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How To Win An Election

Quintus Cicero, the relatively unknown brother of the famous Marcus Cicero decided his brother needed some advice on how to win an election circa 64 BC. Quintus wrote his brother a short letter on electioneering. This gem helps us better understand how politicians go about winning our vote and the incentives behind their actions.

Like Machiavelli’s The Prince, the real value of this ancient letter is the timeless and pragmatic advice it offers on how to manipulate voters and win political office.

In How To Win An Election Philip Freeman writes “Idealism and naiveté are left by the wayside as Quintus tells his brother — and all of us — how the down-and-dirty business of successful campaigning really works.”

Some of the choicest gems:

1. Make sure you have the backing of your family and friends. …
2. Surround yourself with the right people. …
3. Call in all favours. …
4. Build a wide base of support. …
5. Promise everything to everybody. Except in the most extreme cases, candidates should say whatever the particular crowd of the day wants to hear. … Quintus assures his brother that voters will be much angrier if he refuses to promise them their hearts’ desires than if he backs out later. …
6. Communication skills are key. …
7. Don’t leave town. …
8. Know the weaknesses of your opponents — and exploit them. …
9. Flatter voters shamelessly. …
10. Give people hope. Even the most cynical voters want to believe in someone. …

The real value of Quintus’ letter is not only that it tells you what to do, but why you should do it. For example:

Appearances over Reality

… people are moved more by appearances than reality, though I realize this course is difficult for someone like you who is a follower of the philosopher Plato. Still I am telling you what you need to hear as a candidate for public office. If you refuse a man by making up some tale about a personal commitment to a friend, he can walk away without being angry at you. But if you say you’re just too busy or have more important things to do, he will hate you. People would prefer you give them a gracious lie than an outright refusal.

Promises — What have you got to lose?

… broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal. If you break a promise, the outcome in uncertain and the number of people affected is small. But if you reduce to make a promise, the result is certain and produces immediate anger in a larger number of voters.

Update: There is some controversy over this book. Either way, If you want to better understand elections and why things are the way they are, this is a must read.