The Political Message Quadrant helps campaigns define the candidate, define the opponent, and create and messages that tell a story.
This article is part of a series on creating key messages. I recommend reading the article on how to create key messages first.
The Political message quadrant is as it sounds — used by political strategists and communicators. It asks four questions that the campaign must answer:
- What will I tell voters about me?
- What will I tell them about my opponent?
- What will my opponent tell voters about his or herself?
- What will my opponent tell voters about me?
This is a good format because the political campaigns and their candidates that win are the first to define the race. Neil Oxman, a well-known ad-man said in a recent NPR interview:
The three things that you want to try to do in a campaign – if you’re running a perfect campaign – is define yourself, meaning you define the candidate before your opponent defines him or herself. The second is, define your opponent before the opponent defines himself or herself. And the third thing is you define the stakes of the election.
How this message grid helps
The quadrant encourages communicators to develop messages that manage the positive and negative feelings towards the candidates. That is, it helps the campaign team focus their message, associate the messages to the narrative, and define the values on which the campaign will be fought.
It helps campaigns anticipate attacks from the other side (and in the current climate — attacks from other groups such as Super Pacs and industry groups). In politics, unanswered attacks are deadly.
The political message grid can be used on other campaigns as well. Where there’s rancour, deception, and a lot on the line, it’s important to have both positive and negative messages.
In his book, The Political Brain, Drew Westen says campaigners who don’t understand the idea of emotion and the passionate mind tend to lose in all four quadrants of the grid. No campaign has a chance of winning if that happens.
Don’t rely solely on positive messages
I worked on a campaign a few years ago where we failed to adequately highlight the dirty tactics and deception of the other side. We made the mistake of focusing on positive messages and we were getting thumped. The other side looked like it had the interest of people at heart based on the strength and emotion of their message — we looked detached, dispassionate, and disinterested. We should have developed negative messages earlier in the campaign.
How to use the grid
Here are some questions that will help you develop messages for each quadrant.
What will I tell voters about me?
- What are my/our values?
- What’s at stake and how will I/we be involved?
- What have I/we achieved?
- What is my/our view of the world?
- What will I/we do if elected?
- How will that make people’s lives better?
What will I tell them about my opponent?
- What is their negative track record?
- What harm have they caused?
- What are the negative consequences of what they are proposing?
- How will they make people’s lives worse?
- What indicates they don’t have people’s interests at heart?
- Who do they associate with?
- What do other credible groups say that’s negative about them?
What will my opponent tell voters about his or herself?
- What is their perceived positive track record?
- How have they improved people’s lives?
- What are the perceived positive consequences of what they are proposing?
- How will they make people’s lives better?
- What indicates they do have people’s interests at heart?
- What do other credible groups say that’s positive about them?
What will my opponent tell voters about me?
- What is my/our perceived negative track record?
- What are the perceived negative consequences of what I/we are proposing?
- How will I/we allegedly make people’s lives worse?
- What allegedly indicates I/we don’t have people’s interests at heart?
- Who do I/we associate with that is perceived to be negative?
- What do other credible groups say about us that’s negative?
How it looks
Here’s the message quadrant using the startup and overfishing campaign examples. I’ve also included a political campaign for reference.
As you can see it does have some constraints when you’re working on issues and not personalities. But for political campaigns, it’s a great format.
Try it out — you may be surprised how easy the messages come.