There’s always a fair amount of political risk around an election cycle, but add a global pandemic to the mix and the landscape becomes even more uncertain. Organizations dealing with political risk and uncertainty are preparing their teams right now for what could happen if there is a change in who controls the White House, Congress, and the state governorships and legislatures.
For teams having to manage this moment of crisis and political and economic uncertainty, we’ve put together some best practices and insights from industry leaders in the trenches to know what to expect in the coming months.
Preparing for the Next Three Months
“Start hedging early,” says Tonya Saunders, principal at Washington Premier Group, a D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying firm. She believes building a team early that can liaise effortlessly with both parties regardless of the outcome of the upcoming elections is vital to manage the political risk and uncertainty ahead. Also, focus on building a team that can work on the issues that are important to your organization regardless of whether or not you have a champion in the White House.
“How I see it is, if the Senate stays Republican, it’s going to be by very narrow margins, and what that means for industry is you need to have people that have people who have relationships with both sides of the aisle,” Saunders adds.
In terms of what to do if your candidate does not win, teams are best served by focusing their efforts on what the controlling party has made as top priorities and lining up where the needs are. Being able to frame and hone your policies to match the moment are risk management strategies that will help you find more success.
“Let’s say you’re a nonprofit focused on education, and the larger dialogue is COVID-19 — how is that going to impact your issues as you try to advocate for additional funding or safety? You need to align your agenda with where the dialogue of the country is going,” says Saunders.
Hiring the right people before the situation calls for it, and tailoring your messaging to external stakeholders will be a deciding factor for government relations and public affairs teams as they head into the uncertain last few months before the election.
Where Will the Action Be, and What Will the Issues Be?
“Even if the Democrats keep the House and win back the White House and Senate, there’s still going to be gridlock in Washington, with a lot of the bread-and-butter issues that affect most Americans being dealt with at the state and local level,” according to Chris Lu, former deputy secretary of labor.
States have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 economic recovery across the country. As a result, government and public affairs teams have pivoted to getting in front of stakeholders at the local level of government to advance their issues. This is key for managing political risk and uncertainty for your issues going forward.
“Regardless of who wins the White House,” continued Lu, “the next year will be a busy year in Washington. There will be greater activity both on a legislative and regulatory front.”
For government and public affairs teams looking to have some idea as to what legislative and regulatory focuses there will be in these uncertain times, many public policy issues have already been decided. According to Saunders, “the current administration and Republican-held Senate will remain focused on federal judges, [and also on] liability/tort changes so companies won't be sued by victims of COVID-19. ‘Buy American’ and companies whose technology is dependent on China will remain a focus as well as a middle-class tax cut.”
For the Democrats, Saunders believes they will “remain laser-focused on racial justice, police reform, shoring up hospitals and first responders, Medicare, Medicaid, fair housing, childcare, school safety and COVID, testing and contact tracing, small business support and possibly infrastructure for job creation.”
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“There won’t be a honeymoon period after the upcoming election,” Lu adds. “I would expect a lot of regulatory changes in this next year regardless of who wins. The environmental and labor agencies do a lot of regulations, and you’ll see a lot more coming out of Health and Human Services as well.”
Saunders agrees that a lot of regulatory work will be done in the coming years, particularly “at the local level with small businesses or government contracting, and a large emphasis on tightening and strengthening of how the different branches work together.”
Looking to the Future
Even though the world is in such a tenuous position right now, the business of Washington, D.C. is still proceeding in many ways according to the usual practices. To advance your agendas, “identifying people early, making contact with them, marshaling the best arguments you have, and building advocacy campaigns” are the best way to move the needle on your policy positions, according to Lu.
Additionally, with COVID-19 at the forefront of people’s policy plans for the near future, Saunders believes that teams should focus on “bringing on new technologies that are making it easier to collaborate and visually connect with other people.” She goes on to say that “teams need to start doing self-assessments about where their gaps are on their teams depending on the different scenarios that could still happen for the rest of 2020.”
Regardless of the outcome, teams are in for an incredibly hectic remainder of the year. However, leveraging the uncertainty of 2020 can propel your team forward to better manage political risk and drive your legislative and regulatory agenda.
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