[Alumni Reflection] Alena Popova: “I have used many techniques that I saw in US”
I know about elections firsthand. At the time of the 2012 Elections Exchange program, I already had taken part as a candidate in the 2011 Russian Parliamentary elections. This exchange program was not just an overview tour for me; I wanted to learn specific election campaign techniques in order to use them when I returned to Russia.
The Elections Exchange gave me the opportunity to see the elections from all the angles: from visits to political party offices, campaign headquarters, and rallies, to seminars on campaign finance and the role of the media.
We managed to see both candidates – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with our own eyes.
It should be mentioned that Congressional elections are arranged in parallel with the Presidential Election. Congress in the USA is very powerful and can decide whether the President is able to carry on the reforms announced during his election campaign or not. Congressional candidates are also actively involved in their campaigns, which at the local levels are on par with the presidential one.
Here are some highlights from my exchange:
High involvement of citizens in elections. Voters know the candidates and the main points of their programs very well. In order to win voters’ hearts, candidates cannot just confine themselves to the work with mass media and outdoor advertising. They should personally visit as many places as possible and meet as many people as possible. The atmosphere of elections is felt everywhere – from decorations on houses to conversations in cafes and restaurants. People actively contribute money to their candidates. If there were no restrictions on the maximum amount of contribution from one private individual, I suppose, some people would give every last cent to their candidates.
The counting of votes cannot be doubted. Elections and vote counting take place publicly and transparently. No one doubts that the vote counting has been performed fair.
Swing states. Virginia, where I observed the election, is traditionally a state where it’s not clear who is going to win until the election in complete. Such states are called “swing states,” and since there are few such states, candidates focus on them because it’s too difficult to alter the situation in states traditionally voting for Democrats or Republicans. In the end, Barack Obama won Virginia with 51.16% of popular vote versus 47.28% for Mitt Romney. One should mention that Virginia showed almost the same result as the result of the whole country.
Very competitive elections. During last elections 51.1% of votes were for Barack Obama and 47.2% of votes for Mitt Romney. Perhaps for the USA such a gap may seem large; however for most elections in the world it’s very small. The candidates struggle not only for each state, but for each county.
A lot of open information about elections. A lot of private companies publish very detailed surveys about the mood of the electorate weekly. The population is divided into a large number of demographic groups, and the mood of each group is monitored separately. Based on this information one can make forecast and coordinate its campaign without flying blind.
Campaigns are very expensive. I should note that there are disadvantages of the presidential elections in the USA too. The campaigns are extremely expensive. In 2012 Obama collected about $1 billion for the campaign, and Romney raised $1.2 billion, a great deal of money. This fact doesn’t leave a chance for other parties’ candidates to compete with Democrats and Republicans. They simply do not have financial and media resources for that. Candidates also have to make agreements with large capital owners for support.
After the US Elections Exchange program I took part in elections once again as an independent candidate in elections to the Moscow City Parliament in 2014. The experience helped me a lot. I have used many techniques that I saw in US, especially campaign HQ organizations, door to door campaigning, call-center techniques, micro targeting and messaging.
I loved my Elections Exchange Program so much and it was so useful for me that I will be back in DC for the 2016 Presidential Election, and I hope to do it every 4 years.
Alena Popova is an ACYPL alumni. In 2012 she participated in US Elections Exchange program as a delegate from Russia during 2012 presidential elections. She is a founder of the Human Capital Fund – a political and economic think tank based in Russia.