Sunday, November 12, 2006

Name Recognition Trumps Everything

This is very hard for candidates to understand, especially if they have never run for office before, but name recognition is extremely important. Indeed in counties such as Medina, which is experiencing a lot of growth, it is probably the most important part of winning elections. Candidates are people who are very interested in politics and government. It is easy for them to believe that everyone is as interested in these matters as they are. After all, their friends and family all know they are running for office, doesn't this mean that the rest of the public knows as well? Well, no, it doesn't.

Put yourself in the position of the voter in last week's election. In Medina County there were 27 candidates major party candidates running in 14 races. (There would have been 28, but our county auditor was unopposed). Not counting the county auditor, you had 26 candidates to try and remember when you went to vote. That is a lot of information to carry around in your head. You are going to look for ways to shortcut the process. One way is by party identification, that is, only voting for candidates who are members of one political party or the other. Another way, although we don't like to discuss it, is by racial or gender identification, that is, only voting for candidates on racial or gender grounds. Usually most voters, however, don't vote for reasons of party, race, or gender. That leaves name identification, voting for the names that you know.

Sorting out candidates by name identification allows voters to go through the process of voting quickly. If they recognize the name, and if the recognition is not negative, then they are more likely than not to vote for that name. This is why incumbents have such an advantage. They have a whole term in office to get known whereas their opponents have only a few weeks, or at best, a few months.

Name identification also explains why, even in last week's anti-GOP wave in Ohio, local Republicans still won. The scandals in state government weren't scandals involving local candidates. No local Republican in Medina County got money from Bob Ney, or benefited from Coingate, or was a part of the Taft Administration. Therefore, those scandals weren't going to be as effective as Democrats may have thought in getting rid of local GOP incumbents or GOP candidates with prior ballot exposure.

What local Democratic candidates need to work on is getting better known before they run for office. At least one to two years out a person considering running for a county-wide race in a county as big as Medina County should be working on becoming known. Trying to become well known the year you run for office isn't going to work unless you have a lot of money to spend building up name identification.

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