Bentonville uses strategy to turn 60% “no” into 60% “yes”

One of the most common questions we receive after conducting a pre-election research study for a school district is, “How much movement, in terms of the number of supporters, is realistic to expect, if we run a great campaign?”

The answer is not a simple percentage, but rather a combination of factors. How much time is there between now and Election Day? How deep is the hole that the district needs to climb out of, in terms of the level of support? Are there other circumstances that will add to the challenge – such as patrons expressing doubts about the abilities of the district’s Administration or Board of Education?

In the best of situations, the biggest challenge is usually time. Moving apathetic voters into the “yes” column, and swinging enough “soft negative” folks to the positive isn’t something that’s easily accomplished in a few weeks. Our client, the Bentonville, Arkansas School District, knows that well.

They ran a millage election in 2008, only to have 60% of the patrons vote “no.” We were called in early last year to find out why, and the results suggested that a large percentage of patrons simply didn’t know enough about the proposal or why it was necessary. So, they either stayed away or voted “no.”

The district spent the entire year between the receipt of those results and Election Day this April trying to inform patrons and change minds, and it worked in a big way – a 20% swing from the negative to the positive.

Superintendent Dr. Gary Compton credits the win on the strategy of creating a campaign committee with two distinct segments – one that dealt with parent and staff voters, and one that worked on getting the word out to non-district parents and non-staff members.

These leadership team “bombarded the patrons with facts,” says Dr. Compton. Their tactics included the traditional approaches (such as neighborhood coffee meetings and lots of direct mail), but also made active use of social media to spread the word and answer questions. The key, he says, was to keep disseminating information and keep the message fresh so that patrons kept paying attention.

Congratulations to Dr. Compton and his campaign team on their great success. Turning 20% of the patrons to the positive is an accomplishment anytime, but particularly in the current economy.