NPR Poll Shows GOP Winning the Message War

Elsewheres on this blog, you’ve seen the posts regarding the NPR poll in 70 battleground districts which shows very good news for the Republican effort to take back the House in 2010.  The political environment in those key seats is excellent for Republicans, the enthusiasm gap is significantly in the GOP’s favor, and the basic point/counterpoint on the economic message shows voters are not buying what the Obama Administration is selling.

But the most compelling data comes from the combat message development.  Four questions were asked pairing a GOP message against a Democratic message.  Stan Greenberg wrote the Dem messages, and I wrote the GOP messages.  (This blog post does not reflect the opinions of either NPR or GQR).  The GOP won all four message fights.  Handily.

Now, I’m not bragging or implying that I have significant message writing skills in comparison to Stan.  In 2006 and 2008, the Dem messages he wrote kicked the heck out of the GOP messages I wrote.  And that’s the point — these data are very compelling when both parties put their best foot forward and one side’s argument consistently wins by an outside of the margin level.  So, it’s not like I suddenly got smarter or he got dumber.  The political environment has shifted at whiplash speed.

These four messages work well for Republicans.  Campaigns at all levels — not just the congressional level — should seek to use elements of these messagings.  Expect that the Democrats will try and change up their language to close the gap, but, blogging as a veteran of 2006 and 2008, when the general tide is against you on issues, it is very hard to tweak language and win. 

Let’s look at the four combat message fights, and the results.  The first fight is on the economy/jobs:

(DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE) might say, “They left America with rising bailouts, deficits and unemployment. So, I’m fighting for small business and the middle class, not the big guys. I helped get the biggest tax cut ever for the middle class, extended benefits and health insurance for the unemployed and passed tax credits for small business and clean energy to create new jobs here. And I’ll make sure Wall Street pays back every penny and that the government reduces the deficit each year. We can’t go back to policies that hurt the middle class.”

(REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE) might say, “The bailouts failed. The stimulus failed. And the health care bill will cost too much money. Unemployment has skyrocketed since the Democrats started running Washington. We cannot grow the economy by growing government. The best way to revive the economy and create jobs is to reduce government spending and encourage businesses to create jobs. We need to stop burdening our children and grandchildren with Washington’s reckless overspending. My top priority will be to bring down the deficit and work to create jobs, not kill jobs.”

The Republican wins that 53%-41% — both overall and in the Dem CDs.  The next issue is health care reform:

(DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE) might say, “Health reform isn’t perfect, but it’s a good start that puts an end to the worst abuses of the insurance companies. They want to change it so the insurance companies can deny people coverage because of pre-existing conditions and kick them off if they get sick. I’ll keep working to make the law better by providing families and businesses more stable coverage and lower costs, not go back to the old way where insurance companies set the rules.”

(REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE) might say, “At a cost of over one trillion dollars, the new health care law is increasing the cost of health care for middle class families, lowers the quality of care we receive, and will increase our taxes. This plan is little more than a government takeover of health care, giving government bureaucrats the power to make medical decisions. We need to change the new law by keeping the few good parts and significantly improving the rest.”

The Republican wins the health care fight 52%-42%.  Interestingly, in the GOP CDs, the Republican only wins 48%-43%, suggesting that in these very competitive districts held by Republicans, there is slightly more support for the Obama  message (although it still trails) on health care. 

On the issue of financial regulation and reform, we tested:


(DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE) might say, “If Wall Street banks are healthy enough to pay outrageous executive bonuses then they are healthy enough to pay back every cent they got from taxpayers. I will institute tough reforms that hold the banks accountable and make sure that if a bank fails, the CEO is fired instead of getting a bonus and a bailout. That kind of greed cost too many jobs. But my opponent is standing with the Wall Street banks and their lobbyists and opposing real financial reform.”

(REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE) might say, “I support fixing the way Wall Street operates, and believe Wall Street banks should pay back every cent of taxpayer money they were loaned. However, raising taxes on businesses will not create new jobs and will make our economy even worse. We need reforms that stop the abuses but don’t go too far and hurt our economy. We need to allow our small businesses to borrow money so they can grow, and hire more employees to bring down unemployment.”

The Republican wins this message 53%-41%, including 55%-39% in the GOP districts and 52%-41% in the Dem districts.   Finally, on the fight about the last two years overall:

(DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE) might say, “The partisan wars go on in Washington, but I’m focused on the battle for regular people. I voted for tax cuts for middle class families and small businesses and companies that create American jobs and on tough Wall Street reform. They voted to let Wall Street keep the money and do what they want, keep tax breaks for big corporations that send jobs overseas. They bailed out the banks, left the country in debt and voted against helping the unemployed in the resulting crisis. People are under the financial gun, and I vote against earmarks and to control spending.”

(REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE) might say, “It’s time for the Democrats to stop living in the past by blaming others for nearly ten percent unemployment and their runaway government spending. I am focused on the future. I was not part of the Republican Congress that spent too much, and my goal will be to stop the wasteful spending that has only gotten significantly worse with one party control of Washington. The Democrats are growing the size and scope of government, and it’s hurting our economy. We need a check and balance to make sure Washington listens to the people, rather than just spend, spend, spend.”

The GOPer wins the “mega-fight” (if you will) — the summation of our view versus their view of the last two years — by a 52%-39% margin.

When you win a fair fight by that much, that’s a battle you want to have.  If you are a football coach, and you know a play will gain you a first down everytime, why not keep running it?

Public Opinion Strategies