Opposition Resarch : How to get it Right.

Setting the Record Straight by Alan Reger .

Many candidates - when they think of opposition research s- think of dark figures in trenchcoats digging through their opponents' garbage in the middle of the night or following their opponents' families with hidden videos cameras .

However , opposition research is not about dirty tricks . It is public - records research on the political , business ,professional and personal background of the candidates .It is the interpretation of publicly verifiable documents , not a collection of unverifiable innuendoes and rumors .

Opposition research has become an essential part of modern campaigns. There are two parts to winning any competitive election . One part is demonstrating that your candidate is competent , capable  and has values that match the values of the electorate , and the other is demonstrating that your opponent is incompetent , unethical or does not share and represent the values of the electorate . To do this a campaign must conduct research .

Opposition research is highly technical and complex .It involves analyzing legislative and executive branch activities , as well as public records research, including the collection and analysis of court , property and business records . For this reason it is wise to hire a professional researcher. 

" Opposition research is one of the least understood segments of modern campaigns ".Because of this lack of understanding many inexperience campaign managers and candidate do not see the value in hiring a professional. For this reason , they decide to save a few dollars and have a volunteer or untrained staff member do the research. This is the most common and Deadly opposition research mistake .

Do not think that a volunteer or untrained staff member can effectively collect the neccessary and relevant information and put it together into a comprehensive , coherent and useful document .Professional researchers know where to look for relevant information , what to look for , and whether or not something is politically useful. 

they know what is obtainable , and where to collect it .More importantly , they know how to analyze the information they have collected . A well-written research report is coherent , well documented and essay to understand .

 Volunteers and inexperienced campaign staffers are likely to overlook useful and relevant information , but more importantly , they are likely to make errors in the interpretation of what they have collected . It only takes one factual error , particularly when talking about an opponent, to  destroy the credibility of a campaign with the media and elctorate . Just as you would not have a volunteer do your polling or make your television spots . you should not have a volunteer do your opposition research .

Another common mistake is to use research from a previous campaign to save money . Issues change , and perspectives on issues change . For instance , if you are running for a seat against an incumbent in the US House of Representatives in 2002 , the opposition researcher who last worked against your current opponent may not have emphasized votes or comments on terrorism .The campaign's opposition researcher should be hired as early as possible . Hiring a researcher late in a campaign limits effectiveness . If a campaign develops its message or does its polling before hiring a researcher , it is most likely not developing the most effective message , and it is not polling on information it is likely to use during key points in the campaign . Opposition research , when started early , can be used as building block that permeates every aspect of the campaign . Polling, message development , direct mail , radio and television advertising , and fund raising are dependent on having something to say about your campaign and your opponent , and are therefore dependent on research .

Now that it is clear that you should hire a professional researcher early in the campaign , the  question is where to find one . Finding a short list of potential researchers is not difficult . Talk to party officials at the local , state or national level, depending on the office being sough because they typically have lists of consultants that they recommend . In addition , talk to other consultants who are already part of the campaign team . Pollsters and media consultants rely on research to do their jobs effectively .They will likely be able to make recommendations .

When determining who to hire , there are a number of things to look for in their research ;

First , the research should have perspective . It should not be a stack of votes , campaign contribution and expenditure reports , newspaper articles , and other documents . It should be a comprehensive analysis of these documents . An example from the 1988 Presidential race demonstrate this point . Assume a research report states that Michael Dukakis , while governor of Massachusetts , supported a furlough program . This is an interesting , but not terribly , useful fact . Contrast the aforementioned with a research report which sates that Dukakis supported a furlough program that allowed first-degree murderers to have furloughs including Willie Horton . Putting a fact in perspective is much more useful for a campaign .

Second , the research should be specifically tailored to the location of the campaign . Research may be different for congressional district in the Northeast than a district in the Midwest , just as the perspective should be different for an assembly district in northern New Jersey . For example , research for a congressional candidate in the Northeast should mention home heating oil , and in Upper Midwest should mention dairy price supports . Research that is generic is significantly less useful than research tailored specifically for the location of tha campaign .

Third , the research should be clearly documented . Undocumented information is not trusted by the media or electorate , and will likely be viewed as nothing more than rumor and innuendo . 

Be skeptical of researchers who promise more than can delivered . For example , if a researcher tells you he can prove that a candidate is a wife-beating , child-moleting front for an organized crime operation , be skeptical because most candidates are obviously none of those things.

Finally , make sure the researcher you hire will focus on the political , as well as on the personal background of the candidate .

These are very different skills .One involves analyzing legislation and actions by executive branch office , while the other involves public records , including the collection and analysis of court , property and business record .

 

Jason Stanford , " Call it digging dirt , mudslinging , cloak and keyboard muckrakin , or character assassination , opposition researc is the worst kept secret taht too many people are still trying to keep " .