Stick to the Big Picture on Messaging

I almost buried the lead.  When I first wrote this blog posting, I closed with what is clearly the two most important paragraphs.  So, I’ve now moved them to just after this next sentence.  If the post seems disjointed, at least the most important points are right up front.

These results The message results below remind campaigns that this election is about big things –the loss of  jobs, the poor health of the economy, reckless spending, increasing the size/scope of government, and tax increases.  Republicans should resist the temptation to talk about every issues — stick to the ones in the previous sentence, because that’s what voters are focused on.  Avoid the temptation of small ball — casework for incumbents, foreign policy (barring some unforeseen/unpredictible major incident) , and other issues not listed (the jury is still out on illegal immigration in many parts of the country — it polls well, but it is not clear whether it is a vote motivator among Independents).

Yes, Republican candidates need to have ideas on what they will do if they are elected, but the main focus is on prosecuting the failures and overreaches of the last two years — and the need for a check and balance on those overreaches.  If we are not talking about those issues, and the need for change, then we are flushing the campaign’s money away.

In the recent poll I did for American Crossroads in 13 Battleground Senate states, I replicated nearly all of the questionnaire done back in June for NPR in 70 Battleground House districts with Stan Greenberg.  On that, we tested four message fights — health care, jobs/economy, Wall Street/financial regulation, and the arc of the last two years.

I did not change any of the language that Stan wrote for the Dem messages on the poll (Stan was NOT affiliated in any way with this survey for American Crossroads). 

As we found in the House districts, voters in the 13 key Senate we tested prefer the GOP message over the Dem messaging.  Independents opted for the GOP message by a significant margin. 

To reiterate what I wrote in June:

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. 

Now, let’s get to the message fights and the results:

The 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.”

…while…

The 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.”

The Republican wins the economy/jobs fight 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} overall, and by a whopping 55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among Independents. 

On the issue of health care reform:

The 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.”

…while…

The 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.”

Health care was the closest fight of the four — but still a 51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} victory.  At 54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, the Republican advantage is still double digits among Independents.

Testing financial regulation and reform (Wall Street):

The 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.”

…while…

The 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.”

What is supposed to be the Democrats’ secret weapon of the 2010 campaign (tieing the GOP  and Wall Street together like drunks in a three legged race) results in a 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP win.   It is the one issue we lose among Independents (46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), but the five point deficit suggests that by using the best offense as a good defense, the issue is survivable.

The most important of the four was testing the message narratives about the last two years:

The 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.”

…while…

The 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.”

Thus, in the fight that summarizes what both parties want to say about the last two years, the GOPer wins 53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, with the margin 56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among Independents.

These results remind campaigns that this election is about big things –the loss of  jobs, the poor health of the economy, reckless spending, increasing the size/scope of government, and tax increases.  Republicans should resist the temptation to talk about every issues — stick to the ones in the previous sentence, because that’s what voters are focused on.  Avoid the temptation of small ball — casework for incumbents, foreign policy (barring some unforeseen/unpredictible major incident) , and other issues not listed (the jury is still out on illegal immigration in many parts of the country — it polls well, but it is not clear whether it is a vote motivator among Independents).

Yes, Republican candidates need to have ideas on what they will do if they are elected, but the main focus is on prosecuting the failures and overreaches of the last two years — and the need for a check and balance on those overreaches.  If we are not talking about those issues, and the need for change, then we are flushing the campaign’s money away.

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