From a Target-focused Power Analysis to a Governing Power Analysis
In our campaigning, we are used to doing power analyses to identify a target and to map the relationships that influence that target. This tool is essential to developing a winning campaign strategy, but to really understand who governs, we need to identify the social forces that give our targets their power in the first place. We need to learn more about who is standing next to them, who is cheering them on and whose direct or indirect influence shapes the context for the decisions the target makes.
The work of researching and analyzing who governs in your state is a critical step in building strategic alignment with your allies. If there is disagreement about who your opponents are and how they operate, it will be impossible to create strategies to win campaigns, let alone to govern. On the other hand, if we have a shared analysis, we can begin the work of exercising our power more effectively today in order to change what is politically possible tomorrow.
The two fundamental questions of a governing power analysis are: “Who sets the agenda?” and “Who benefits from it?” While the governor, a senator or another public figure might serve as the face of that agenda, we want to know who put them in office to begin with, and what those people’s goals are. In some states, it might be a set of powerful CEOs who direct the work of think tanks or political action committees. In other states, it might be a major employer that drives government’s decisions around tax policy and environmental regulation. Either way, the forces that put elected leaders into office always do so to advance or protect their self-interest. We need to understand who those forces are, what infrastructure they use and what they ultimately want.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to conducting a governing power analysis. But in order to better understand their political terrain, organizers can ask themselves questions about who holds extreme wealth in their state and how those people and corporations are connected to each other. What think tanks, advocacy groups and political entities do they fund? What can you understand about the extremely wealthy by looking at their agendas? This tool can also map out who is hurt by the exploitation that the concentrated wealth in their state requires, especially as workers and consumers across the dominant sectors of their state’s economy.
A governing power analysis asks us to understand the key elements of our opponents’ agenda, to examine the forces on the left and the right that could wield greater power in our state if they were organized and aligned, and to identify the potential wedges between our opponents that could divide and weaken them. And it helps us get clearer on the key demographics we will need to focus our organizing and legislative efforts on if we are going to wield a greater level of control over state policy.