Get Back in the Game After a Political Defeat

Contributor: Ellen Vanegas

We are glad to announce that a new Tectonica’s project is in motion! We are working on the creation of a comprehensive knowledge centre accessible to as many progressive organisers and campaigners as possible to offer them the most valuable capacity-building resources, networks, and tools. For this amazing project, we are lucky to have Martina Orlea and Ellen Vanegas, two passionate and talented people that joined us this summer. As a teaser of what we are doing, we are excited to present our “survival kit” on how to get back in the game after a political defeat, carried out with the support of our intern Ellen Vanegas.

Try again, fail again, fail better, this famous Samuel Beckett’s quote is the classic slogan that none of us wants to hear when we lose. It’s clear that failures teach us things and help us avoid future mistakes, however, embracing failure is not quite as simple as it sounds. However,  there is still something valuable in the process of admitting failure that lets us acknowledge our mistakes and learn how to avoid them in the future.

At Tectonica, we consider learning from failures as a fundamental part of our work and identity that allows us to create new solutions. We need to go through a process of questioning ourselves and our work to realise what it is worth. Sometimes campaigns end with a win, many times it is hard to explicitly say what the result was. All strategies are designed to succeed, but when they don’t that does not mean that your journey is over: it just needs to be reimagined. “Failing to succeed” is not just a motivational quote that you can find on a bus seat sticker, but it is something necessary for everyone, at some point in our lives, whether we like it or not. In our previous piece In Campaigning, Failure is Key to Success, we have offered you a valuable guide on assessing risk failure and responding quickly to problems that often arise in campaigns. Here, we aim to guide you through the important process of starting over after a political loss with a collection of interesting readings.

Let's start with the insightful article How the Growth Mindset is based on the Power of Failure. It provides a valuable overview of Dr Carol Dweck’s methodological approach that has completely reinvented the field of Educational Psychology. Dweck identifies two distinct mindset groups on a continuum: Growth and Fixed. Those inhabiting a Fixed mindset tend to believe that skills and abilities are innate; in other words, you’re either born smart or talented. Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to view failure as permanent, generally choose to pursue easier tasks, and are less likely to persist in the face of challenges. On the other hand, Growth mindset individuals believe that you can develop skills through practice and effort. These individuals typically see failure as a chance to learn, embrace challenges as a way to experiment, and use creative problem-solving. Understanding how these mindsets work will help you foster and develop the one that will be most helpful for learning processes.

The first thing to do, to continue with our “learning journey” and see our failure as an opportunity, is to accept that we have failed and that this is okay. For the first stage of this process, we strongly recommend the article Post-election grief is real, and here are 5 coping strategies – including getting back into politics. This piece will help you accept your sense of frustration after a political loss and show you how to deal with it to heal your “political” wounds. We know that everything feels like the end of the world at the first stage of this process. But you know what? You are not alone! History is full of examples of leaders who had to fail in the first place to be able to succeed. Seven Inspirational Leaders Who Rose From the Brink of Failure article offers you inspiring stories on how some great figures had to fail to succeed in their lives.

If we look at our recent political history, the story of Republican Ed Martin can also teach us a lot. As Martin noted, people who run and lose can still “take great consolation in progress”. When Losing An Election Isn't The End Of The Story provides an extensive overview of past electoral failures and winnings from both Democratic and Republican leaders to understand how to capitalise on your campaign experience to succeed. Yes, believe it or not, we have a lot to learn… Even from Republicans.

One of the most important steps in the learning-from-failures journey is to accept our mistakes, try to understand them better, and develop some ideas as to how they might have been avoided. In this regard, we suggest the following article: Learning from our mistakes: the story of 3 campaign failures that will offer you a range of practical examples of why some campaigns have failed and how their shortcomings can be solved for future campaigns. If you are interested in understanding not only how not to fail, but mainly how to reverse failure to succeed, Policy Learning and Policy Failure will provide you with an overview of policy training and political loss. 

But what if we told you that sometimes waging "un-winnable campaigns" is necessary? A campaign requires a huge amount of stress, euphoria, participation, and commitment. But what happens after election day? Where do all these efforts end up when the expected outcome was not achieved? Maybe you can't see it now but believe us: your work has not gone bad. 3 Reasons to Wage ‘Unwinnable’ Campaigns will show you how an "unwinnable campaign" can help you build long-term sustainability through community investment. 

Finally, we recommend you to check the inspiring NationBuilder’s article: Lost your election? Here's how to fight on like you won. We know that losing is never easy, especially when you put all you had into a campaign. What are you going to say to your volunteers and supporters? Did you let them down? As we already said, accepting a political defeat can be painful. But there is still much you can do after. If you are wondering what to do with the political legacy that you have built during the campaign or how not to lose your base, this article will help you understand how to reverse failure to success.

Is failure always the pathway to success? Not necessarily, and that’s why we have tried to guide you through this “learning process” to help you understand how to capitalise on your mistakes and the sense of loss you are feeling now to get back in the game.