• The air war versus the ground game


    With Election Day just a month away, the election campaign for national positions (President, Vice-President, or senator) has now entered the phase where the candidates will either succeed or fail depending on the strength of their “ground game” or field operations.

    According to modern campaign politics and popular journalism, a political campaign for high office must engage in two essential activities to deliver its message to voters: an “air game” and a “ground game.”

    The air game
    1.The air game or air war denotes mass media advertising (especially on TV and radio), which is now considered essential for every presidential campaign.

    In the US, because the President and Vice-President are chosen as a tandem, there is essentially only one campaign.

    Here in the Philippines, it’s not unusual for presidential and vice-presidential candidates to have their respective campaigns. Loyalty is nominal; every candidate is free to cut a deal with the competition in order to win.

    2. The ground game denotes the activities of a campaign in the field and at the grassroots.

    This means that the campaign engages in frequent, direct and personal contact with voters in order to amass the support needed for victory.

    A good field operation harnesses the power of a campaign’s base by turning supporters into volunteers, and volunteers into activists and leaders. Field organizing is the very definition of grassroots campaigning, done primarily by volunteers from the bottom up.

    According to Bill Kremmer, in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, the terms “air game” and “ground game” originally came from American football, and not from military usage.

    He wrote: “Ground game” and “air game” are metaphors that come directly from the football field. In the 1920s, college football teams became increasingly reliant on the forward pass, then a relatively new innovation. The “ground game” came to describe how the offense could gain yards by old-fashioned rushing rather than flashy passing.”

    Whichever is the source, the terms have now become clichés in campaign politics and journalism.

    Two months in the air, one on the ground
    In the case of our current presidential election campaign, we can definitely say that the first two months of the campaign have focused on the air game.

    Candidates have competed in delivering their messages to voters by advertising their campaigns on television and radio.

    Because of the high costs of TV spots on the major networks, only the presidential candidates have been able to put up a serious air game.

    Some vice-presidential candidates have been sporadically seen on TV. Except for a very few, senatorial campaigns have no air games.

    According to estimates, some 2 billion pesos has already been spent on mass media advertising. This will rise exponentially this month the all the way up to May 9.

    In the last few weeks, the candidates will elbow each other to secure prime positions for their messaging in popular TV programs, both entertainment and news.

    The big TV networks are clearly the big winners in profiting from the elections. But they’re not doing any serious work in enlightening the public on the serious issues central to the elections, or reporting significant information about the candidates.

    Regardless of the prominence of the air war, however, the election will not be won or lost in the air game.

    The presidency and the vice-presidency will not necessarily be won by the candidates who have bought the most spots and spent the most money advertising themselves

    Ground game will be decisive factor
    When the contest shifts to the ground game, any little advantage gained during the air war could evaporate if it is not backed up by strong field operations.

    The main point of field or grassroots operations is this. Direct voter contact or direct selling is the most effective way to win a campaign.

    A good campaign field plan starts with electoral targeting, or aiming the campaign towards the number of votes or groups of votes needed to win.

    A good campaign builds a base of support for the candidate, in much the same way that a good advertising strategy effectively delivers his core message to voters.

    Base building involves enlisting volunteers on the campaign, and empowering them within the campaign organization. Ideally. Committed volunteers will become leaders in the campaign, helping in essential voter identification and persuasion work.

    Campaigns are about the management of three precious resources – time, money and people. Targeting serves to focus the campaign’s activities and use the assets wisely.

    Harvard study of presidential elections
    Presidential election campaigns have become an area of interest and study at the Harvard Business School.

    In 2014, a professor and a doctoral student collaborated on a study entitled, “The Air War versus The Ground Game: An Analysis of Multi-Channel Marketing in US Presidential Elections.”

    The new research from Harvard shows that mass advertising is better at swaying undecided consumers while face-to-face personal selling is more suited at closing the deal for those already leaning toward a particular product.

    In an election, the products in question are the candidates. And it is for them that the ground game is most important.

    The authors report that “the reason Obama won both his presidential battles was because of the utilization of ground forces – the personal selling and get-out-the-vote strategy.”

    Chung and Zhang pored over 18,650 observations on voting outcomes and campaign activities for the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential races. They studied the number of votes cast in each county for the candidates and used registered party affiliation at the county level to look at how campaign effects differed depending on the level of voter partisanship.

    Which strategy is more effective for the election of a President, and why?

    What Chung and Zhang discovered was that personal selling—the ground war—had a stronger effect on partisan voters, but a candidate’s own advertising was better received by nonpartisans.

    Barack Obama’s ground campaign made the difference in the last two presidential elections.

    The strategy wasn’t just about the numbers of field offices. The real key was operatives getting out in the communities and face-to-face contacts.

    Insufficiency of air game
    Looking back at our own recent elections, we have indelible lessons too about the insufficiency of the air game to win the political battle.

    In 2010, Manny Villar had a very sophisticated advertising program to market him. Yet, by the final month of the campaign, he had nothing to show.

    In 2004, the campaign of Fernando Poe Jr. similarly looked formidable and popular. But it did not have sufficient field operations to back up his popularity.

    Ed Malay, the head of issues and Advocacy Center, says that Grace Poe may be headed for the same fate as his adoptive father. She has no troops to send into battle.

    Rody Duterte’s campaign exhibits much energy and has a bit of a groundswell. But there is no campaign organization; PDP-Laban is a ragtag party.

    This leaves Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay, who as my colleague Bobi Tiglao has noted, are the ones with a real political machinery.

    They have troops to send to battle.



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    1. Mar and Binay? you don’t know what you are talking about or you still don’t have an Fb account. FYI, the guys you mentioned will just be vying for the 3rd spot

    2. I dont think Roxas will win. He will win only the highest spender for air game not in the ground game… He has nothing to proof that he can manage to be the President of the Phils. He is just like his Boss Pnoy , NOTHING… Only lies, only favors his KKK…
      Pag manalo si Roxas, panigurado nandaya na nmn gamit ang Pcos machine.. …Hindi na bulag ang mga Filipino, at mangmang… GOD SAVE PHILIPPINES FROM THIS GREAT THIEF NOYTARD ADMINISTRATION…

    3. wag tayong mag comment na hindi naman natin kayang patunayan, hayaan natin ang korte ang magpatunay kung talagang nagnakaw nga si binay.

      • leonardo alday on

        Very logical and fair ang pananaw mo, kaya huwag na muna nating iboto si Binay ngayong halalan…siguro naman within the span of six years from now malalaman na natin kong convicted nga siya ng plunder o hindi. For the meantime, huwag nating igamble ang kapakanan at interest ng ating bayan, may mga pagpipilian naman tayong walang nakasampang kaso ng plunder sa Sandiganbayan gaya ni Binay…nadiyan naman si Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, Duterte at Meriam Santiago…huwag lang yong may possibility na maconvict ng pagnanakaw, anyway just in case kong maabsuwelto si Binay sa 2022 presidential election na lang siya sumabak.

    4. Amnata Pundit on

      This is assuming of course that we are going to have an honest election. I believe we are not, and the real battle therefore is the one in being fought the secret chambers of the cheating machines. The book on that kind of game has not been written yet.

    5. Senator Grace Poe ikaw ang aming pag asa sa lugmok na bansang pilipinas. Sana po ay maingat po ang ating bansa sa yung kamay. Tulungan mo kaming iyong mga kababayan sa mga namumuno na walang awa na dinadaya ang kani lang mga kababayan.

    6. What to do about Americans campaigning? I saw yesterday’s TV footage of a LLamanzares , hip-hopping and campaigning for his Mother. Is it OK because his candidate is also an American?

      Should he not be deported !!!!

      Likewise, His father supposedly is employed by a funder of Grace Llamanzres’ campaign, does he have a work permit ? Mga dayhuhan de dapat nakikisawsaw dito sa Pilipinas !!

    7. Erlinda Rabe on

      I think Mar Roxas will win the election..he’s got the machinery and his platform is for the continuation of what the Aquino administration started and continue the economic progress we have today..ANY PERSON WHO FOLLOWS THE PROGRESS THE PHILIPPINES HAS TODAY CAN SEE THAT.

      • marco del rosario on

        That is absolutely absurd! I am very sure ruxas will never ever win the presidential race! What ruxas has done for the country? only cheating can make him win the race! and i advice every Filipino who still has love for the country to unite and rally behind competent and true nationalist Filipino candidates! Miriam Santiago is the best of all for the presidential race and Bongbong Marcos for the VP race! wala nang iba!

      • sollie sinson on

        That’s the reason Mar Roxas will not win. He will continue the incompetent government of Aquino Administration. Same cabinet members like Alcala, Abaya, Abad, Customs and Airport Managers, will stay to continue his tuwad na daan. People want these people out of the government, so how can you say people wants Roxas to continue.

      • there goes another believer in continuity, daang matuwid sucks sa totoo lang. it only achieved one thing – walang wang wang.

      • Maging sports po tayo. Kung naintindihan natin ang article written itaas, kung manalo man si Roxas o Binay, hindi po ibig sabihin nun ay nag cheat sila. Kung patuloy nyo sasabihin na nag cheat sila, malamang hindi nyo naintindihan ang article na nire reply nyo.

    8. Haaayyyy….Macabenta, Tatad, Tiglao, Cabal… Binay and Roxas are toast. This article, like the previous ones that explicitly pronounced Poe as a non-natural born citizen, as well a lacking 10-year residency, i full of ho air designed to favor Binay, the ,magnanakaw. :)

      • The article is all facts. Hot summer air must have been blowing non-stop on your head causing it to expand and emit disparate, enigmatic thoughts. As one of this column’s commenter said, the son(an American citizen)and husband (also an American citizen) of Poe are campaigning for her. This is tantamount to Americans meddling in our elections.

      • Teddy Marcaida on

        hahaha TAMA! Mga Kampon ni Binay Kawatan are getting so frustrated and defensive now!!!