The page below is an old version of my Business Plan for a New Political Party. Due to popular demand, I have updated the Plan considerably and put it into Kindle Format. You can buy it here.
Yes, it costs a bit of money. But the return on investment is enormous if you are serious about starting a political party.
Are you serious?
The Low Hanging Fruit
If you haven’t read Part 3, stop and do so now! There, I talk about the four bottlenecks to acquiring dedicated activists. Here, I am going to look at each bottleneck, and identify the low-hanging fruit, along with the progressively more difficult options.
Remember that in the uncorrelated, linear approximation, the total fraction of voters who become dedicated activists is the product of the four bottlenecks. Ignoring any one bottleneck can cut our acquisition flow down to a tiny trickle. The key to success is to exploit all the low-hanging fruit for each bottleneck, and then intelligently apply the more expensive options where needed.
In terms of cost/ease, we can roughly divide our awareness building options as:
Feel free to quibble over my categorization of what is easy and what is hard. Keep in mind that what I consider hard is biased by what is hard for me. Writing a book is hard, but funding a direct mail campaign is harder. (I have done enough writing of late to the point where I am no longer intimidated by the thought of writing a book. On the other hand, all this writing/activism has put a dent in my bank account.) Should some well-heeled donors jump on board early, the order of difficulty could change.
Do note how much effort the Libertarian Party has put into the options on the far right column, even while overlooking some of the easier options. Where are the CDs describing the Libertarian Party so that people can listen while driving down the road? Where are the videos/DVDs that members can hand to friends/family/coworkers? How many radio spots are purchased promoting the party (vs. individual candidates)? Has the LP ever done an infomercial? (This worked very well for Lyndon LaRouche.)
Some of these things have been produced by the movement, but promoting a party is not identical to promoting a movement.
And even where the LP does exercise the easy options, it doesn’t go full throttle. The number of bumper stickers and brochures are very limited. Activists have to buy them, vs. having the party push them into the hands of activists. Perhaps the rules have changed, but once upon a time the Hare Krishnas had ongoing outreach booths on the Mall in Washington D.C. If such is still legal, a third party that can afford a DC office could be maintaining a presence on the Mall. Busloads of high school seniors arrive daily with government on their minds.
OK, this is perhaps too expensive for a startup party; I am lapsing back into criticism of existing parties. But the key point is that there are many options for getting out the word that are much cheaper than earning participation in a national televised debate, getting celebrity endorsements, or decent coverage by the national mainstream media.
If our other bottlenecks are open sufficiently, awareness can spread using just the cheapest options. If the ideas are pleasing enough and the party credible enough, those who hear by word of mouth are likely enough to spread that word. That said, I suspect that the moderately expensive options of books, CDs and possibly DVDs are worth doing early for the purpose of internal education if nothing else.
Best Ideas/Believe in the Party
Our options here are:
The two easiest options are covered in Part 2. Here is an area where a brand new party excels over existing parties. Note that I included triangulation here, even though triangulation is primarily for credibility. If you are in a two-way race, there are situations where not triangulating can open this bottleneck further. For example, you could run as a liberal candidate in a liberal district against a Democrat. But on the national scale, this bottleneck is opened by maximizing the number of people who like the new party’s ideals more than either those of the Democratic or Republican parties. (OK, you can also open this bottleneck just as much by being centrist as well, so perhaps I am jumping the gun here.)
Besides my theoretical triangulation/moderation, it is possible to test market ideas. It is possible to spend tens of thousands of dollars doing so formally, but it is also possible to productively hone the message through very informal processes. I am in the process of doing so now. A campaign which includes door-knocking automatically hones its message as the candidate listens to the reaction of those he contacts.
Besides perfecting the message, it is also possible to open this bottleneck through voter education. In fact the opportunity is extremely large for a party occupying the upper-left market niche. While there is plenty of sentiment in favor of moving this country towards smaller government and more equality, most people don’t know how to get there, or that an upper-left agenda is even possible.
For this reason I think education should be part of the mix right from the beginning. If you skipped Part 4, go back and read what I had to say about education vs. indoctrination. If you are a libertarian or deep environmentalist who has met a great deal of resistance to your efforts at “education,” odds are good that you have been attempting indoctrination. I do not propose indoctrination as an early strategy. Let those who like big government in and of itself continue to be Democrats or Republicans. Let those who are happy with a large wealth gap remain Republican.
I could have the ordering above wrong. It could be that recruiting community leaders and/or national celebrities is easier than I anticipate. It could be that getting people to attend classes on egalitarian free market economics is easier than I anticipate. If so, these options should be exercised early. If not, only minor trial efforts should be extended in these directions at first.
This is the big challenge for a startup party. Given the number of failed and bogus third party efforts, it is critical to stand out early. Here are some options.
Once again, you can quibble about my ordering.
Note how the first column has many items that are simply not doing things that are bogus. Desperation tactics make you look desperate. Many a third party has adopted desperation tactics to gain awareness and lost credibility thereby. Let us be honest about our prospects. Let us not be arrogant by claiming that our inexperienced candidate is better than the major party’s experienced candidate purely on the basis of ideology. Let us not treat voting as a way of “sending a message.”
Note also how the LP has put a great deal of emphasis on items on the far right without fully exploiting the easy opportunities.
That said, we cannot expect to be credible to many with just a market position, a hefty business plan, and an avoidance of past mistakes. We do need to do some harder things right from the start. But we don’t have to go that far to obtain differentiation from 90+% of the dormant stub parties listed on politics1.com. Simply having a hefty web site with active content is more than most of these parties have. Most are obviously bogus from just a few minutes browsing the web site. Throw in a library of decent outreach materials and FEC reporting and you are already up a level. With such an appearance of credibility, you can get more people to look deeper into your plans and what you are actually doing now.
One thing that a new party can do from the start is voter education. Such an effort is worthwhile to those who agree with the party’s agenda even if the party never wins an election. There is a danger to relying on education for credibility too long, however. Such a strategy can result in a membership base that doesn’t do real politics. Nonetheless, it is a risk worth taking, since a tiny party can do little else.
One possible way to inoculate against the dangers of becoming an educational organization instead of a party would be for affiliate parties to avoid calling themselves parties until they are ready to run credible candidates. They could be clubs at first. Let local clubs do the outreach, gather sympathetic names etc. Then, they can support local non-partisan campaigns. Only after such a base is obtained should ballot access on a partisan basis be sought.
Once again: gather sympathetic names. It is possible to open Bottlenecks A and B without opening C and D. If you do outreach booths, push polls, etc. you can build a database of names whom are aware of, and like the new party’s agenda. Should this list become large enough, you then can obtain credibility by pointing out the size of this list to the members therein. At this point you attempt to activate those prone to activism. You tell the community about your support base by getting yard signs in the yards of your sympathizer base. (Some political experts will say yard signs are unimportant. I beg to differ. For a third party they are critical, if they are placed in yards vs. public right-of-ways or in front of voting areas. In yards they send a message out that you have a support base, that you are credible.)
Geographic focus and local message are concepts that deserve their own chapters.
Participation before running is a local strategy. If your local club can get a half dozen members to show up at city council meetings on a regular basis to protest injustice and praise good government, you will be noticed by locally important players: the press, angry citizens, non-party activist groups, and local business interests. A potential candidate should participate in such activities for some time before announcing a run for office. Better yet, the potential candidate should try serving on at least one appointed board. These activities provide huge credibility boosts, along with press coverage and donations.
Copyright 2007, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.