Having multiple clients on different sides in the GE14 Malaysian GE14 election gave AutoPolitic a kaleidoscopic view of how our advice and theories operated in the wild. While no battle plans survive the first contact with reality, many reached their intended targets because of superior operation and discipline, and a few failed because of internal negotiation. Below are some abstracted lessons.
The campaigns are very receptive towards tactical advices on message tweaking, additional outreach, and using data to gauge which activities matches the pace and stage of the campaign. Data has been persuasive in altering client’s behaviour mostly in this day-to-day areas.
From supporting parties and supporting candidates, candidates usually moves faster than the party’s branding team, and often, when provided with a win-win strategy, will push the party’s message as a laggard to the candidate’s. This seems to be true across many parties and, as a result, the party’s effectiveness is driven by a candidate’s eagerness and competence. This is where a party with long history tends to produce complacent candidates that overly relies on the party, and where the challenger party with lower.
Operational Excellence Correlates to Outcome - Law of Small Numbers
From the official records*, DAP is the clear stand out party, running a significant number of campaigns and winning 90%. While PKR comes in at 67% winning rates but at nearly double the number of campaigns. This speaks of both discipline as quality as smaller scales. With there is a larger number of campaigns to run, the quality of the campaign staff will fall simply because political talents are difficult to produce because elections are far and few in between, and most campaign managers work only on a single campaign and have to pass an unnecessary ideological test to get the job. In addition, coordinating messages across multiple-party and 100+ candidates proved to be difficult, with various degree of freedom by the regional party to adjust the message to the region’s support level. The best model would be a portfolio approach, using social data to determine the pre-eminence of the core message, like a few of the ranking service we provided, which turned out to be correct.
Small is beautiful. So is a victory.
It is customary for corporations to test their messages, either through a focus group or selective regional markets to weed out the worst of the howlers or to pick the winner. In the campaign, no message was truly tested. Even when the message was data-ranked and present with caveats, the critical analysis was brushed aside and data that contradicted the decision was argued as a support for the message. The agents who came up with the message plan were determined to have their message broadcasted, even when some of the message, based on data and common sense, demonstrates it will do damage without gathering support. This type of unforced error has caused more damage than undisciplined messaging.
Before the campaign started, strategic advice is greatly sought after but rarely acts on because of the prohibitive factors such as organizational identify, legacy issues and lack of social power to change alliance partnerships. The purpose of seeking strategic advice is not intended to have a comprehensive plan but to see if there are any silver bullets hiding in plain sights. Even a comprehensive strategy strategic plan tends to be cherry picked and loses strategic integrity, and created foreseeable but unintended consequences.
Candidate selection exhibits rational bias.
If we use the metaphor of a horse race for elections, then selecting the right horse would be the key success factor. In the few instances, we were asked to evaluate potential candidates, or use social data to rank a shortlist, the result inevitable indicates data-based evaluation of a candidate’s electability is never taken into consideration. This systematic bias we have observed throughout all countries we have worked in, and it’s probably rooted in the social nature of political parties, and the structural and logical contradiction to pick a common denominator leadership for the masses from a small group with entangled interests and internecine relationship. Based on the data assessment, we already passed the relative strength and weakness of each candidate and invariably, the final candidate picked to stand for election are chosen base on the relationship, the sponsorship, and, in one blatant case, pure sycophancy. Nice to know human nature never changes.
What is truly ugly is that lack of remediation plan after a sub-optimal candidate is chosen. On multiple occasions, when a sub-optimal candidate is chosen against our data advice, there was no follow-up action to address the deficiency indicated. It’s almost as if by addressing the deficiency (and improves the chance of winning), it re-affirms the deficiency. Whatever nepotism produces, it has a big ego. Nice to know human nature resists the painful lesson of history.
Victory teaches us nothing except the glamour of luck. Defeat is the greatest teacher, but its cruelty lies in testing us first the leave us to understand the lesson. From our victorious clients, we did not expect any congratulation, but it’s gratifying that a few clients who lost this election have asked us to help with their comebacks.