The last few election cycles, including the one just finished, have shown that self-described Independent voters have held the margin of victory in many of the high profile close races. Barack Obama won in '08 in part by successfully courting this group, as did Chris Christie in the New Jersey governor's race and Bob McDonnell in Virginia's gubernatorial contest.
I think we can assume that one of the reasons Independents decide not to affiliate with one of the two major parties in American electoral politics is because the standard positions that each party takes don't line up with where these voters stand personally.
One can be a social liberal and simultaneously a fiscal conservative for instance, and feel that neither party as a whole offers a consistent identity that encompasses your worldview. It may be fair to extrapolate from this that Independents are more likely to choose a candidate based on issues rather than party affiliation.
So why not reach Independents at a place where most people turn when they are seeking more information? That is, online, through search engines.
Before doing this, though, it helps to understand what the important issues are. Search and social media data can be leveraged and sifted to get a sense of what people are saying to each other online in local forums, on blogs, and in comments to news stories.
Once you understand which issues to concentrate on, you can actively engage Independent voters online. Localized paid search ads are a great way to do this. It's one thing to buy up your candidate's name as a keyword so that people searching for that name are led back to the website. Really clever campaigners buy up keywords such as "New Jersey property taxes" so undecided voters interested in learning each candidate's stance on a topic see a link to what you have to say front and center.
You can reinforce that paid search result by making sure your website is properly optimized, which allows the relevant section of your site (in this case, information on property taxes) to show up organically in search results next to that paid link.
So far so good, but don't forget social media.
Twitter posts and even Facebook status updates are increasingly becoming part of standard search engine results on sites like Google and Bing. They give Independents a chance to dig into information on a candidate in a more engaging space than a standard website. Also, it's unlikely (if not unprecedented) that voting is motivated by a single issue -- leading an Independent voter to a candidate's social profiles can help them see more issues that can sway them in favor of voting for (or to be fair, against) a given candidate.
Social media profiles on sites like Twitter and Facebook can help voters connect with a campaign by enabling them to ask questions and engage directly outside the confines of a planned event.
At the end of the day, a solid strategy will win these Independents over -- but smart online tactics are some of the most effective ways to inform and enact a strategy that's aimed at reaching folks in the process of making a decision. Done well, it can even turn fence sitters into fierce advocates.
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