Bird Dogging Candidates

Tips for Bird Dogging Candidates & Elected Officials

The term “bird-dog” comes from hunting; the bird-dog’s job is to flush the birds out of the bushes and into the open. Politicians are like the birds — they try to keep their positions hidden behind vague rhetoric. Using tightly crafted questions, the successful bird-dog forces candidates to reveal their position on an issue.

Here are some tips on preparing for your bird-dog mission (adapted from: Move To Amend)

  • Find out where the candidate will be and when.  If you are interested in a particular candidate, plan ahead by calling his or her campaign office. The phone number is usually available on the campaign Web site, Facebook page or in our spreadsheet. The first row of the spreadsheet contains links to useful supporting documents (e.g. Responses to Objections by Opponents).
  • Have your question ready.  Make sure your question is brief, fact-based and direct. Practice asking your question to yourself and with family or friends until you can do it without notes and in your regular cadence. Here’s an sample question:
    • There’s a huge amount of money in politics these days, and over 90% of Americans think it’s a major problem and basically amounts to legalized bribery. Our Constitution was written to protect actual people, but the Supreme Court has twisted it’s meaning so now billionaires and corporate fat cats have all the influence and the rest of us have none. Do you support efforts to restore our Constitution to balance the playing field, so that the needs of everyday citizens are once again represented?
  • Arrive early.  This is especially important if the candidate is very popular, leading in the polls, or if it is late in the primary season. If there is a question-and-answer session, you’ll want to be close enough for the candidate to see you and call on you.
  • Ask your question early.  When candidates invite questions, most people will not immediately raise their hands. If you do, you are more likely to be called upon.
  • Be calm and reasonable. Maintaining a respectful tone will get a more positive response from the candidate, their staff and the news media. People who are angry, sarcastic or emotional will be ignored. You can even start your question by praising something the candidate has just said in her or his prepared remarks. Be prepared to ask a follow up question if you feel the candidate dodged your question or if you want more details.
  • Be in the candidate’s path.  Many candidates want to shake hands and meet as many people as possible at these events. The informal, unscripted contacts are extra opportunities to ask your questions. Position yourself in the candidate’s path and ask your question as you’re gripping his or her hand.
  • Bring other people with you.  A second person can use their camera phone to video the exchange. The video can be uploaded for more exposure. It’s important to document the exchange.
  • Be prepared to speak to the media.  Journalists often like to talk to someone who has asked the candidate a question. Remember to stay on message and talk to the reporter about the issue you asked about.
  • Be creative and improvise when necessary.  Being a bird-dog is not just about asking questions. Use other ways to raise public and candidate awareness.
  • Report back.  Please let us know how it went at wisconsin@unitedtoamend.org