Rachel Barnhart and the role of action in campaigns

Rachel Barnhart will soon add author to her growing list of talents and experience. The former television journalist is currently promoting a self-published book, Broad, Casted. Barnhart previews the upcoming read as a tell-all about sexism and misogyny inside both media and politics. Barnhart recently challenged and lost to incumbent Assemblyman Harry Bronson in thr 2016 Democratic Primary for the 138th District seat.

Can political reform serve as a motivating issue?

By all accounts, Barnhart is equally smart and determined. For nearly two decades, Barnhart worked as one of the Rochester area’s most tenacious watchdogs in local media. A regular user of the Freedom of Information Act, Barnhart often exposed the lack transparency or accountability in community affairs. In 2016, Barnhart hoped to translate this experience into a career in the New York State Assembly where she promised an agenda centered on reform. Public perception validates the position’s potential. Earlier this year, a report conducted by Siena College Research Institute suggested about 90 percent of New Yorkers believe the state is “fundamentally corrupt.”

However, reform alone did not provide the necessary stimulus to motivate a majority of voters to the polls. Despite overwhelming acknowledgement of political corruption, a much smaller percentage of New Yorkers in the Siena study (18 percent) actually viewed reform as a near-term priority. In essence, reform lacked strong potential as a trigger at the polls, especially for a primary.

Challenger brands: the struggle is real 

At face value, Barnhart’s politial run also reflected many attributes of a classic challenger brand –lower category awareness, fewer resources, and less operational power. Outspent and outflanked by the Monroe County Democratic Committee, Barnhart lacked specific awareness within the political venue. Her campaign spanned about three months between June and September 2016. From a communications perspective, this brief period created significant headwinds. 90 days is rarely sufficient time for an outspent challenger to establish category awareness, build engaged interest, and translate combined awareness and engagement into a mass of action (i.e., voting) capable of overcoming an entrenched incumbent. Given the nature of the 138th District, an ideal campaign period would have spanned at least six months.

Successful challengers rarely overtake their competition in a short-term blitz; they focus on long-term strategies to build ownership of specific, high-impact issues, which eventually translate into the momentum required to capture more significant market share.

New campaign shows early signs of success, yet highlights similar challenges

Despite her loss in the primaries, Barnhart perseveres with a new effort to use her local celebrity to spark conversation of sexism in media and politics. Her new initiative, a Kickstarter to fund Broad, Casted, currently sits at 63 percent of goal. The average individual donation is $33.80 and about 7 people per day make a financial pledge. At that rate, the Kickstarter is well within range of its final figure of $6,400. However, like her political run, Barnhart’s latest campaign illustrates the evergreen challenge of moving people to action. If successful at the current rate, backers of Broad, Casted will only represent about 0.4 percent of Barnhart’s total Twitter following of 43,500.


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