Who Knew? Data on the Efficacy of the Repeal Pledge
Oh, there is nothing like data.
Several days ago, in the wake of the Deb Fischer victory in Nebraska, I put up a post, "Mourdock, Fischer and the Repeal Pledge". Many of the comments were by people who because they hadn't heard* of the Repeal Pledge thought it didn't make any difference, or didn't believe pledges in general worked, or attributed Fischer's victory to Palin's endorsement , or to the two main candidates relentlessly beating up on each other (and it is true, without that groundwork she couldn't have prevailed). I stopped responding to the comments, because I knew the pollster was in the field right then, trying to find out from Nebraska voters as best he could the answer to those questions .
[*Small digression here, for those of you who rely on news reports to know what happened: it's probably missing stuff that no one talked about. For example, when we do messaging in a state, we almost never put out a press release about it. And where all we are doing is telling people who has signed the pledge and who hasn't, and not encouraging anyone re. how to vote, we don't even have anything to file. So there won't be any press reports about the role the Repeal Pledge played; it just won't have gotten on reporters' radar screens.]
Just to be REALLY clear: in no lifetime would I say that the Repeal Pledge gets credit for anyone's victory. A bad or not credible candidate could take the pledge repeatedly and it wouldn't make any difference. Good candidates have won without it. And by definition there are many issues, personalities, and outside groups that each are helping create the outcome.
But now we have data, and the implications for candidates of what we’ve just confirmed are huge.
Back up first: in the Mourdock race in Indiana, the campaign told us explicitly after the fact that the Repeal Pledge had been way more important than we knew. (That's the Mourdock campaign talking, not us.)
We hadn’t spent that much on promoting who had, and hadn't, signed the pledge – certainly our outlay was drop in the bucket relative to what else was being spent – but we knew it was an important contrast point that other groups and the campaign could easily amplify, and that they had done so.
We hoped the Mourdock campaign folks were right, but there was no hard data. We noted the correlation between when the word about who had and hadn't signed the Repeal Pledge got out, and the blowout that rapidly occurred. But we all know that doesn’t PROVE anything.
In Nebraska, we had a unique opportunity with Deb Fischer: a relatively unknown candidate (which was her biggest problem), few other elements promoting her candidacy, and even less amplification of our message. This was a chance to assess how effectively our messaging penetrated, and whether knowing that a candidate had signed the Repeal Pledge actually mattered.
So we did a survey. The results are in this Politico piece. Bottom line: This idea that Rush Limbaugh so long ago encouraged was more important than anyone would have ever dreamed.
- Obamacare/repeal was the single issue that mattered most. (Which was utterly unexpected to me, but maybe stood out because it became a point of key contrast.)
- 62% were voting for their candidate's positions or personal qualities v. only 27% doing so against another candidate
- The act of taking the Repeal Pledge outweighed all the obvious work done on ObamaCare by the Attorney General, Jon Bruning (who didn’t take the pledge).
- Over half Republican primary voters said Fischer taking the pledge mattered to them.
- 50% of people who remembered getting our robocall also voted for Fischer! (We are talking hated ROBOCALLS people! Do you know how amazing this is? The thing that we all hang up on in the first 3 seconds and that campaigns normally have to do a ton of to get any impact? This reifies our contention that both the messenger and the message really matter. It also means this cost pennies per vote.)
- By roughly 3:1, the Repeal Pledge mattered more to voters than Sarah Palin’s endorsement (though I think her endorsement was huge in that it legitimized Fischer’s candidacy and helped move Fischer to "contender" status, which signing the Pledge alone would not have done).
- The Repeal Pledge works with self-described moderates as well as with self-described conservatives.
The Repeal Pledge isn't just good policy, it's good politics. We knew that by gut feel before (hey, when strangers track down the doctor who recorded your call to thank them for making a robocall, you know something unusual is going on). But now we know it by hard data. Can't say this is true of all pledges, but it is for this one. Take that, you cynics! :)