Does the Republican Party Really Intend to Learn Anything?

Message matters. Mode matters. Everything matters when you’re in a bare-handed fight to the death over a 2-point margin.

We heard a lot of sniggering from Republicans over Obama’s profligate spending on supposedly outmoded, ineffective, and too-expensive field offices.

And we heard a lot from the Republican side about how the GOP was doing things better and more efficiently — touting how many “touches” they had from knocks, personal calls, robocalls and e-mails. 

Well, some of these modes of contact are just plain worthless. And I’m sure a lot of the messages used, even with the effective modes, were subpar or worthless. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the taste was apparently rancid to a lot of GOTV and persuasion targets.

Time had a fascinating piece on Obama’s tech advantages:

The magic tricks that opened wallets were then repurposed to turn out votes. The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states.

But it’s not just superior technical prowess on the Obama side; their voter psychology smarts are probably even more important. They know much better than us which mode and message works with whom and when and for what. Some messages and modes are generally effective, some aren’t, some work better for fundraising and others for persuasion and still others for GOTV. They can do much, much more with every dollar they raise and every volunteer that signs up.

And today we have a Washington Post piece claiming that Republicans are serious about finding out what went wrong and why this year:

Top Republican officials, stunned by the extent of their election losses Tuesday night, have begun an exhaustive review to figure out what went so wrong and how to fix it. . .

. . . The review began on election night with polls in key states, and next week the party will begin a string of voter focus groups.

Know what I didn’t see mentioned in this article? Anything new or any mention of experiments. I saw a whole lot about focus groups and straight polling, debriefs with volunteers. All fine in moderation, but how do they expect to get the right answers from the old methods that left them flat-footed and “shellshocked” in defeat on election eve?

It’s not magic, and it didn’t happen overnight. They know a whole lot more than we do because they’ve been testing these things seriously for years, with reports of 400-600 experiments under their belt that are proprietary to the progressive movement. 

Knowledge is power, and they have the knowledge. We need to learn, and quickly. You don’t do that with outdated textbooks.

  1. Alan D

    If progressives are this good at running their elections, how come they are so bad at running the economy?

  2. swatter

    You  know, I saw the Obama tactic of pandering to the uneducated by showing up on Letterman, teen shows, being shown in public with young people stars, etc..

    And yet, I didn’t think he could have generated that many votes doing the frivulous interviews. I used to think that voters buckled down after Labor Day and studied the candidates. Wrong!!

  3. Mollie Hemingway

    I enjoyed your posts in recent months but I had no idea until Tuesday how important they were. I sure hope that GOP leadership will start thinking about transforming their targeting … quickly.

  4. Nick Stuart

    Some things that have to change:

    • Quit treating the candidates like they are our champions in a gladiatorial contest. It isn’t what the candidates do every 4 years between Labor Day and Election Day; it’s what all of us do for four years between Election Day and Labor Day. We have work to do to.

    • Hold our conservative punditocracy accountable. Once Romney was the nominee, nothing was gained by the constant complaining, kvetching and kvelling (Yes, I’m looking at you Jen Rubin, Jay Nordlinger, George Will, &tc.). Especially not in a ”bare-handed fight to the death over a 2-point margin.” When the primary is over, if we want to win, we have to close ranks around the candidate and wedge him/her over the goal line.
    • Push back on the old media hard. Beginning with starving them of readers, viewers, listeners, and clicks. If the local talk radio station’s news department in the tank for the Left, turn them off. Subscribe to your favorite talker’s podcast.
    • Organize locally. I’m hoping to start a discussion group, starting with Prager’s Still the Best Hope and build from there.
  5. Fake John Galt

    Does it matter if the GOP ever wins again?  Is there a difference between the parties except in style?  If Romney would have won the election we are told he would have replaced Obamacare with Romneycare.  It is effectively the difference of being beaten with a steel baseball bat or being beaten with a wooden baseball bat.  Are we smaller government types were supposed to be oh so grateful because the wooden bat is softer? 

    So let the GOP continue to study and emulate the Democrats and wonder why they always lose since they are not as good as the real thing.   A pox on both their houses. 

  6. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    Nick Stuart: Some things that have to change: · 16 minutes ago

    • Quit treating the candidates like they are our champions in a gladiatorial contest. It isn’t what the candidates do every 4 years between Labor Day and Election Day; it’s what all of us do for four years between Election Day and Labor Day. We have work to do to.

    • . . . .
    • Push back on the old media hard. Beginning with starving them of readers, viewers, listeners, and clicks. If the local talk radio station’s news department in the tank for the Left, turn them off. Subscribe to your favorite talker’s podcast.
    • Organize locally. I’m hoping to start a discussion group, starting with Prager’sStill the Best Hopeand build from there.

    Agreed wholeheartedly on the local organizing. I was hopeful that Tea Party GOTV efforts I’d heard about in Ohio might make the difference. I think local activism/organizing is the most important thing the TP can do . . . we need community organizers on our side. The year-to year work should be outreach to voters, local candidate recruitment, primary fights in state rep/senate elections to push good, solid candidates into the pipeline.

  7. Thom Williams

    I still wonder if all of this sophisticated messaging and all the rest would have worked if John Kerry had been the democratic candidate. John Kerry could have said and done all the things that Obama did, but he would have lost. I think we underestimate how much Obamas race helped him with the latino and black vote. A white candidate wouldn’t have won the margins that Obama did with those groups, and turnout among those groups wouldn’t have been as high. Romney would have walked away with the race if there had been a white candidate saying and doing what Obama did.

  8. Bryan G. Stephens
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: I enjoyed your posts in recent months but I had no idea until Tuesday how important they were. I sure hope that GOP leadership will start thinking about transforming their targeting … quickly. · 37 minutes ago

    They won’t. They don’t learn. All that will happen is the GOP leadership, who gave us Romney to start with, will blame us for the loss.

    Never will they learn anything. The GOP are the Whigs.

  9. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    Fake John Galt: Does it matter if the GOP ever wins again?  Is there a difference between the parties except in style?  If Romney would have won the election we are told he would have replaced Obamacare with Romneycare.  It is effectively the difference of being beaten with a steel baseball bat or being beaten with a wooden baseball bat.  Are we smaller government types were supposed to be oh so grateful because the wooden bat is softer? 

    So let the GOP continue to study and emulate the Democrats and wonder why they always lose since they are not as good as the real thing.   A pox on both their houses.  · 19 minutes ago

    Edited 17 minutes ago

    Two words: Supreme Court. Yes, RomneyCare frightened the pants off of me. But Romney would have signed a repeal. We at least had a chance with the House, and if we’d won the Senate. Now it’s almost hopeless. 

    Look, I’m pretty hard-core libertarian (a dash traditionalist). I spent the entire primary desperately fooling myself that there was a plausible alternative to Romney. But there’s a world of difference between a Romney administration and a second Obama term.

  10. Ohio Steve

    I posted the video (below) on the member feed a few weeks ago. But this is the kind of cutting edge stuff that might be useful for conservatives to explore through, as you say, experimentation.

    Apparently, the emotion of disgust correlates with conservative political positions. Conservatives are easier to digust, liberals harder. But evoking disgust in anyone induces them (ever-so-slightly) to take more conservative political positions. Even something as simple as reminding people to wash their hands can cause a measurable tilt to the political right.

    The guy in the video seems to imply as certain points that this is a negative characteristic of conservatives. I don’t agree. But in a “bare-handed fight to the death over a 2-point margin,” who cares? Let’s put this information to good use. How about signs posted at polling places, reminding people to wash their hands after using the voting machines?

    Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-TmKo75gJI

  11. Pseudodionysius

    Vincent: I got an idea what they’re looking at…. You know what they’re looking at?… I mean — is this guy something, or is he something?… This crew is good!… You wanna know what they’re looking at?

    Dr. Bob: What?

    Vincent: Us…. The L-A-P-D…. Po-lice Department…. We just got made

  12. Casey
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: I enjoyed your posts in recent months but I had no idea until Tuesday how important they were. I sure hope that GOP leadership will start thinking about transforming their targeting … quickly. · 49 minutes ago

    No, Mollie.  Not targeting.

    They did beat us with targeting because we stink at that.  But when we get as good as them that will only get us to even odds.  If we get slightly better we’ll win slightly more.  But they’ll catch up.

    The lesson to be learned is we need to get beyond targeting.  We need to develop a strategy that makes targeting look like small potatoes.  We need to set the BHAG of 70% of the popular vote.  Or maybe 100%.  Not 50.1%.

    We need to score points!  We need to get so far out ahead they can’t catch up.  We need to go all Deacon Jones and put liberalism in the hospital.

    If the only lesson we learn is to target better, then by 2016 we’ll be very well prepared for the 2012 election.

  13. Nick Stuart
    Adam Schaeffer

    Agreed wholeheartedly on the local organizing. I was hopeful that Tea Party GOTV efforts I’d heard about in Ohio might make the difference. I think local activism/organizing is the most important thing the TP can do . . . we need community organizers on ourside. The year-to year work should be outreach to voters, local candidate recruitment, primary fights in state rep/senate elections to push good, solid candidates into the pipeline. · 30 minutes ago

    I was astonished to find out how poorly Romney did with rural voters. My mental picture for the future are teams that go out to work the small-to-tiny towns the big campaign seems to overlook.

  14. Hang On

    Can’t begin to tell you how interesting I’ve found your posts. The one thing you keep talking about is how many field offices there are for Obama vs. Romney. But should the capability be candidate-oriented or party oriented? Candidates come and go. The party should be more permanent and institutional. The other point has to do with money and spending limits of candidates that don’t apply to parties.

    The same is true of the randomized experiments that are run. Should this be at the candidate level or the party level with the sharing of information?

  15. Hang On

    And another question: If Team Obama was really so good, why was his vote down by the margins that it was? What really mystified me was Romney’s vote being down vs. McCain’s.

  16. Nick Stuart

    Abortion and same-sex marriage are load-bearing walls in the foundation of the Republican Party structure. Tinker with them at great peril.

    Having said that, there are good answers to answer, parry, and pivot on the “gotcha” questions from the media:  “Tell us why you want to force women to carry babies that were the result of incestuous rape?”

    GOP pols have to KNOW they will be asked these questions. They shouldn’t receive funding from the party unless they demonstrate they have practiced giving coherent responses and turning the question to the opponent:  “I don’t want that at all Candy, but I would like my opponent to explain why he voted against a bill that would protect infants born alive after an unsuccessful abortion. Why is my opponent in favor of infanticide?”

    [Side note: An update to Dante's Inferno would have Todd Akin handcuffed to Candy Crowley for eternity somewhere on the 9th circle]

  17. Misthiocracy

    A mere 300,000 vote swing in a small number of battleground states, and Romney would have won.

    That does not represent an insurmountably seismic ideological shift to me.

    That represents getting beaten by a more organized campaign.

  18. Misthiocracy
    Adam Schaeffer:

    We heard a lot of sniggering from Republicans over Obama’s profligate spending on supposedly outmoded, ineffective and too-expensive field offices.

    Seriously?  There are Republicans who genuinely think field offices and boots on the ground are outmoded and ineffective?!

    In a world of fragmented media and a gazillion different information channels on-line, the single most effective persuasion channel is face-to-face conversation.

    If one guy has a team of well-paid cybermen sending out electronic propaganda from Massacheusetts, and the other guy has teams of actual, human supporters on the ground all over the country, which do you suppose voters will think has a genuine mandate from the people?

    Up here in Canuckistan, we’re lucky. Due to our system, every single riding in the country gets at least one local campaign office.  You can tell you have a safe seat when your opponent decides not to bother with the expense of an office.

    In a Canadian federal campaign, the central campaign HQ in Ottawa is responsible for the air game, and for developing the technological GOTV infrastructure, but it’s the local MP candidates who are responsible for implementing the ground game.

  19. Crow
    Pseudodionysius: Vincent: I got an idea what they’re looking at…. You know what they’re looking at?… I mean — is this guy something, or is he something?… This crew is good!… You wanna know what they’re looking at?

    Dr. Bob: What?

    Vincent: Us…. The L-A-P-D…. Po-lice Department…. We just got made… · 41 minutes ago

    Heat is a great film. 

  20. Misthiocracy

    Also, up here, the leader of the party has enormous power over local candidates.

    A gaffe like the one from Akin would not be tolerated. A local candidate that says something that hurts the national campaign will find their nomination revoked by the party leader.

    It’s a shame that a single senate or house campaign can have so much influence on the presidential candidate’s chances, since the positions are completely unrelated under the US constitution.  Sadly, in the Facebook and Twitter era, congressional candidates matter to the presidential campaign, and yet the presidential candidate has no authority to impose campaign discipline.

    I think that could be mitigated by ensuring that the congressional campaign has strong leader, with a common campaign platform, like Gingrich and the Contract With America back in 1994.

    That way, the leader of the congressional campaign could take the heat for congressional gaffes, and leave the presidential candidate to deal with his own problems.