Political Context Analysis Overview

In a nonprofit electoral project, it's the issues that matter, not the candidates who may be running for office.

The political context analysis phase of campaign planning is about two things: figuring out what the key issues are and figuring out how your organization can have the most influence in the election.

Members of Community Voices Heard attend an accountability session in Albany, NYThink of this way: the principle reason community groups engage in electoral work is to gain power for their constituents. It is in this first stage of campaign planning that organizers translate that goal into a feasible strategy that will generate action among members, move a block of people to the polls and get your organization noticed.

What do we mean by noticed? If you can show that your campaign moved a number of people to vote on Election Day, other political actors will take notice.

Votes, as Henry Serrano of Community Voices Heard has said, are “a language that politicians understand.” For a 501(c)(3) community group, victory in nonpartisan projects comes after Election Day, when organizers are able to leverage their constituents' electoral power and win changes in policy.

The way you plan for an initiative campaign will be different from how you’d plan for a candidate election – the strategy you use may have more in common with a traditional political campaign than non-partisan voter registration and turn-out work – but there is overlap. For both, it’s the issues, as they are understood and expressed by your membership, that matter.

Another component of the political context analysis stage is issue education. No matter which type of project you’re planning, you won’t convince people to vote and you won’t inspire people to get involved unless you address the issues that matter most to them. But simply identifying the issues is not enough – successful electoral projects also spend some time in the early planning stage to teach their core volunteers about the main talking points and explain how they relate to the election. Before beginning an electoral project, SCOPE holds meetings with leadership and allies to educate and motivate them, as Anthony Thigpenn explains in the video. They also do versions of this throughout the project to educate new volunteers.

To guide you through the poltical context analysis stage, we offer two questions that every organization preparing to do integrated voter engagement work must answer:

  1. Why does this election matter to our base constituency?

  2. What can our group offer to other players in the election that will show how valuable we are as an ally?

Click to hear from an organizer

Henry Serrano describes the advantages of doing non-partisan electoral work
Henry Serrano: there are benefits to being non-partisan in IVE work

Anthony Thigpenn describes SCOPE's motivational and educational meetings with allies and volunteers
Anthony Thigpenn: educating and motivating about issues