State Legislative Affairs in the Trump Era Requires Grassroots Advocacy “Air Support”

As I’ve written before, Donald Trump’s election to President of the United States was not the beginning of the era of populism. It is simply a significant marker on the path we’ve been on politically and a marked strengthening of the discontent voters feel, which is driving the type of individuals being elected.

That phenomenon has been evident in state legislatures for several years now, and the 2018 election cycle – after many potential candidates saw what Trump pulled off – is only going to accelerate change at the state level.

The old strategy of “hug the hallways” at the Capitol, take legislators to dinner to build relationships, and influence legislation one-on-one is not sustainable. In the Trump Era of politics, you must implement a comprehensive messaging and grassroots advocacy strategy to provide “air support” to your “ground war.”

Legislators worth their salt really do care what people back home think about your issue. But how do you generate those grassroots contacts from scratch? Buckle up and find out.

Invest in What You Say & How You Say It

Your talking points are great. Seriously. But ask yourself – great for what audience? Most likely they’re written for your members, superiors, or other industry experts to understand. Learning to reframe your message and put it through an emotional and populist-audience lens is an art form.

Take the time to invest in learning the lexicon, messaging, issues – and most importantly, the frames through which the new breed of legislators is making decisions. This is not a cheap, fast, or easy process, but one that you must undertake if you want to succeed in the Trump Era of politics.

The fastest route is to engage a firm that specializes in speaking to this changing audience, one involved electorally and legislatively. Seek out someone who explains the “why” and “how” of their craft so you can learn how to natively speak the language instead of just being handed talking points, executive summaries, and strategy documents of “what” to do.

Your other route is through trial and error, which is much less expensive in terms of hard dollars, but much more expensive in opportunity cost and risk.

Harness the Power of Facebook & the Internet

Your legislators’ constituents spend hours each day online, many of those on Facebook and other social media networks. They are constantly clicking links, reading stories, looking at pictures, and filling out forms. You should be using these actions to generate grassroots connections from voting constituents to voting legislators.

We call it the new state legislative grassroots advocacy process, which involves identifying, educating, and activating voters “back home” to call, email, write, post, etc. their legislator about your issue.

Several touches from real people in the district will motivate any state house, state senate, or state assembly member to pay attention. Combine this with your on-the-ground government relations efforts, and you have a winning formula.

Keep in mind that building the infrastructure to make digital grassroots advocacy possible is not for the weak of (tech) heart. However, once in place, you have an asset that can be used over and over again on issue after issue that affects your organization or cause.

Educate Before You Ask

A skilled lobbyist would never walk up to an elected official and ask for a vote without first explaining the issue – both pros and cons. Take that same mindset to your grassroots efforts.

Don’t expect a constituent target to take a big leap on your behalf until you’ve explained what’s in it for them. How will they be affected by the issues, either positively or negatively? Remember to focus on emotional impact, not logical persuasion.

As much as humans would like to give themselves the credit for being smart, we all make decisions emotionally then find logic that supports that choice. We do this through email sequences and marketing funnel creation, which walks the target through a process before asking him or her to directly contact the legislator.

Conclusion

Go ahead and make the leap (read: investment) into a comprehensive messaging and advocacy “air support” effort to enhance the results from your “ground war” lobbying approach. If you don’t, I promise the other side will if they’re not already.