Astroturfing has quickly become a four-letter word used synonymously with cheating by creating a false perception. Accusations of astroturfing find their way into the news (especially here in D.C.) on a regular basis. However, if you examine the strategy and effect of astroturfing, you’ll quickly realize that it is actually just good campaigning and has been used by candidates and organizations for decades to grow actual bases of support.Astroturfing is generally defined as the use of various tactics to create the perception of a grassroots movement or opinion. Tactics include pre-written letters to the editor, distance-signed direct mail, insider-written blog posts, patched-through phone calls and staged events using campaign insiders or close associates. But, astroturfing isn’t just for lobbying campaigns trying to pressure Congress on an issue of a piece of legislation. Astroturfing is used by political campaigns, too. It’s just rarely termed that way.Building a legitimate grassroots movement of support for first time or unknown candidates means first creating the perception that there are people out there that are already supporting them. This means finding creative ways to build that perception by using a number of techniques, including events filled with friends and family to show a crowd, letters to the editor written by campaign operatives and signed by supporters, and even blog posts written by a son or daughter of a close friend. These are a few tactics, commonly referred to as astroturfing, that work to create the perception that people are backing this unknown candidate. As I’ve pointed out before, “Americans love winners.” More importantly, voters have a tendency to back candidates that appear to have momentum and are perceived to be in front. In the campaign world we don’t call it astroturfing, we call it base building. But no matter what you term it, using astroturfing tactics to start the ball rolling in building a base of support is a critical part of creating a winning campaign from scratch. Tyler Harber is Vice President and Director of the Political Division for Wilson Research Strategies, a leading public opinion research and political consulting firm for Republicans. You can follow Harber at www.w-r-s.com or on Twitter @tharber.
Astroturfing has quickly become a four-letter word used synonymously with cheating by creating a false perception.