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Understanding Your Audience: A Case Study in Dearborn

The big news coming out of the primaries last week was Bernie Sanders’ upset win against Hillary Clinton in Michigan. What was covered much less, however, was Sanders’ heavy margin of victory in predominantly-Muslim Dearborn, MI, where he won by 20 percent and won the Arab and Muslim community by 40 percent— despite his Jewish heritage. Even though the media missed this angle of the story in its national coverage, a closer look at it provides an interesting case study in how to localize the issues in a national campaign.

Sanders won in Michigan broadly and in Dearborn more specifically because he took the fight—and his message—directly to the people who needed to hear it. That strategy is the essence of a grassroots campaign.

There are major differences between the two candidates on foreign policy and the Middle East, and the Sanders campaign exploited these differences by directly targeting Arab-American and Muslim voters. His campaign released Arabic radio ads, tweeted out graphics in Arabic that translated as “Not me, us”, emphasized his opposition to anti-Muslim rhetoric at rallies and met with Arab-American and Muslim community leaders in Dearborn.

All elections are about finding the pulse of the electorate and capitalizing on it. Clearly, in Dearborn and in Michigan, Sanders’ effort was successful, providing an illustrative microcosm of how the Sanders campaign has generated passion by connecting with voters all around the country. As we storm toward the third round of so-called “Super Tuesday” contests, look for other candidates—including the Clinton campaign—to replicate these efforts.

Madison Case is a Director at LEVICK and a contributing member to Tomorrow.

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