10 Tips for winning an election from Cicero Jr.

Marcus Tullius Cicero is one of my heroes. He was also pretty influential on Augustine, in my favourite primary source text from my time at college (outside the Bible) – On Christian Teaching, and, I’d argue, on Paul’s approach to preaching and rhetoric in Corinth.

cicero change poster

Image Credit: Cicero, Change, made with ObamiconMe

He was a pretty interesting guy – rising from relatively common stock to be one of the most powerful men in the Roman Republic. He was elected Consul in 64BC. During the campaign his younger brother wrote him a little handbook for electoral success called Commentariolum Petitionis. It’s been translated into a nice little book called How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians. It had some timeless tips for political success that election watchers will recognise have played out in elections since the dawn of democracy.

One of the most accurate maxims in the little treatise is: “This shows that people are moved more by appearances than reality, though I realize this course is difficult to for someone like you who is a follower of the philosopher Plato.”

Here are ten tips Cicero’s younger brother sends to help Cicero clarify his thoughts about the campaign at hand.

1. Build a wide base of vocal ambassadors…

Cicero was a lawyer who won lots of cases, it’s suggested he remind his clients what they owe him, find people who like you, find people who will advocate for you – get them to talk about you. This is first century BC political advertising.

Don’t forget about all the people you have successfully defended in court, clients from a wide variety of social backgrounds. And, of course, remember the special interest groups that back you. Finally, make good use of the young people who admire you and want to learn from you, in addition to all the faithful friends who are daily at your side.”

“Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company. But don’t neglect those who are your friends in the traditional sense through family ties or social connection. These you must continue to carefully cultivate.”

Ambassadors and advocates to blow your trumpet for you are increasingly vital in the web 2.0 world, and in a world that is increasingly cynical about the things people say about themselves.

“You must always think about publicity. I’ve been talking about this throughout my whole letter, but it is vital that you use all of your assets to spread the word about your campaign to the widest possible audience. Your ability as a public speaker is key, as is the support of the business community and those who carry out public contracts.”

“You should work with diligence to secure supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

“Seek out men everywhere who will represent you as if they themselves where running for office.”

“It will help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.”

“Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go”

“You need to win these voters to your side so that you can fill your house with supporters every morning, hold them to you by promises of your protection, and send them away more enthusiastic about your cause than when they came so that more and more people hear good things about you.”

2. Communicate well. Always

Cicero had built his reputation as a speaker, and his brother told him to use every speaking opportunity as though his career depended on it – because it did.

“It is your unmatched skill as a speaker that draws the Roman people to you and keeps them on your side.”

“Since you are such an excellent communicator and your reputation has been built on this fact, you should approach every speaking engagement as if your entire future depended on that single event.”

This is especially true in the era of campaigning where every slip of the tongue hits YouTube, or becomes a meme.

Communicating clearly, and relevantly, will help win people over.

“The third class of supporters are those who show goodwill because of a personal attachment they believe they have made with you. Encourage this by adapting your message to fit the particular circumstances of each and showing abundant goodwill to them in return. Show them that the more they work for your election the closer your bond to them will be.”

3. Promise everything to anybody (but don’t worry about keeping them)

We can blame the Ciceros, or perhaps Cotta, for “core promises” and “non-core promises”…

“Remember Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said that he would promise everything to anyone, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him.

He seldom refused anyone, for he said that often a person he made a promise to would end up not needing him or that he himself would have more time available than he thought he would to help.

After all, if a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends. Events are always happening that you didn’t expect or not happening that you did expect. Broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal.”

4. Keep your friends close, and try to get your enemies closer

Cicero’s little brother reminds him that most trouble – especially damaging rumours, begin at home. So tells him to be on his guard. Then he gives him some advice for winning over his critics.

“Do not overlook your family and those closely connected with you. Make sure they all are behind you and want you to succeed. This includes your tribe, your neighbors, your clients, your former slaves, and even your servants. For almost every destructive rumor that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends.”

“There are three kinds of people who will stand against you: those you have harmed, those who dislike you for no good reason, and those who are close friends of your opponents.

For those you have harmed by standing up for a friend against them, be gracious and apologetic, reminding them you were only defending someone you had strong ties to and that you would do the same for them if they were your friend. For those who don’t like you without good cause, try to win them over by being kind to them or doing them a favor or by showing concern for them. As for the last group who are friends of your rivals, you can use the same techniques, proving your benevolence even to those who are your enemies.”

“I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.”

5. Remember what the goal is

“Always remember what city this is, what office it is you seek, and who you are. Every day as you go down to the Forum, you should say to yourself: “I am an outsider. I want to be a consul. This is Rome.””

This serves as a good reminder of what you’re doing – but also a nice principle for keeping focused, saying no to things, and framing your narrative.

6. Be valuable to people: Give of yourself. To everybody. And listen.

People will vote for you if they think you’re interested in their well being, and if you are giving them something of value. This remains the foundational premise of any positive political advertising.

“Work to maintain the goodwill of these groups by giving them helpful advice and asking them for their counsel in return.”

“Another way to show you are generous is to be available day and night to those who need you. Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.”

7. Remember names. Remember people. Actually care

Remembering names won’t guarantee that people will like you – but it’s part of showing you care.

“…nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces.”

“Look at Antonius—how can the man establish friendships when he can’t even remember anyone’s name? Can there be anything sillier than for a candidate to think a person he doesn’t know will support him?”

“Small-town men and country folk will want to be your friends if you take the trouble to learn their names—but they are not fools. They will only support you if they believe they have something to gain.

But with any class of people, it isn’t enough that you merely call them by name and develop a superficial friendship. You must actually be their friend.”

8. Say nice things about people… except your opponent

Saying nice things about people, in a winsome way, wins them over.

“You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but you can be rather stiff at times. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery—a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.”

What you say about people when they’re out of earshot counts too… here’s what he says about powerful people who drop in to visit each morning (but might visit other people).

“Mention your gratitude for their visit whenever you see them and tell their friends that you noticed their presence as well, for the friends will repeat your words to them.”

Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show. Dignified, yes, but full of the color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.”

9. Maintain your integrity (or the appearance of integrity)

This comes back to ethos – which is one of the areas I think Paul borrows from Cicero. Character counts (though apparently broken promises are irrelevant to character).

“Our city is a cesspool of humanity, a place of deceit, plots, and vice of every imaginable kind. Anywhere you turn you will see arrogance, stubbornness, malevolence, pride, and hatred. Amid such a swirl of evil, it takes a remarkable man with sound judgment and great skill to avoid stumbling, gossip, and betrayal. How many men could maintain their integrity while adapting themselves to various ways of behaving, speaking, and feeling? In such a chaotic world, you must stick to the path you have chosen.”

10. Give people hope..

This comes down to framing a narrative not about you, not about the people who are voting for you, but about the future – yours, and theirs, together.

“The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment…As for those who you have inspired with hope—a zealous and devoted group—you must make them to believe that you will always be there to help them. Let them know that you are grateful for their loyalty and that you are keenly aware of and appreciate what each of them is doing for you.”

I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.

There you have it. 10 tips from almost 2,100 years ago that were just as relevant for the 2012 US Presidential race as they were back then.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.