The United States Presidential election last year was probably the most interesting one ever in terms of twists and turns, rabbits out of hats and gotchas. A fascinating battle, the likes of which we haven’t seen before wit social media, “alternative facts” and leaks-a-plenty really being felt for the first time. The election of 1960 fought between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy was also a close and hard fought campaign, with the economy, defence and civil rights driving the news agenda and the electorate looking not only at the policies, but also the religious background of each candidate. It was the first battle to really move to TV rather than radio, meaning how well you connected with an audience on screen became more important than what you were actually saying. Plus ça change.
The game of 1960: Making of A President based on the 1960 election race between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon places players in charge of a candidate’s campaign, choosing when and where to campaign, how to utilise advertising and endorsements, taking on key policies or opting for the populist approach of visiting every state.
Whilst it can be tempting to dominate popularity in as many states as possible, turning the map of the USA blue or red, the reality of the Electoral College system means that some states are more important than others, and controlling New York and Illinois in 1960 is more likely to get you elected than dominance in a dozen of the flyover states. Yet the benefits derived from positive momentum mean that ignoring smaller states can damage your overall ability to compete.
For politcos it’s well worth refreshing your understanding of the Electoral College map in 1960. Population changes mean that some of the states have a different number of electors to today so you’ll want to make sure you’re focusing your efforts in the right places to win the 1960 election when playing this game (or the right places to win 2020 if you’re actually campaigning for the next POTUS).
There’s a lot to think about, with fifty different States wanting you to say the right thing to them, but without alienating anyone else, where is your time and energy best focused? It’s a mistake to think that everything and everyone can be given equal attention, some things are more important than others, but that importance is not always clear, particularly with competing objectives.
It’s easy to go in too hard in States you’re sure to carry, reassuring yourself with the popular vote when what really matters is the Electoral College.
To ensure a win you need to understand the key drivers of success on the map, along with their interdependencies, build momentum at just the right time, and play your best cards at just the right moment.
I’d love to see someone try and come up with 2016: The Making of a President, but perhaps the various cards you’d need to create to make the game play realistically would seem just to fantastical to come up with this close to history.