Over the course of a campaign, volunteers and staffers alike spend hundreds of working hours pounding the pavement. They knock on doors, talk over voter outreach tables, and even make cold calls to people who are more likely to hang up than listen beyond that first hopeful greeting. It’s exhausting, stressful, and difficult work – and for many volunteers, utterly worth the trouble.
Most campaign workers don’t take up their roles for the pay and an extra line on their resumes; they sign on because they truly believe in a candidate’s values and leadership potential. With such a focus on reaching potential voters, the last thing that an exhausted, optimistic campaign worker wants to hear after floating their candidate’s name to a voter is: Who? Never heard of them.
Name recognition matters, and any candidate worth their campaign pin knows that they can’t afford to dismiss it. It sounds intuitive: voters trust those they find familiar. According to a 2011 study conducted by researchers at Princeton University, voters who enter the voting booth without a significant understanding of how candidates’ positions align with their own are more likely to opt for the most familiar name. Think about that for a moment – in a community of less- or moderately-involved voters, a greater awareness of a name could actually define the outcome of an election.
That said, this finding hinges on the assumption that voters won’t do their research before heading to the ballot box. Let’s consider the issue optimistically, and ask – does the value of name recognition still hold true if voters are engaged?
The short answer is yes – but not in the same way. The ideal voter does their homework, and moves towards the candidate whose positions align well with their own; but at the end of the day, they choose a person, not a laundry list of political issues. Generally, people tend to vote for people they feel they know – and for some, “knowing” a candidate can be as simple as exchanging a smile or handshake after a speech. Name recognition goes beyond simply recognizing the name, and becomes a recognition of the person and personality behind the name. It’s difficult to put faith in a distant persona; voters gravitate to those they feel they have connected with. Thus, name recognition opens the door to voter trust.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see that the work those tireless campaign staffers do is vital to creating a healthy campaign. At its core, political elections are human efforts – it isn’t enough to just push an agenda or position. Campaigns also need to focus on helping voters connect to the person behind the name; to trust that the candidate they vote for will represent them well.