What should I put in my manifesto?

A manifesto is a really personal thing. And drafting it is usually hell, because you want to get feedback from people you trust, but that feedback drags you in all sorts of different directions.

So trust your gut. It’s your manifesto, after all. You are the one who will be sharing it with voters, and saying: “here are my reasons for asking you to trust me with this massive responsibility.” Take any advice from me – or anyone else – with a pinch of salt.

With that massive caveat, here are a few thoughts on what I will be looking for when I’m reading candidates’ manifestos. I’m really talking about the two-pager that will go in the combined booklet – if you want to expand beyond that by writing a personal manifesto or a website, or both, you can make those fill whatever function you need them to. But the two-page manifesto is likely to be your first impression on most voters, so it matters.

Remember, you’ve got two pages, in among everyone else’s, to make yourself stand out. Grab me with something original – give me a reason to look twice.

Don’t make it hard work. Don’t make me wade through paragraphs of dense text. You don’t need long words or technical terms to prove how clever you are – people are much more likely to connect with you if you can explain things in ordinary, everyday terms.

For what it’s worth, I think island-wide voting means that you can be more direct about your priorities for the States, than was possible in district elections. You might alienate some people, but if you think the core support base for your main issue is large enough, then I see no reason why you shouldn’t focus most of your efforts on appealing to them.  

I am interested in your personality – of course your policies matter too, but I want to get a sense of who you are as a human. Because you’re going to be dealing with all sorts of situations you can’t begin to imagine now, and your character is an important indication of how you’ll deal with them.

I’m not looking for a slick, polished, professional persona. If you’re too glossy, my eyes are going to slide right off you. I want to know you are competent and capable and grounded, but there are a hundred different ways to show that. Do what is right and authentic for you.

I want to know what you stand for. As a first-timer, it’s totally fine if you mostly talk about your values and principles. You don’t have to have an established view on every policy. But I think you need to include some substance – some problems you want to tackle; some solutions you’d like to offer. It doesn’t need to be a big part of your manifesto, but it gives me some sense of how you’re likely to spend your time when you’re in the States.

You are going to be asked a lot of questions in the course of the campaign period. Some of those will be one-to-one conversations with voters; others will be for media supplements, online surveys, and so on – your answers to those will usually be publicly available. This means, over time, that the public is going to build up a picture of you that is bigger than what’s in your manifesto.

That’s a double-edged sword. It means you have to be prepared with answers to those questions. (I said that you don’t need an answer to everything and I meant it. But there are some questions where you will look like a fraud if you say “I need more time to think about / research it.” If you can’t explain your view on abortion, for example, you will just look like you’re squirming.)

But it also means that you don’t have to worry about including those issues in your manifesto – unless they are central to your campaign. You’re going to be asked about them anyway; your answers will be out there. So you can use your manifesto to tell your story, your way. Focus it on the key messages you want your voters to hear. The other stuff will follow.

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