If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
When candidates and consultants identify a primary or general election opponent you will often hear about the need for “Oppo” or opposition research. Opposition research is the process of finding as much information on an opponent as possible. Often, these bits of information lead to a critical policy or personality comparisons between two candidates that can pay huge dividends during the course of a campaign.
Although opposition research is incredibly important, I would argue the most important research is in the candidates themselves. “Self-Oppo” so to speak. This process can be quite cumbersome and time-consuming, but it is very important to take the necessary time and steps to do it right.
With this in mind, these are 5 crucial tactics for self-oppo research.
1) Check your public records
The first step of self-oppo is typically going through any governmental records you have that can be found by the public or researchers. This includes your past voting history, what political candidates you have donated to in the past, whether your taxes have been paid, and your past court/criminal records.
2) Social Media
It is always recommended to spend a few hours going over every post, tweet, or picture you have ever made via social media. Err on the side of caution, here. If it looks like it could be taken the wrong way, just delete it. As another small piece of advice, if you have ever put anything online in any capacity, it is probably available publicly. There is really no such this as “private” on the internet. This is a good time to also remove any unprofessional pictures or friends you might have. A comment you made five years ago out of jest should not be the reason why you lose a race, but it can, it has, and it very well way be.
3) Google Yourself
One of the first things a voter will do when researching a candidate for office is a simple web search. Try searching your name and town you live in first. Make a list of all the links that reference you and label each as positive, negative or neutral. If there are some negative stories or links that reference you, be prepared to talk about those incidents and put a plan together to minimize their impacts.
4) Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde
This is the old “Good Cop, Bad Cop” exercise. Go through everything you have ever done and scrutinize it as if you were looking at an opponent’s record. Spare no detail or insignificant moment. Be hard on yourself, because your opponent certainly can be. Think of what can positively be taken from the issue and what negative aspects are salient.
5) Get in Front of Issues
Once you have begun to take a hard look at yourself it is important to begin to game plan how you can address each issue. We often talk about “getting out of the box clean”. When you finally get to the point when you are ready for that big announcement, you want to be able to dictate the message and be prepared to address anything that might come your way. Know yourself well and you just might win the battle.