New Hampshire's first in the national primary leads to a special opportunity for New Hampshire voters to influence political dialogue. By asking a variety of detailed questions, common citizens have an opportunity to get candidates on record giving their stance on key issues.
The act of standing up publicly and asking questions directly to the candidate is often referred to as "bird-dogging", in reference to a hunting hound's role in flushing birds out of their hiding spot and into the open. Open Democracy finds this to be one of our best tools both for confronting elected officials and for educating the public on the importance of democracy reform. This is your opportunity to get involved in the process.
Here are several tips on planning your bird dogging, as well as sample questions and examples of high quality bird dogging.
- Find the candidates: birddognh.org has a calendar which lists candidate appearances and birddogging opportunities.
- Formulate your question: Research the candidate's stance on the particular issue to know where you are arguing from. Check birddognh.org's list of Bird Dog Reports to see what responses, if any, your target candidate has already given. Adjust your argument to get the best response from the candidate and the crowd. Lay out your own framing by putting your facts and statistics into your question. This keeps the candidate from avoiding your question by spouting "alternative facts", and serves the secondary role of bird dogging--educating the audience.
- Bring a friend: Both for the confidence boost of power in numbers, and so that the birddogger is free to focus on their question rather than fumbling with a video or audio recording.
- Get there early and dress appropriately: Try to sit near the candidate to increase your chance of being called on during the Q&A section. Try to avoid wearing particular political slogans or images, as these may lead moderators to avoid calling on you. Try to match the level of dress of those around you, but overly formal is better than being underdressed.
- Get it on the record: Your birddogging partner should be familiar with the operation of a video camera or audio recorder. Getting the candidates' response on paper is invaluable for holding them accountable. Here are some tips for recording short video from a smartphone, such as being careful not to block the microphone and lighting awareness.
- Share the video widely on the internet: share on your own social media and send it to us so we can show our members. Send any bird dogging video or audio to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will post it along with the rest of the birddog reports on birddognh.org.
- Gear up for next time: Review the recording and think critically of both what went well and what could be improved. If your candidate avoided the question, make note of that and plan a strategy to get them to answer more clearly next time. If the candidate responded well, be sure to keep up the pressure either by asking a more specific question next time you birddog this candidate, or try your question on the next candidate.
Here are a few sample questions centered on the issue of money in politics and campaign finance.
- What specific reforms will you advance to end the corrupting influence of money in politics?
- You have expressed support for campaign finance reform before. In New Hampshire, SB 304 would create a Voter Dollars system of public funding of elections at the state level. Would you support similar Voter Dollars legislation at the Federal level? If not, what specific forms of public funding do you plan on implementing?
- Corporate money is one massive influence which keeps our government from responding adequately to climate change. What will you do as president to ensure that corporate greed does not continue harming our environment? Where does a system of publicly funded elections and an overturn of Citizen's United fit within that plan?
These are just suggestions! Feel free to rewrite these to fit into your own words. Adding specific statistics strengthens your argument, while adding personal anecdotes will make you and your issue more relatable. Campaign finance often overlaps many other issues, and so it can be powerful to tie the issue to mass incarceration, climate change, healthcare, or whatever other topics you and your target candidate are passionate about.
If you are still anxious about bird dogging, here are a few examples to show that any one--even a well spoken child--can stand up to elected officials.
- Young activist bird dogs Elizabeth Warren.
- Activist presents a question at a local community event.
- Asking the candidate a question as part of a televised event.
Democracy is a team effort, and if we all get involved we can build a better democracy!