How to handle natural disasters and crisis during a campaign

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  • Created on March 20, 2021
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  • From natural disasters to humanitarian issues, politicians are bound to encounter at least one major crisis on their campaign trail. Whether you experience a hurricane, mass shooting or other tragedy, campaigns must always be on alert to jump into action and help those in need. If not, they risk losing not only a few polling points, but the entire election.

    Natural disasters and other types of tragedies hurt all Americans. With this in mind, these events are one of the few instances where everyone comes together to ask their politicians and government for help. Therefore, how these leaders and campaigning politicians respond in the wake of the tragedy may determine how voters see these individuals in the months and years to come.


    Learn from past political mistakes and victories

    Whether you are new to the political arena or a veteran political advisor, you must know that tragedy can make or break your candidate’s campaign. To know how to respond, you must first look at the past mistakes and victories of certain presidential responses. For example, former President George W. Bush never fully recovered from his response to the devastation following Hurricane Katrina. Not only was he accused of failing to reach out to minority populations in need, but voters began to question his ability to govern and his own competence in office.
    In contrast, former President Barack Obama seemed to pass his presidential test with ease during Superstorm Sandy. He swiftly issued emergency declarations before Sandy ever made landfall, toured the area after the disaster and stuck by the American people affected by the storm. As a result, he got a significant bipartisan boost, which led to his successful reelection.

    Current President Donald Trump is still reeling from his response to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. While polls indicated that many Americans seemed satisfied with his response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Associated Press/NORC poll found that 49 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of disaster relief for victims in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. His sharp remarks toward San Juan’s Mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, did not help with his waning support.
    All of these examples prove the necessity of having a strategic plan to handle any natural disasters or other crises that may come your way in a political campaign. From forming a crisis management team to various social media best practices, there are plenty of ways to remain strong during a potential political disaster. Here are just a few ideas to keep on track and not let tragedy derail your campaign:


    1. Respond quickly and resolutely

    As mentioned above, you must act quickly and resolutely in the wake of a disaster. Simply failing to acknowledge a tragedy in a timely manner does not bode well for the rest of your campaign, which is why your team must always be on high alert. Most lower-level campaigns will not have funds or the need for a permanent crisis management team, but you should make sure you have volunteers or certain staff members monitoring the news and social media for potential issues. Your team should be vigilant no matter the issue. But how should your team first respond? Over social media.


    2. Dramatically transform your normal social media strategy

    Social media is the single most influential tool for any campaign team. Long gone are the days where a short press release or brief television appearance was enough to remark in the wake of a tragedy. Now, you must first address any catastrophe over social media, as this is the fastest method to showcase your support and get word out to potential voters. Though useful, you must be careful about how you use your social media platform and when to be effective. Here are a few social media best practices for your team to follow:

    ● Cease normal social media activity. During a time of disaster, it may be difficult to know whether you should continue your regular posts or not. While the type of disaster definitely affects how you respond to it, it is better to be safe than sorry and cease promotional social media activity, at least for a short time out of respect for the affected parties. After all, the press will have a field day if you send out one condolence tweet and then immediately begin urging voters to attend your rally or post a photo of your latest visit with a local community leader.
    ● Send out condolence/solidarity posts for victims. Your first post should be one expressing solidarity with the victims and acknowledging their struggles. While this will vary depending on the event, you should consider providing periodic updates about the state of the tragedy and post helpful tips or retweets about the situation.
    ● Give back and encourage others to do the same. Whether there was widespread flooding or people are setting up GoFundMe campaigns to support disadvantaged family members, you should find a way to give back and encourage your supporters to do the same. Look at the celebrity responses in the wake of Hurricane Maria as a possible example.
    ● If possible, provide images of your team on the ground helping victims. Maybe your candidate’s region or city is close to the affected area. If so, consider getting on the ground and help victims during the disaster recovery process. Though this will vary depending on the nature of the tragedy, potential voters want to see that you care, which is why images of your candidate helping those in need will go a long way.
    ● If possible, urge politicians to do more to help. In the case of the recent Trump scandal over his lack of response in the wake of Hurricane Maria, many politicians urged the president to do more to help the Puerto Rican people. While you definitely need to approach this particular strategy with caution, you might want to use this event to call out the need for politicians like yourself, who will do more in the face of tragedy. Though beneficial, be wary of when and how you approach this particular strategy.


    3. Get involved with clean-up or aid efforts

    As mentioned previously, you should get involved in clean-up or aid efforts, if possible. Some politicians are content to just post on social media about certain tragedies, but you should do more if you want to go above and beyond in your campaign. Even if you cannot physically get your candidate’s boots on the ground, in the case of hazardous or dangerous situations, you can do a lot of good from afar. Your aid efforts could range anywhere from pushing out links to donation websites to sending out some of your own team to volunteer or gather human interest stories.

    After all, how leaders respond after a natural disaster or crisis will truly shape public perception of their political legacy. Would your candidate rather be remembered as someone who championed for disadvantaged communities or someone who just sent out one condolence tweet when he or she could do more? Mobilize your team and get active about relief and aid efforts to win over the American people. Even if you don’t win your election, you can still inspire those who are suffering to build up the confidence they need to keep going, despite their situation. You might be able to use this momentum to run again and win.


    Don’t let a natural disaster or crisis derail your candidate’s campaign by following these few tips. With a Master’s in Political Management, you can become a clear catalyst for change in the political sphere. The degree can equip you with the skills and strategies you need to be ready to thrive in a stressful and challenging political landscape. In this program, you will enroll in a wide variety of classes, ranging from Campaign Strategy to Grassroots Engagement, which will take your political knowledge to the next level.

    In the George Washington University Master’s in Political Management program, we encourage our students to move beyond political theory into campaign reality. Our classes and skilled faculty will aid you in your journey to political management success. For more details about how an online program can support you while you are already working in the political sector or before you decide to make a career switch, visit the George Washington University online

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