The Digital Divide is the Least of Our Problems . . . Which is Saying Something

great article about the digital and other problems on the Right has been making the rounds. 

In particular, it’s a very good sign that the firm Red Edge properly receives the bulk of the print and color in the piece. Bret Jacobson and Ian Spencer are very intelligent, extremely hardworking and knowledgeable guys.

But the piece misses what I think is the most important problem for the Right: the absence of applied political science research, running randomized, controlled experiments in the field and online in the “lab.”

The Left dominated in 2012 for a number of reasons, but two stand out; superior technology and a deeper understanding of voter psychology.

Catching up on the technological front is the much easier task, but understanding voter psychology is the more difficult and important task. The most important advantage on the Left is a pervasive culture of experimental testing and accountability. The Right needs a scientific revolution, not just a digital revolution.

Progressives know better which mode and message works with whom and when and for what because they have run hundreds of social science experiments to perfect the arts of persuasion and turnout.

Evolving Strategies, for instance, conducted a controlled PocketTrial® experiment testing 3 Romney ads of different themes paired with 3 Obama ads (separate and together) about one month prior to the election. We found the Romney ads comprehensively ineffective at persuasion and the Obama ads generally effective at persuasion. (See report.)

In other words, Romney’s core messages just did not work. Obama’s did

The Romney campaign could have been on Reddit and everywhere else they needed to be, but it would make little difference to the outcome because their messages were not persuasive.

Tech is a tool. A potentially very powerful tool. And the Right is at a disadvantage without the best tools. 

But all the tech and digital tools in the world are still only a means for delivering a message or information to particular voters. If the message you’re delivering is ineffective junk, then all you’ll be doing is more efficiently spreading ineffective junk around the interwebs.

The Right needs better tools. But the best tools in the world don’t make you a master mechanic . . . you need to understand how an engine works, how each piece of a car hangs together or can fall apart in order to figure out what’s wrong and get things running and on the road. And understanding human beings is a hell of a lot more complicated that understanding a car.

Evolving Strategies’ mission is to bring the political psychology and political behavior revolution to the Right. We help people understand voter psychology in a way that allows them to diagnose the problem and make your message work.

But we need many more people doing this, and it needs to become part of the culture of the Right; digital, data, testing, accountability and above all, experiments.

  1. Severely Ltd.

    I’m not sure there’s a better psychological tool for winning over voters than promising free stuff and assuring them that there’s a top 1% that will bankroll it. I don’t know that we can out-lie the left.

    We might be stuck in the position of waiting until their house of cards collapses before the voters we need will listen to us. And even then the press might convince them it was all our fault. Remember “The stimulus wasn’t big enough!”

  2. Duane Oyen

    I think these ideas are all fine in the right niche. 

    But you still do not win with cute strategic messaging and digital tricks or focus groups, starting e-mails out with “Hey,”. 

    You win with candidates and positions that inherently appeal to the public.  If Romney had had Rubio’s biography and demeanor, he would have won regardless of Stewart Stevens’ strategies.

    I see no reason to replace one batch of cash-skimming consultants with another modernized, more “hip” group.  More and better digital messaging research is not the same as better GOTV.

  3. The King Prawn

    The people are broken. They’ve lost their love of liberty. They do not abhor tyranny, or at least have lost the ability to see the trap beneath the cheese. No tech or undertanding of voter psychology can fix that problem. Pandering more effectively to those who only want politicians who will vote them the most money out of the treasury is not the answer.

  4. Merina Smith

    King Prawn, you are too pessimistic.  I agree, our messaging was bad.  We did need to appeal much more to the concerns of ordinary folks.  Our side was far too wonky and intellectual.  Yuval Levin had a brilliant article I read yesterday about the SOTU.  Just as in the campaign, there is no there there. BHO talked about nothing except immigration that has a prayer of going anywhere.  And its pretty clear that he has no way of influencing what Congress does.  He’s a poor politician and incapable of that. 

    In short, the left is running on empty.  They managed to project “we care” in the election in the ways Adam has delineated, but they have no real solutions.  We have solutions, but we need to project what is really true–that we care and have answers to the nation’s problems.  They suceeded in painting us as the party of the rich, when we are actually the party of everyone–if growth and prosperity is good for everyone.  We need to get that message out in ways that people really relate to.  Money spent on this kind of research is money well-spent–if we want to win. 

  5. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    Duane Oyen: I think these ideas are all fine in the right niche. 

    But you still do not win with cute strategic messaging and digital tricks or focus groups, starting e-mails out with “Hey,”. 

    You win with candidates and positions that inherently appeal to the public.  If Romney had had Rubio’s biography and demeanor, he would have won regardless of Stewart Stevens’ strategies.

    I see no reason to replace one batch of cash-skimming consultants with another modernized, more “hip” group.  More and better digital messaging research is not the same as better GOTV. · 52 minutes ago

    You’re right . . . but how do you know what “candidates and positions that inherently appeal to the public?” Do you inuit them? A genius political guru is delivered them in a flash of insight?

    No, you test. You run experiments. Relentlessly, incessantly, always. You look for the seams in voter psych, what people think, why, and how to better communicate what we know is correct and right. You ask questions, find answers, and then ask yet more questions.

    I agree, the candidate is the main ingredient. But conservative messages aren’t getting through to enough people. 

  6. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    Merina Smith: 

    In short, the left is running on empty.  They managed to project “we care” in the election in the ways Adam has delineated, but they have no real solutions.  We have solutions, but we need to project what is really true–that we care and have answers to the nation’s problems.  They suceeded in painting us as the party of the rich, when we are actually the party of everyone–if growth and prosperity is good for everyone.  We need to get that message out in ways that people really relate to.  Money spent on this kind of research is money well-spent–if we want to win.  · 19 minutes ago

    Yes! 

    Why do we expect everyone to understand everything in the same way or as quickly as we do? Why do we expect one explanation will work with everyone? Why do we demand that it should

    It’s self-defeating narcissism to expect everyone to not only agree with our policy prescriptions, but to do so for the same reasons, based on the same logic and rationale.

    The answer isn’t to pander, but to communicate effectively with your audience.

  7. Severely Ltd.
    Adam Schaeffer: I agree, the candidate is the main ingredient. But conservative messages aren’t getting through to enough people. 

    I thought this was the problem up until the last election, but now I’m not so sure.

    Our message: We’ll give you every opportunity to turn your hard work into success. Freedom.

    Their message: The rich are taking all the money! We’ll take it from them and give it to you. Security.

    The King Prawn: The people are broken. They’ve lost their love of liberty. They do not abhor tyranny, or at least have lost the ability to see the trap beneath the cheese. No tech or undertanding of voter psychology can fix that problem. Pandering more effectively to those who only want politicians who will vote them the most money out of the treasury is not the answer.

    This is what worries me.

  8. Pilli

    OR we could rely on Carl Rove and his ilk.  They have done really well in the past 8 years.

  9. Rawls
    Merina Smith: [Obama]‘s a poor politician and incapable of that. 

    In short, the left is running on empty.  They managed to project “we care” in the election in the ways Adam has delineated, but they have no real solutions.  We have solutions, but we need to project what is really true–that we care and have answers to the nation’s problems.  They suceeded in painting us as the party of the rich, when we are actually the party of everyone–if growth and prosperity is good for everyone.  We need to get that message out in ways that people really relate to.  Money spent on this kind of research is money well-spent–if we want to win.

    “Poor politician”? “Running on empty”?

    Obama and his team are great politicians, that’s why he’s the president, and was able to pass one of the most sweeping laws in the history of our nation (Obamacare). We need to acknowledge political savvy where it exists and learn how to create our own version of it.

    “They succeeded in painting us as the party of the rich”?

    Silver-spoon, 47% Romney helped paint himself as a candidate of the rich.

  10. Duane Oyen
    Adam Schaeffer

    Duane Oyen: ………….

    I see no reason to replace one batch of cash-skimming consultants with another modernized, more “hip” group.  More and better digital messaging research is not the same as better GOTV. · 52 minutes ago

     . . . but how do youknowwhat “candidates and positions that inherently appeal to the public?” Do you inuit them? …….

    No, you test. You run experiments. Relentlessly, incessantly, always. You look for the seams in voter psych, what people think, why, and how to better communicate ………

    I agree, the candidate is the main ingredient. ………

    Adam, I respectfully disagree.  “run(ing) experiments. Relentlessly, incessantly, always. You look for the seams in voter psych, what people think” smacks of Big Campaign Brother, where the back room insiders quant the results and tell us who our candidates are.   We all knew in 2012 that Romney was wooden, but he was still the best we had.  Had he had Pawlenty’s bio and family, it would have been different.  Those questions are not at the margins, they are large and obvious- and we can indeed intuit them.

    You don’t need a consulting company to see how Rubio affects listeners or how Reagan did.

  11. Xennady
    The King Prawn: The people are broken.

    I disagree. You’re giving us another version of the 47% idea that Mitt Romney infamously discussed.

    I don’t buy it. Nothing I saw from Mitt Romney made me think or even suspect that he would do anything to stop or reverse the country’s slow slide into tyranny or rein in the relentless expansion of the welfare state.

    The best I expected from him was perhaps a better supreme court justice or two and a handful fewer disastrously stupid EPA regulations.

    I voted for him despite that- but millions more did not. Don’t blame the public for not liking a lousy candidate who famously couldn’t lock up the nomination despite running against an assortment of non-entities- which was then followed up by a terrible, incompetent  campaign.

    The GOP deserved to lose- and it did.

  12. Xennady
    Severely Ltd.

    If you mean Romney deserved to lose because he ran a lousy campaign, that is also nonsense. Without the backing of the press, Obama would not have won. The same is true of many down-ticket races.

    I have absolutely no doubt Romney is a vastly better man than Obama and would have made a vastly better president too- even taking into account my criticisms in #12. But that isn’t the same as believing he would have politically successful at reversing the country’s decline into ruin.

    Based upon Romney’s fumbling inability to successfully surmount the lying, vile attacks from the left during the campaign, I fully expect he would have continued to demonstrate that incapacity as president.

    Hence he would have been another political failure for the GOP, leading to continued disaster.

    Also, I think it is well past time for the GOP to stop whining about the  press. Just when are they going to figure out a solution to that problem, anyway? It isn’t like it just started last month. 

    And whining isn’t going to solve it, either.

  13. Xennady
    Severely Ltd.

    I can’t argue that the GOP needs to change in many, many ways, but they are many times better than what we have. The glass is half full.

    Yes, which is why I continue to vote GOP.

    But it’s a reeeally bad problem for a political party when it’s core policies- which it pursues doggedly, no matter what political cost- are directly at odds with the core interests- to remain employed, and paid enough money to earn a living- of a huge proportion of the people who potentially may vote for that party.

    Again, I’m oversimplifying- but my take on the election results is that this conflict was enough to cost the GOP the presidency and many of those down-ticket races, too.

    Unfortunately better use of psychology won’t solve this problem. To borrow an old cliche, if the dogs won’t eat your dog food the best advertising in the world won’t help your brand sell.

  14. Demaratus

    To all the naysayers, think of it this way: how will working in this area hurt things?  Adam is not consuming tens of millions of dollars of GOP capital.  And even if he was, that’s frankly a drop in the bucket to the billions that will be spent the next cycle.

    Once a candidate emerges, these things matter.  And also consider this: why couldn’t a true Tea Party like conservative deploy messages refined by research to really reach people?  Messaging that reaches people like say the way Milton Friedman did back in the day?  Messages of that level of effectiveness are what we need to turn the country around, and we need to keep a level of messaging like that for decades to do so.  That will only happen if we can build up some intellectual capital in this area and use it.

    If the Left does so and we don’t, we really are the stupid party.  If it works for Coca Cola, it can work for Freedom as well.

    We know our philosophy is better; we just need to sell it better.  In doing so there is no reason why the philosophy itself must be compromised.

  15. Severely Ltd.
    Xennady: And whining isn’t going to solve it, either.

    The fact of press bias needs to be voiced early and often. If pointing out that it is wrong and undermines democracy is whining, then more whining is needed.

    The Dems won’t acknowledge it and the MSM isn’t going indict itself. Should no one be pointing it out?

  16. Merina Smith

    Rawls–The dems are running on empty. They have no answers for the problems that beset our country except more of their failed policies.  So what if they won? They won with the help of a disgraceful press–not whining, just the truth–and they had no campaign platform except lying about Romney. 

    Obama is also a terrible politician.  I think Ann Coulter is right that he is an affirmative action president.  He has some political talents, but he has been unable to work with congress.  That is huge.  He’s a my-way-or-the-highway type of guy.  He surrounds himself with yes-men.  Politicains work with people, they compromise.  So yes–I stand by what I said. 

     As Yuval Levin has pointed out, in the SOTU, Obama spelled out nothing specific and nothing that can be accomplished.  It was a wish list that will go nowhere, except perhaps on immigration, and he knows that he will not be part of that debate.  He is irrelevant at this point, which is a good thing.  As my daughter said to me the other day, everyone she knows who voted for Obama now thinks he is boring.   

  17. Xennady
    Severely Ltd.

    The fact of press bias needs to be voiced early and often. If pointing out that it is wrong and undermines democracy is whining, then more whining is needed.

    The Dems won’t acknowledge it and the MSM isn’t going indict itself. Should no one be pointing it out? ·

    Except the only response the GOP seems to have is the whining.

    They take no effective action against it, nor do GOP politicians seem  even willing to notice it exists.

    So we see Sarah Palin sent to give an interview with Katie Couric, which went on until Couric had enough bad quotes from Palin to suit  leftist political purposes- and then the McCain campaign blamed Palin for this!

    That’s not even the nice, informational whining that you describe. That’s just idiotic.

     I know it’s easy for me to say, as well as obvious- but the GOP must do better.

    That they don’t, despite repeated lessons, is not a good sign for the party or its future.

  18. Xennady
    Demaratus: To all the naysayers, think of it this way: how will working in this area hurt things? 

    I suppose I must consider myself one of those naysayers- but not because I think working in this area will hurt things.

    Quite the contrary- it’s a fabulous idea. But giving the GOP better tools won’t fix the key problem, which is political incompetence.

    A competent GOP would already be doing what Adam suggests- and much more. Quoting him:

    “But all the tech and digital tools in the world are still only a means for delivering a message or information to particular voters. If the message you’re delivering is ineffective junk, then all you’ll be doing is more efficiently spreading ineffective junk around the interwebs.”

    I can’t top that, and I shouldn’t try. I get the sense that on some level the GOP has no idea why it loses elections- or wins them, either- and in a certain important sense the party doesn’t even exist.

    To pick one egregious example- there is absolutely no way Todd Akin should have become the GOP nominee for you-know.

  19. Xennady

    But Todd Akin did become the nominee- and that’s an ugly sign for the GOP.

    There just isn’t enough trust left between the grass-roots of the GOP and the establishment of the party.

    My assessment is that in the absence of a party establishment that can vet and endorse candidates we get disasters like Todd Akin. Yet the GOP establishment is so toxically radioactive that establishment endorsements drive conservative voters away from those candidates, as the grass-roots assume an establishment-endorsed candidate is a RINO who will stab them in the back at the first opportunity. 

    I’m sure this is nothing like 100% true- but it doesn’t need to be to wreck the electoral prospects of the party.

    Until the GOP can solve that problem giving them better tools to spread the message won’t fix anything.

  20. Xennady
    Severely Ltd.

    Our message: We’ll give you every opportunity to turn your hard work into success. Freedom.

    Well, no. That’s not the GOP message I’ve heard.

    What I’ve heard is more like if you’re rich, or an entrepreneur, or a major shareholder in a major corporation- then the GOP is there for you.

    Everyone else- meh.

    The poor have the welfare gravy train, which the GOP hearts mightily. Just ask Mitt Romney.

    Middle class voters- who tend to vote GOP- get essentially nothing from the party, except lectures.

    On one hand the party is big on free trade deals, which result in jobs, economic activity and opportunity leaving the country. On the other, the party also hearts illegal immigrants and immigration in general, without regard to circumstances. So despite a huge unemployment problem we still have massive immigration- and we get to watch Marco Rubio go to bat for yet another amnesty, too. 

    I hate to be so negative- and I know I’m oversimplifying- but I hear nothing from the GOP about these concerns except a swarm of platitudes straight from the last century.

    New messaging won’t help that problem.

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