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Election Year Scenario Planning: Best Practices For Your Team

by Joshua Habursky, Deputy executive director and chief lobbyist, Premium Cigar Association (PCA)

How to navigate the complexities of government affairs and advocacy in an election year with tips from an expert.  

Election Year Advocacy

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Elections certainly have consequences and presidential cycles have even higher stakes. Electoral outcomes usually have drastic ramifications on government affairs and advocacy departments influencing priorities, budgets, resources, and staffing. Even though you must maintain operations with the current political makeup, administration, and Congress, the most effective organizations keep an eye on the future possible outcomes.

Many government affairs and advocacy organizations are already engaged in strategic planning for a variety of political scenarios and building contingency plans that affect everything from mundane operations to more theoretical policy outcomes.

Scenario Planning for an Election Year: Best Practices

Your organization should map out and prepare strategies for the potential election outcomes. Here are three scenarios worth considering for any organization.

Scenario 1: Beware of the Waves

All organizations should have a plan for either party sweeping in November and winning a trifecta of House, Senate, and White House. You should already be creating this plan with existing stakeholders and partisans.

For most organizations, a wave is the biggest risk. If your cause is typically championed by the winning party, you’re under a lot of pressure to get things done. If the party in power is typically adversarial toward your issue or organization, you have a lot to lose.

Scenario 2: Divided We Are

A divided government is often the preferred outcome of many mainstream trade and membership organizations. Working on a bipartisan basis to find common ground will often lead to more creativity in advocacy campaigning, lower expectations, and shifts in policymaking to other levels of government (state and local) or sectors of government (regulatory or courts).

Scenario 3: Status Quo

If there aren’t any major changes as a result of the election, you should focus on engagement to ensure that momentum isn’t lost, advocates are still active, and the cause is top of mind. In this scenario, public relations, media communications, and stakeholder engagement become even more important.

If you were unable to accomplish something last Congress, you need to identify the roadblocks and reattempt to apply appropriate pressure to break the impasse. This can be a daunting task, as political apathy may set in and your priorities may need to be realigned.

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Tips for Government Affairs & Advocacy Teams in an Election Year

Beyond party control, many variables can affect government affairs operations resulting from pivotal elections. Who controls what? What are their margins? How does this affect down-ballot candidates that influence state and local policy? Here are a few tips for managing government affairs and advocacy in an election year:

Convention Presence

In July all eyes will be on Milwaukee for the RNC and similarly in August for the DNC in Chicago. You should plan to host an event during both conventions.

Your organization may not even engage in presidential politicking, but the Congressional delegations, party operatives, and political hopefuls will be gathered in one place. You have a prime opportunity to work with local members and allied organizations during both conventions.

This engagement doesn’t have to break the bank — you can host unofficial networking events, policy discussions, and receptions by partnering with other organizations and sharing the cost.

Lobby the ‘Safe’ District Members

Many Congressional leaders from this Congress will be re-elected next Congress. Your strategy preparations for the next Congress should include resources and time dedicated to this Congress. The margins and control may change next year, but many faces will return from both parties. It is crucial to engage with these offices now, whether you are trying to get something passed or to block a piece of legislation.

Mobilize Your Advocates for Elections

Many successful organizations leverage their supporters, donors, and members to vote, volunteer on a campaign, make a contribution, or even go door-knocking. Your organization should ratchet up its political capital and mobilize people for direct action to help get champions for your cause elected.

You can do this on a bipartisan basis and will require vetting, education, strategy, and time. If done correctly, this is a surefire way to enter the next Congress with new and energized champions who are appreciative of your organization's support.

Whatever Happens, Have a Strategy in Place

No matter what political outcomes occur, your organization may find itself with an elevated policy issue or an issue that neither party is paying attention to. In either scenario, you must be prepared to adapt your resources and attention accordingly. To raise the profile of your organization or cause, start planning now for 2025 activities including welcome receptions, grasstops fly-ins, direct lobbying education meetings, and media buys.

Party control is one of many factors of significance in lobbying and advocacy. Elections have consequences, but you can determine how those consequences affect your organization. The players may change, but the game remains the same. Planning strategic engagements and having an extensive and well-rehearsed playbook of possible scenarios can give you a competitive advantage over other organizations and ensure the longevity of your cause.

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