Let's Not Repeat the Same Mistakes of the 2014 Democratic Disaster:
Ten Brief Tips on Essential Targeting, Messaging and Media
for Democratic Candidates at All Levels in 2016
1. Forget the big picture, macro policy stuff. No one except committed strong Democrats (who are already voting for you) believe the Democrats are competent enough to handle running the economy or foreign policy. The strongest suit the Democrats have among critical swing voters, like most voters generally, is who they are for -- regular working and middle income people -- not how skilled and capable they are in governing.
2. Frame every issue you can in class-related, "who-benefits" terms. As of last week, undecided voters think the Republicans can "manage the economy" better than the Democrats by an 11-point margin when questioned in strictly competence terms, but they reverse field and give the Democrats a 10-point margin when the question is put in terms of the class-related frame of which party is best in "handling the economy in a way that better helps ordinary working families?" Democratic candidates give up roughly 20 points (in voter believability) to the Republicans every time they don't use this framing. Period.
3. Democrats also benefit when we frame the issue in "micro" rather than macro terms. Thus, Democrats repeatedly get the nod by substantial margins (70+ percent) when swing voters are asked which party "is more likely to be on the side of your spouse and children on issues affecting members of your family at the workplace." This is a frame with a strong pro-Democratic valence, but because the Democrats have not understood its power, it is rarely used.
4. Use radio! We still have time to produce and run enough of the "right" radio to move enough late deciders to change the outcome of the election. As of this past week, we found that almost half of the late deciders were fairly regular radio listeners (not a bad market). The top three type of stations they tuned in to were: Top 40, Country and Rock.
5. Save your explicit "political" messaging in your ads for as near to the end of the spot as you can. When most late-deciding Independent voters perceive an ad as "political," they turn off immediately since they think "all politics suck." Despite some Democrats' recent (belated) "discovery" of populism, our side has already wasted millions in advertising to the wrong people, using the wrong techniques and not the best messaging frames. That's why we are currently losing the votes of non-minority, non-college-educated working people by margins of more than 30 points.
6. The swing voters are both left and right populists at the same time. Many of them don't like immigrants, minorities, etc. (In 1968, self-identified independents represented, by far, the largest component of the support for segregationist George Wallace.) But they don't like big corporations or Wall Street either, and correctly believe that the Republicans favor corporate interests at the expense of regular working Americans.
7. To capture enough of these swing Independents in the final days of the campaign, your progressive populism must be more effective than the Republicans' right populism. Make use of the inherited and powerfully enduring party-related belief among a majority of the late deciders. Even though these critical swing voters think the Democrats suck because they favor immigrants, are incapable of running the economy, are weak on foreign policy, don't support traditional moral values and are big spenders and high taxers, they also believe that the Republicans favor the rich and the big corporations and are more likely to screw ordinary working and middle income people (that is, their own families!).
8. Whether at the state, county or other local level, any significant movement in the electorate in the final days of the 2016 campaign will come overwhelmingly from within this group of self-identified Independent voters. As a result, your final persuasive message testing and media targeting research must be heavily focused on this highly volatile group of voters -- weather you have to move any substantial percentage of the vote to gain a victory or prevent any movement away from your candidacy in the final days of the campaign.
9. Given the recent behavior and the shifting loyalties of the electorate, this is a dangerous reality for Democrats at all levels. If the self-identified Independents vote Republican (or for the identified “conservative” local candidate) in anywhere close to the proportions they did in 2014, we will get hammered again.
As the campaign manager for the successful 2014 GOP campaign in Colorado -- which not only upset, but massively defeated, Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall -- put it: “The Democrats largely ignored the Independent voters, and left the door open for the GOP...and we walked right through it.”
Let’s not let the same thing happen to us again in 2016 !!!
10. In sum, don’t talk about issues in macro, abstract terms. Instead, humanize, individualize and personalize these issues, and present them in terms of how the Republicans (or the “right wing” candidate) will harm, screw or otherwise endanger “you and your family.”
Vic Fingerhut, a polling and media consultant, designed the TV campaign that Newt Gingrich blamed for sinking his so-called "Contract with America." His populist strategic advice is widely credited with triggering a massive 15-point, 8-million vote rally for Hubert Humphrey by capturing a major part of the Wallace vote in the final three weeks of the 1968 presidential election. He is also credited with designing the "Australian working families" populist message strategy that defeated four term (and supposedly unbeatable) right-wing, anti-labor Australian Prime Minister John Howard and brought a progressive government of Australia into office.
Vic's survey findings over five decades have overwhelmingly established the near-universal power of "representational" formulations ("Who is better at handling the economy in a way that helps average working families?") over more abstract performance-based frames ("Who is better at handling the economy?") for progressive parties in a wide variety of political systems. Because of the absolutely critical nature of this year's election, Vic is donating 15-20 minutes of polling, media or messaging consulting advice to as many Democratic candidates or campaigns as time permits.
Vic can be reached either through his email firstname.lastname@example.org or his office (202-331-3700).