Cross posted at

A new poll by widely respected Public Opinion Strategies (POS) pollster Glen Bolger has some very interesting data on an important question: What do voters think of the Republic message when it isn’t attached to the GOP label? His data is a perfect way to test whether voters…

A. Like what we have to say but simply don’t trust us after Bush, Iraq, Katrina, overspending, the bridge to nowhere, endless scandals (need I go on?)…


B. Don’t like us because they don’t agree with what we say we want to do for the country.

The poll was conducted with Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg for NPR, and Glen Bolger emailed it out to POS’s client list this week. I posted the poll up online here. The part I’m talking about starts on page 24. Be sure to read the poll before scrolling down if you want to look at the data without being biased by my or Glen’s analysis.

Ok read it? Now here’s Glen’s takeaway in a scathing memo you can find here.

The news in the survey is NOT the terrible political environment – you already are aware of that, and if you are not, please retire. The news is NOT that John McCain has a slight deficit when matched against Barack Obama, despite stronger support for McCain from Republicans than Obama gets from Democrats (see my April memo for why that is a challenge for ALL Republican campaigns). NOR is the news that voters are angry about gas prices and think the Democrats are better able to handle the economy.

Instead, the news is the four match-ups between the Republican message and the Democrats’ message on the key issues of the economy, Iraq, trade, and taxes. The Democratic message consistently won out over the GOP message by eleven to 25 points.

Let’s take a deeper look into the data and see how our messages play when voters know where they’re from and when they don’t know which party is saying what. If you want the exact wording of both parties’ message and the full data, go back and take a second look at the poll.

Let’s start with the economy. When voters know what party each message comes from, we lose 37% to 58% and trail among independents by 18%. Ouch. However, when you read both messages without telling voters who they come from, the story gets worse.

Republican voters like the Democrat’s message more than their own party’s message by a large 14% margin when they don’t know which party it comes from. Just as disturbing, numbers among independents drop by another 10%… giving the Democrats a massive 28% advantage. Even our horrifically damaged image is better than our message on the economy. Independents and even Republicans simply like the Democrats’ plan more than ours.

Iraq and trade both follow the exact same pattern. We’re getting smashed on both issues on the partisan test, but when you look at the nonpartisan test where our damaged image isn’t a factor, the numbers get even worse among Independents and Republicans. A few Democrats (and in the case of trade a bunch of Democrats) move our way on the nonpartisan ballot, but Independents actually agree with our messages more when they know the messages came from Republicans.

On taxes, the picture gets more complex. On the partisan text, Independents like the Democrats’ message by significant 14% margin, but Republicans still like our message and give us a resounding 39% advantage. That changes drastically on the nonpartisan test.

When the party’s names are removed, Independents are almost evenly split, giving the Democrats’ message a small 5% advantage. However, Republican voters stampede away from the GOP message. Among Republicans, support for the GOP message on taxes drops by a gargantuan 53% when the party’s names are removed, leaving the Democrats with a 14% advantage. You read that right, on the nonpartisan test, Independents like the GOP message on taxes more than Republicans do and even Independents slightly favor the Democrats.

The takeaway? Our message right now is electoral poison and this isn’t all about “brand.”

I’d love to hear everyone’s take on these numbers in the comments section. I’ll close with some more advice from Glen Bolger’s memo:

Look at some of the language in the themes that the NPR survey tested from the Democrats. You might not feel comfortable with all of the examples below, but if you think Republicans can not use any of those, that’s simply too much Inside the Beltway thinking:

“The economy has worked well for CEOs but not for the middle class, and we need a big change in direction.”

“We should repeal the special tax breaks for companies moving jobs overseas and for the oil companies.”

“We need to cut middle class taxes across the board, limit drug prices, and make health care more affordable.”

“We should partner with business to invest in clean alternative energy to create the jobs of the future.”

“We must strengthen America’s security by starting to reduce our troops in Iraq in a responsible way, force the Iraqi government to use its oil money to pay for reconstruction, and work with other nations to bring stability.”

“With such financial pressures on families, we need to focus completely on middle class tax relief and making sure government works for them, not the special interests.”


Crossposted at

Patrick’s argument against a Mark Penn style microtrends approach and in favor of Obama (Axelrod) style unifying messages is spot on… but only if you’re talking about the Presidential race and to a lesser extent gubernatorial races.

Presidential candidates get to create their own themes and realities. They have gigantic megaphones and as we’ve seen this year, their campaigns are more earned media-centric than paid media-centric. If a presidential candidate says something, a regular person may actually hear it every once in a while.

They’re so prominent they aren’t capable of running a real microtrend strategy because anything they say will be amplified ten million times over. If Obama gives a speech to, say the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (or whatever), the national press covers it and if he says anything different than his normal theme, everyone hears it.

That’s just as true of the internet. Any communication he sends out will probably get picked up by some reporter somewhere and the logistics of tracking microtargeted messages to every small constituency in the nation are a mess. Someone will screw up somewhere along the line and anything the campaign sends out has the potential to turn into a blowup. Either the messages are so plain vanilla that they’re not really even worth calling a micro message anymore, or there’s a huge potential for trouble. I think this dynamic kept HRC from running a truly micro campaign incidently, her strategy was more old school “constituency collection.”

On the flip side, micro messages are great for members of Congress and legislative campaigns because basically, no one pays any attention to them.

The fundamental challenge of Congressional campaigns is getting a message across. The races don’t get much press coverage and no one but a handful of activists gets very excited about them. That’s why congressional campaigns are so expensive, candidates have to ram their messages down voters’ throats through paid media.

This is where microtrends get useful. People don’t pay much attention to broad messages from congressional candidates, but voters care a lot more when a candidate talks about their specific micro issue. In a campaign setting that means heavily tailoring your cable buys, investing in a lot of issue mail and buying the hell out of (wonderfully targetable) internet advertising. As long as the candidates don’t contradict themselves to different audiences, they can get away with more message variation.

Nationally, it means that David All’s suggestion that congressional messaging should look like a lot more like Netflix has some merit, but this post is running long and I’ll save that for another day.

British Mac vs. U.S. Mac

April 30, 2008

I’ve been cold on the famous Mac vs. PC ads for years, but I love the newer UK version, even though the ads have literally the same scripts. Yes, the U.S. Mac ads are funny, cleverly written and have a clear, strategic message… but they screwed up the casting in the U.S. version, and nailed it across the pond.

The U.S. Mac is a little too hip. He looks like he carries his Mac in a messenger bag while biking to an organic coffee shop where he’ll work on his latest freelance graphic design project. He’s also a little too emo.

My main problem though is the U.S. PC. He’s basically a computer geek in a suit. Bill Gates with a tie and straighter hair. He even seems nice, if a little insecure. The worst part from a persuasion perspective is he evokes all the wrong stereotypes. No matter what the dialog is saying, the guy looks and feels like we expect a computer expert to look and feel. Mac = graphic designer. PC = computer expert. Huge problem.

The UK version on the other hand, was masterfully cast. The Mac is a touch more manly, he exudes confidence and straddles the line between hipster and jock perfectly. He’s extremely easy for wide spectrum of people to relate to.

Even better, the PC is transformed from an insecure IT manager in Brooks Brothers threads… into full on wanker.  The character is uptight, snobbish, arrogant and looks like the kind of guy who’d think C++ is only slightly worse than a B-. It absolutely makes the ad, he’s brilliant. 

The U.S. version subtly reinforced the images that Macs are great for graphics, maybe they’re easier to use, and yeah they may even be a little cool, but they’re not REAL computers the way PC’s are. The UK version gets across all the positive images they U.S. ads tried to convey without putting its product back into the box that has kept the Mac a niche product for so long.

What really got Mark Penn fired (sort of) this weekend wasn’t making nice to Columbian officials on behalf of his PR business – which is exactly what Burson-Marsteller pays him to do – it was stepping out of the shadows and making himself a celebrity. Rule #1 for people whose job it is to make other people look good: Don’t get too public.

Penn has been all over the news calling himself “chief strategist” and generally making a spectacle of himself. His line on his B-M work has been that he’s only working for Clinton and Microsoft, so there’s no conflict, but that strikes me as a load of spin.

Firms like B-M hire big names like Penn to pitch, not fulfill contracts. They’re buying the ability to bring him into occasional meeting with clients, usually for pitches and keeping especially large cash cows happy, and dazzle them with his White House cuff links and “My Old Buddy Bill” stories.

So he went in, did his job and did his shtick for a client who wants help getting the government to do something unpopular. Standard stuff… except instead of staying in the background, he made himself into a public figure and thereby fair game for Team Obama opposition researchers. Or maybe the leak came from jealous internal rivals. Either way, it’s his ego’s fault.

Medium term, they’re deader than a buggy whip factory, but they’ve still got the most valuable asset in the media business – credibility. That’s what Rupert Murdock was thinking when he bought the Wall Street Journal, he was buying the brand. The Journal is an uber-example, but a the same principle holds true at the community level. The theoretical hybrid writing/video web-based news sources of the future would smart to buy today’s newspaper brands once the market finishes slowly crushing them into dust.  Or existing newspapers could just evolve that way themselves and kill off local tv news, but I’m not holding my breath.

According to data from a new Gallup poll Obama and Clinton are both roughly even with McCain, but draw on very different coalitions of voters to get there. Obama does better than Clinton among moderate Republicans and Independents, but hemorrhages white Democrats. Gallup:

“Obama enjoys the traditionally high support from black Democrats that all recent Democratic nominees have received. However, Obama would have the challenge of shoring up support among white Democrats if he were the nominee, while Clinton would be faced with the prospect of expanding her support among independents and “soft” Republicans (while at the same time motivating black voters). Looking ahead to the fall election, it is not clear at this point if one of these profiles of support is better from a strategic campaign perspective than the other.”

Check out the poll for the data breakdown. I was interested to see how relatively small the difference between both candidates’ Hispanic support.

Taxes as a Time Machine

March 31, 2008

Itemizing my taxes is a trip down memory lane every year. As I sift though a years worth of receipts, donations and travel expenses I always feel like I’m reliving the whole year day by day. It’s like a grown up version of new years eve in some ways. I remember all my past errors and successes, and vow to do better next year at (fill in this blank with sound and responsible financial or life practice).

Takeaways? Man, did I eat a lot of Southeast Asian food in 2007 and the Southcenter Red Robin should send me a gift card or something.