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Messaging In The Election

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At the time of this blog posting, the U.S. was still awaiting the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. During the extended vote-counting process, Maracaibo Media’s intern, Michelle, put together some of her thoughts about both candidates’ use of targeted messages during their campaigns – and what PR professionals can take away from the use of that approach.

Appealing to the Crowd

How PR Messaging Shaped the Presidential Candidacies

In the buildup to the presidential election, both candidates worked tirelessly to get their messages out to the public. With an election this hotly contested, the importance of persuading voters to support your vision for the country takes on even more significance.

Towards that end, each candidate put out a series of TV ads to promote why they were the best fit to serve the office of the president. These targeted ads made a big difference on Election Day. Voters in Florida were shown different content than voters in New Jersey.  The South saw different messages than the Northeast. And the Mid-West saw even another set of messaging points.

Trump’s messages in Florida, for example, were aimed at spreading the notion that Joe Biden is heavily influenced by socialists. This was an effective way to gain more votes from Cuban-Americans – many of whom used to live in socialist Cuba and abhor its practices. Joe Biden, meanwhile, focused on the current president’s perceived failures at curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, a message that resonated with Florida’s significant population of seniors.

In Fact, The Biden campaign’s chief messaging point to all audiences was that he would be better capable of taming the coronavirus if elected. He re-enforced that messaging by “walking the walk” as he continually upheld public health measures – such as wearing a mask, holding rallies with participants in cars to maintain social distance, and even carrying a mask with him onto the debate stage.

Because the pandemic curtailed the use of traditional “stump speeches” at live rallies, both candidates used social media extensively.  Trump and Biden campaigns each held events and spread messages to their voters through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. This was especially important for this particular election not only because there is stress for the public to stay home and away from others to prevent the spread of the virus, but also because it connects largely with younger voters. In a generation of politically active and social media-influenced young adults, the messages from both campaigns aimed at younger voters were different than that of older voters.

Leading up to Election Night, President Trump consistently spread the message that mail-in ballots were untrustworthy and should not be counted. He strategically spread this message before Election Day to persuade his voters to make a strong showing on November 3rd, rather than through mail-in or absentee ballots. With this idea firmly established as truth among his base, he then declared that he had legitimately “won” the election on Election Day evening, despite the fact that many states had not finished counting their ballots.

By targeting different messages to different groups of voters, both presidential candidates were able to appeal to the groups that will determine the next president through their votes. It’s an important reminder to all of us in public relations to know the audience you are trying to reach with your message and make sure you modify it to have the most appeal.