, wrote our platform, got proposals pre-approved/plausibility-test by administration, built a brand, set up social media, designed campaign posters, took photos, and began blazing the campaign trail.  

After three summers as an intern at Cygnal, I have picked up three key concepts working alongside some of the most brilliant minds in American politics today. First, use the data you collect to build a roadmap to victory. Second, find out what is important to voters and make it important to you. Finally, use data to identify your perceived weaknesses and shape a more positive narrative to bolster them 

Building a roadmap to victory.

We knew that in an election with five legitimate tickets there was going to be a runoff, so we had to make sure we made it to that runoff. We did this by acting as if the campaign for the runoff was already underway. If a runoff was inevitable, we needed to let voters know that they should expect to vote twice. So, when students told us they didn’t think they were going to vote for us, we asked about their second choice. We realized we didn’t need to be everybody’s first choice, just their second. It worked. Getting people to pledge their vote to us in a runoff before the runoff was necessary if we wanted to win in a head-to-head race.  

Throughout the process my team kept a database of everyone we talked to and their plan to vote. We divided the student body into categories and demographics we expected would vote similarly and identified our key constituency. This helped us target each group and assign campaign team members to the groups they could best relate to. This also gave us an estimated vote total and a benchmark we needed to reach to win. Our vote-total estimation in the first round of voting was just two votes shy of the actual results. 

This way of thinking was only accessible to me by way of my experience at Cygnal. Here, our polls identify key demographics in a race and advise campaigns on both where they are and where they need to be with the electorate to win the race. This is also an embodiment of the mission of Cygnal which is to “remove doubt by understanding opinions, hearts, and minds to create intelligence for action.” 

What is important to voters should be important to you.  

The most successful politicians minimize the gap between themselves and the people they look to represent. Though I am something of a student government junkie, having served in previous elected and appointed roles, few outside of student government care much about the day-to-day politics or internal machinations of getting hard things done. Knowing this, rather than starting my stump speeches with, “Hi, my name is Trevor please vote for me,” I started with a question, “What is important to you as a student and what would you like to see in your student body president?” Now they get a chance to hear why what is important to them is also important to me. This does not mean becoming a political chameleon or abandoning your personal priorities. It means being acutely and astutely aware of what the voters care about.  

Working at Cygnal, I realized how many candidates run for office because they care deeply about important issues like school choice or abortion, and so it’s all they talk about. Looking at the polls, however, those issues are often fourth, fifth, or even sixth place behind what voters really care about. A huge part of the development of my campaign was realizing voters care way less about “student government,” and much more about other issues relating to the student body. 

Identify your weaknesses and shape the narrative around them. 

My biggest perceived weakness was my class-standing. I started asking students who weren’t going to vote for me what held them back from voting for me. The resounding answer was the seniority of the other tickets. Running against four other tickets, all rising seniors, made us the only current underclassmen in the race. To the student body, it automatically painted us as less mature, less experienced, and therefore less qualified. Instead of being helpless in the face of this problem, we exhibited the Cygnal value of “obliterate obstacles.” My team flipped the narrative and campaigned on it. We argued that it is better for the student body president to be a junior because they won’t have their sights set on graduation and beyond in the middle of a term. We leaned heavily into this, emphasizing it in the debate and in our conversations with voters.   

I learned this by seeing how Cygnal conducts message testing. It is important to know what the weaknesses and strengths of your campaign are, so you know what to talk about and what to steer clear of.   

Election outcomes. 

So, how did it work out? We won our election. After coming out of the general election the clear frontrunners, the runoff was still remarkably close. We won by only four votes, even after every other campaign but one endorsed our opponents. We had done the research, we knew the issues, and we countered our weaknesses. The seeds for victory were sown from the beginning when we first made our roadmap to win. Thanks in no small part due to what I learned about campaigns and data here at Cygnal.  

Trevor Good is a Sales and Marketing Intern for Cygnal and Student Body President at Patrick Henry College.