Running for political office comes with many unique challenges. Whether you’re running on a local, state or federal level, you need to plan strategically if you want to garner voter support. One of the most important first steps to launching a successful campaign is identifying the hot-button issues in your community.

But how?

If you’re new to campaigning, you may only have a vague idea of the issues that matter to your constituents. And even if you’re a seasoned political veteran, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of changing public opinion and to become out of touch with voters, especially when you’re already knee-deep in the campaigning process.

Identifying the big issues doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t need a six-figure campaign budget to do it. It’s all about getting back to basics.

Here’s how to do it:

1) Be active in your community
By far, this is the single most effective strategy for finding out what matters to your community. Get involved. Join local organizations, clubs, business support meetings, volunteer groups, committees, or even sports teams. You’ll hear about issues first-hand from neighbors and current elected officials. Plus, you’ll have numerous networking opportunities that could significantly benefit your campaign down the road.

Recommended resource: How to Get Involved in Your Community (PDF)

2) Follow your local media
If you aren’t already reading your local newspapers and watching the local 6 o’clock news, now’s the time to start. This is another extremely easy way to find out what’s happening in your community, every day. In the local newspapers, be sure to actively read the opinion pages and letters to the editor, where you’ll find issues being presented by individual residents (your potential voters). Additionally, consider submitting your own letters to the editor or editorials to engage the public and invite them to contact you directly with questions and feedback.

Recommended resource: Campaign Letter Writing Tips

3) Canvass voters
Reading letters to the editor is a good start, but you’ll want to reach a lot more people before Election Day. You’ll need to canvass voters to start having more one-on-one conversations. This can be done by calling (phone banking) and knocking on doors, which is one of the most effective strategies for campaigning. Use these canvassing activities to not only talk about your policies but also listen to what residents are saying. Ask them what issues concern them and use their responses to help shape your policy agenda. You can do this even before you officially launch your campaign.

Recommended resource: Experiments Show [Door-Knocking] is the Best Way to Win Elections

4) Ask for survey responses
Consider using direct mail, email campaigns and market research services to dig even deeper into the issues that matter to your communities. From mail-back cards to Facebook polls, there are numerous ways to solicit opinions from your potential voters. Once you’re actively campaigning, you can also use these methods to solicit online donations to your campaign – for example, by including a link to your website in your email or direct mail piece. People generally like providing their opinion, and some may be compelled to contribute if they are convinced you’ll take their issues seriously.

Recommended resource: Obtaining Feedback from Constituents

5) Mobilize your volunteers
Once you begin to attract your biggest supporters, invite them to volunteer for your campaign. Chances are, if you’re running for a high-level position, you won’t be able to handle all these canvassing activities yourself. Rely on a volunteer base to reach out to many voters, identify the big issues and hone your campaign message accordingly.

Recommended resource: 5 Tips for Recruiting Political Volunteers

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