By Jonathan Kantor
If you needed evidence that white papers have finally attained the status of a mainstream communications vehicle, there is no better example than their impact in the 2008 presidential primaries and fall political campaign.
In the 2007/2008 political season, almost every Democrat and Republican candidate published one or more white papers for their campaigns. The conservative political website, The Club for Growth, published several white papers for each of the various Republican candidates during the state primaries that ran from August 2007 to June 2008. In fact, if you look on their website, you will find several white papers representing some of John McCain’s current economic and policy positions. While John McCain has over 13 formal positions on the issues, he does not post actual white papers on his official campaign website.
Barack Obama takes a different approach, referring to his white papers as “position papers” and on occasion using the familiar term “plans.” On his website, he lists 25 different social, economic, and national security–related issues, each with their own “plan document” at the end of the web page. Each of these documents has the feel of a white paper, ranging from 4 to 8 pages, that describes the details behind his positions on each of these topics.
So why have white papers taken a more substantial role in political campaigns today?
One of the many challenges that any political candidate faces with today’s prospective voter is building credibility. Whether you agree or disagree with a particular candidate or his/her position on a key issue, the availability of a high-quality, comprehensive white paper can deliver the perception of integrity and credibility. The inclusion of valid, trusted, and believable information builds credibility, which often can result in some form of action such as a small short-term boost in a specific issue-oriented poll, or a larger percentage of voters who will register more positively with that candidate. When a candidate says “Read my white paper on the subject,” an air of authority and credibility is conveyed.
On the other hand, the increased use of text-oriented white papers also presents a conundrum for many presidential candidates. Let’s face facts: young voters don’t like to read lengthy documents. As candidates increase the targeting of younger voters, the viability of an 8- to 10-page text-oriented printed or HTML-based white paper will increasingly be challenged in building credibility with a younger voting audience.
The answer may be in audio or video white paper podcasting. While white paper podcasting never took off in the business sector due to business executives’ limited use of iPods, its widespread deployment in the youth market presents a much better opportunity to deliver political white papers. In the end, it might create an entirely new political medium that has never been exploited for that purpose.
In either case, the use of white papers in politics is clearly here to stay. How extensively white papers are used will be up to the candidates and the quality of their content. Most importantly, during the final fall vote, the voters will ultimately decide whether the white paper medium ultimately succeeds or fails in helping to get their candidate elected to public office.
About the Author: Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, http://www.whitepapercompany.com, an organization that specializes in the creation of professional business and technical white papers for the technology, construction, pharmaceutical, finance, retail, and consumer industries.