Redglass Pictures


How To Win An Election - Front Page New York Times

Every election cycle, we’re asked to make monumental decisions about which people and policies should control our country—sorting through a barrage of information to arrive at our decisions. Often, we pick the candidate who breaks through the noise with a message that resonates with us. Good politicians are excellent storytellers. Candidates running for office work hard to reduce the complexities of the modern world into simple, soundbite-friendly stories. They invoke heroes and villains, fear and hope. As filmmakers, we understand the power of story to inspire, persuade, and even manipulate people in ways that can be hard to recognize. So in this particularly story-rich election cycle, we set out to make a film that looks past the latest debate zingers and campaign trail gaffes that dominate political coverage and focuses on how storytelling serves as the foundation of successful modern campaigns. The result is this Op-Doc, in which one of the most influential American political strategists in recent history—Mark McKinnon— explains how it works.

McKinnon has had a long career working for leading politicians from both parties. As the lead media strategist for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns as well as John McCain’s winning 2008 primary campaign, he was instrumental in shaping the way we perceived his candidates and their opponents. Remember the 2004 windsurfing ad that branded John Kerry as a flip-flopper? That’s his work.

But McKinnon burned out on Presidential campaigns, and increasingly came to view the over-simplification and negativity at the heart of modern campaigning as a leading contributor to the toxic political climate in which we now live. So when we sat down with him, we asked him to turn over his secret playbook.

In this film, he reveals the storytelling strategies used to elect George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 with openness and candor, and in doing so lays bare the fundamental narrative strategies that remain at the core of today’s presidential campaigns. But McKinnon believes that the power of storytelling has a dark side that voters should be more aware of. His new message is a dose of tough love to all citizens – that you’re being manipulated, and our democracy relies on your ability to see through it.

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