Good morning class, I trust you all enjoyed your Holiday Break (no Christmas in my class; I’m a warrior in the War on Christmas). Unlike most campaign years, the Republicans are dead set on having a primary early so we don’t have much of a break between the holiday season and the Iowa Caucuses. With the Republican primary season kicking off next Tuesday it’s important that we get in a few lessons before you all get inundated with negative ads, talking points and spin after the first votes are cast.
Today’s lesson is all about defining the opposition, and as a case study we’re going to look at the new DNC ad that’s been running about Mitt Romney. We are going to determine if this is actually a good defining message for the Democrats to use against the presumptive GOP nominee or if the Obama team is just grasping at straws:
Defining Romney as an Out of Touch Scrooge McDuck, a Romney Warbucks if you will? Not a bad message, and certainly one that might resonate with a public that’s Tea Partying and Occupying their way towards the next presidential election. But, what does the actual science of political campaigns tell us?
In my book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell, using a survey of over 400 campaign managers from across the country I laid out exactly what they say is the best definition strategy. You have to define your opponent early, before they get a chance to tell the public who they are. More importantly after doing a content analysis of over 30 campaigns over the course of a decade I found the five definitions that you use in any campaign if you want to be successful:
1. Out of Touch: Your candidate doesn’t connect with regular people
2. Too Old, Too Long in Office: Your candidate has outstayed their usefulness in office
3. Incompetent: Your candidate isn’t capable of handling the job
4. Corrupt: Your candidate or their friends are abusing the public trust
5. Inexperienced: Your candidate isn’t ready for the job they seek (at this point)
It is already clear that the Obama campaign is trying to define Mitt Romney as Out of Touch, perhaps because the whole flip-flopper thing wasn’t catching on as well. The former Massachusetts governor isn’t doing himself any favors by constantly talking about how he grew up rich, and making bets for $10,000 with his political rivals (he would have been better off betting a million bucks. At least then people would have thought he was joking. He wasn’t joking about $10,000.)
However the real question is, will this strategy work? Will the Out of Touch message from the DNC actually stick to Romney in the minds of voters compared to any other critical message that may run about him?
I ran a statistical analysis to determine what type of candidate is most likely to roll out the Out of Touch message to attack their opponents and found some interesting results:
|How You Define||What Predicts the Definition||Explanation of Strategy|
|Out of Touch||Democrat||Democrats are more likely to define opponents as Out of Touch than Republicans|
|Out of Touch||Money||Your opponent is more likely to define you as Out of Touch if you have more money than they do|
|Out of Touch||Race||You are more likely to be defined as Out of Touch if you are a White candidate facing a minority candidate|
Not only were the strategies above the most often employed, but they also were the most likely to lead to electoral success. So let’s review shall we? We have a Democrat (Obama) running against Mitt Romney (who is has a higher net worth that any other candidate in the race) and he’s a White guy (very obvious). It would seem that the Obama campaign is following the perfect definition strategy to put Romney in the worst light possible before the campaign season even starts.
Now, don’t put your books away and start looking at the clock just yet. Defining your opposition in the proper way doesn’t guarantee you a victory come November, but it does have a significant effect. Definitions that set in early are almost impossible to change, there is little or no chance that Mitt Romney is going to transform himself into a reformer for the people between now and November. He could drink all the beer and take all the hunting photos in the world and it’s not going to make him into an everyman. (Just ask John Kerry.) Romney’s counter is to say that Obama is a nice guy but incompetent, and that Mitt’s Scrooge McDuckiness is just what the nation needs to get back on track economically. It remains to be seen if the public is willing to buy Romney’s counter, because they are certainly picking up on Obama’s first jab.
Alright, we’ll see you again next week after the Iowa Caucuses are over. Just remember that no matter what happens, no matter how well he does, the press will NOT allow Ron Paul to be relevant. Class dismissed!
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.