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Sun Aug 12, 2012 at 05:44 AM PDT

Paul Ryan, Meh

by bendonahower

Tapping Paul Ryan might have endeared Mitt Romney to the conservative, Republican base, but will his choice have any impact on the outcome of the presidential race? My take - Paul Ryan, meh... He won't have an impact on the campaign. Here's why and what Mitt Romney could have done to make the President's re-election bid a lot more difficult.

It's the Economy (Not Budgets) Stupid

If the Romney-Ryan campaign had their way, Paul Ryan's selection would focus the race on economics, highlight weaknesses in the economy, attribute them to President Obama, and reinforce their experience and vision for budgets. The Romney campaign has made a real strategic error here: the economy, not budgets, gets the attention of the media and voters no matter how important or not the connection between them is.

The Other Clintonian Misinterpretation: Gore

In 1992, Clinton chose Al Gore as his running mate to reinforce his strengths as a young, dynamic candidate with a new vision for America's future. Mitt Romney is pursuing a similar strategy with Paul Ryan, but the issues and the electoral map have changed so dramatically that this strategy won't work in 2012.

It's important to clarify the issues piece because healthcare and war were important issues than and are now, but their political milieu has changed. Most people try to forget or pretend that we are involved in armed conflict and neither candidate can talk about healthcare without making the other candidate look good or sounding ironic at best.

Now for the map:

The 1992 presidential election was an entirely different ball of wax where the Democratic and Republican candidates were engaged in a broader, national competition. With each successive election, the trend has been towards an ever-narrowing set of swing states:

A different map requires a different strategy.

The Magic Number: 270

Ultimately, presidential candidates win by getting more than 270 votes in the electoral college, and since only a few states are truly in play, one state could mean the difference between winning and losing. With this in mind, Romney could have made the President's re-election much more difficult by playing old-fashioned geopolitics.

The Romney campaign should have:

1. Limited their vice presidential search to Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia (swing states with sizeable electoral votes)
2. Identified the top 1, 2, or 3 Republicans with statewide name ID and high approval ratings in those states
3. Picked one!

Of course, many political scientists dismiss the value of the vice presidential pick rightfully asserting that they are only worth a couple points in their home state, but this analysis misses the point: a handful of points means the difference between winning and losing in these toss up states.

Electoral College Still Strong for Obama

The electoral college has always favored Obama this election and excluding factors like the European debt crisis or serious strategic errors from the President's campaign, will continue to do so especially with Paul Ryan on the Republican ticket.


There is a simple yet powerful way that progressive candidates can undercut their opponent and get cross over votes without sacrificing their values: turning change versus more of the same on its head. Traditionally, in a two-way race, the incumbent will run on his record and the challenger will tell voters that they need something different than what they’ve got. Voters who are happy with the status quo or at least with what job that the incumbent has done will vote for him and those who aren’t vote for someone else.

Incumbent progressive campaigns should simply keep talking about change instead of running on their record. By continuing to emphasize change in lieu of asking voters not to change horses midstream, those candidates will be able to capture some voters who are interested in change in addition to the more of the same voters that they will get by default. In a way, this isn’t structurally different than Clintonian triangulation.

In 1996, Clinton advisor Dick Morris outlined a strategy for Clinton’s reelection where he would push issues such as deregulation and balanced budgets to curry favor with voters who traditionally voted Republican. This variant of triangulation isn’t issue-focused, however. Instead, this form of triangulation is about continuing to get support from people who believe the local, state, or federal government is moving in the wrong direction in addition to the people who think that it is moving in the right direction.

This is powerful for incumbents because challengers don’t have the ability to poach more of the same voters while incumbents can make a good argument for voters who are looking for a change. If polling shows, for example, that 40% of the electorate in the district is happy with the government’s direction and 60% are unhappy that’s a challenge for an incumbent unless the incumbent is able to overcome those numbers by brute force, such as overwhelming his opponent with TV ads or a superior GOTV effort, or by convincing 20% of those unhappy voters that the incumbent isn’t happy with the status quo either.

In an election year where Republicans are trying to recover from some of their losses in the House, there will be many seats where the incumbent Democrat is vulnerable and the Republican candidate will have resource parity or better. In those cases, those candidates should consider tailoring their message to voters who are ready for something different. A candidate, for example, could appeal to voters who are looking for something different by telling disgruntled voters that they should vote for the incumbent because the Republicans are the “party of no” and are making Washington gridlock exponentially worse. If you want more of the same, vote for the Republican whose primary political goal is to stop legislation dead in its tracks. If not, keep the Democrat in office who is willing to try new things.

Many campaigns are already doing this without thinking about it in these terms and others are courting change voters explicitly. It’s a strategy that’s useful for many campaigns and will be interesting to see whether it along with the other strategies that targeted races execute on win day on the first Tuesday in November.


Fri Mar 16, 2012 at 06:26 PM PDT

The Dog Food Problem

by bendonahower

Paul Begala says "One of the great legends of political consulting is the Dog Food Problem: an apocryphal tale of a company that had the best packaging, the best advertising, the best marketing. But there was only one problem: the dog wouldn't eat it. Forevermore we should no longer call it a Dog Food Problem. We should call it a Mitt Romney Problem."

The dog food problem, however, is much bigger than Mitt Romney. A major component of the problem is a candidate who's presentation to voters is wildly incongruous with the actual character of the candidate. It should go without saying but voters see through it.

Strategically, many campaigns have decided that instead of playing to their strengths that the candidate should compensate for his weaknesses, but by doing so they emphasize their weaknesses to voters. Instead, candidates should emphasize their strengths and downplay their weaknesses.

Mitt Romney's dog food problem is as much the dog food itself as it is when you open the can that you don't get what you expect. In his case, the packing should indicate that he is a fixer. You might not like how it gets done but it gets done. His message should be that if your company or government might is bleeding money or on the wrong track that once he's done with it, despite some collateral damage, it won't be. This candidate might repulse a committed populist, but it's appealing to many other voters.

To make a long story short, you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't be both a populist and an elitist. If you're a man of the people, then own it. If you're not, explain to voters what you are and why that's a good reason for vote you and not the other candidate.

The best strategy for dealing with candidate weaknesses is to deflect them. In Aikido, a form of martial arts, students don't block punches but, instead, they deflect them because it's a lot easier to move a punch to the right or left then to stop it dead in its tracks. The same holds true for political weaknesses. Instead of trying to silence opponents who point out your weaknesses or, worse yet, beat them back, simply deflect the criticism and transition into the candidate's strengths.

Mitt Romney isn't the only candidate who has a dog food problem and won't be the last either. Candidates should carefully examine their backgrounds and personality strengths and craft a compelling brand based on the candidate's character and experience. Candidates don't need to appeal to everyone just 50% plus one, so don't be concerned if the candidate doesn't appeal to everyone. Some people buy Solid Gold dog food and other people buy the store brand. Pick the appropriate brand for your candidate and sell it to your target market or voters.


Mon Dec 05, 2011 at 07:09 PM PST

Progressives: It's In Your Genes

by bendonahower

We like to think that we have developed our political ideology through choice. We have looked at the options: gun rights or gun control, pro choice or pro life, higher taxes or lower taxes and chose to support one or other based on our values and facts. There's a growing body of evidence, however, that suggests that our political views are in our genes as much as they are in our head or heart if not more.

Here's a novel idea, if you're interested in other people you're likely a progressive

James Fowler, University of California, matched genetic  information on 2,000 Add Health participants with “maps” of their social networks.  He found that those with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults.

Fowler has hypothesized that people with the novelty-seeking gene variant are more interested in other peoples and, therefore, are exposed to a greater variety of social norms and lifestyles than people without DRD4.

Twins have the same political views

Rice University professor, John Alford, is a big figure in political physiology. One of his interesting studies found that identical twins are more likely to agree on political issues than were fraternal twins. By looking at twins, Alford was able to control for environmental and other factors to isolate the impact of genetics.

These twins had the same parents, grew in the same town, had the same religion, skin color, and were otherwise similar except some sets of twins had more genetically in common with each other than other sets of twins that Alford studied. The study's results show that genetic factors play a big part in your political ideology.

"What we found was that it probably is going to take more than a persuasive television ad to change someone's mind on a certain political position or attitude," said Alford. "Individual genes for behaviors do not exist and no one denies that humans have the capacity to act against genetic predispositions. But predictably dissimilar correlations of social and political attitudes among people with greater and lesser shared genotypes suggest that behaviors are often shaped by forces of which the person themselves are not consciously aware."

Liberals and Conservatives process things differently

John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska, measured physiological responses to threatening stimuli, and found that participants’ threat-responses correlated strongly to political positions.

When confronted by a threat, conservatives tend to react more strongly than Liberals. No wonder conservatives support capital punishment, higher defense spending, and gun rights. Liberals are the opposite. Liberals tend to support gun control, aid to foreign countries, and loose immigration regulations because genetically, they don't react as strongly to outside threats.

How we respond to fear is genetic, so the correlation between responses to fear and political views means that genes help determine whether we are progressive or conservative.

Concluding Ramblings

Trying to convince someone that their belief is wrong and they should hold a different one is tough, really tough. There are a ton of reasons for this including a psychological desire to be consistent, that people seek out information that reinforces their already beliefs making them all the more entrenched, and, apparently, people are genetically predisposed to hold certain political views.

Also, I'd like to believe that Republicans are evil or stupid but that's not the case. Instead, caveman conservatives just freaked out when the sabre tooth tiger snuck up on them and we decided to play it cool in hopes that the tiger wouldn't see us. These same divergent responses to fear still play out today in our political ideology.


Who doesn't like shiny new tools to win elections bigger, better, faster, and harder. With the presidential election coming up next year, there are a lot of new companies entering the space and some of them show a lot of promise. These four companies are getting a lot of buzz.

NationBuilder: NationBuilder is a new service but is constantly adding useful features. As the name implies, you can build your nation there. Whether it's a website, donations, blogging, calendar events, text messaging, or volunteer outreach NationBuilder makes it happen.

There is a really strong team behind NationBuilder. It's parent company is 3dna which also operates, the Twitter petition tool.

I have a sandbox account, and I've been really impressed with the functionality. There are a number of how to videos on their website, which are worth checking out to see the nuts and bolts of the product to see how it can help your campaign.

ElectNext: ElectNext is like a dating site but to help voters pick the candidates that are most in line with their political views. I tried it out and had a pretty good experience with it. Being an informed voter, I knew pretty well which national candidates for president and U.S. Senate I am most in line with and those that I'm not. The results were pretty accurate

Votizen: First, kudos to the look and feel of Votizen. It's user interface is beautiful! Second, it's a great tool to keep tabs on your elected officials, communicate with them using social media, and more recently, to endorse candidates.

It's this last feature that's particularly interesting to campaigns. As Votizen matures, it should be a great place to connect with actively engaged citizens with a strong reach on social media who are supporting your candidacy.

D2D Campaigns: Oops, I held off writing this post because I kept trying to make plans to Skype with one of the founders, Julian Haigh, but apparently I kept forgetting to be on and Skype wasn't the most user friendly thing ever (I use Google Voice).

Anyhow, who isn't sick and tired of data entry from canvasses and phone banks? D2D Campaigns has an online and mobile solution and it looks pretty sharp. Check out this promotional video to see what I'm talking about.

VoterBuzz: According to their website, "The nation's very first social networking app geared specifically toward politics.

I just found out about this mobile application. You can check out all of the features are forthcoming when the service launches, sometime yet this month.

If you're a techie, this is an exciting time to be involved with politics. Campaigns and elections is changing rapidly and we'll soon start to change how we do business not in cycles but from year to year and primary to general partly thanks to innovations from these startups.


Mon Sep 12, 2011 at 06:11 PM PDT

Why we elect candidates we hate

by bendonahower

How often have you walked into the voting booth, held your nose, and pulled the lever?

Over the last forty years, the liberal consensus in America has been replaced by political fragmentation. Political fragmentation has gutted the influence of political parties and splintered voting blocs so decisively that's we are electing public officials with less than majority support. As we continue to dig in, the number of political factions will grow and their size will diminish further reducing the popular support for elected officials.

The Pew Research Center groups voters into seven different categories:

Staunch conservatives (9% of the population)
Main street Republicans (11%)
Libertarians (9%)
Disaffecteds (11%)
Post-moderns (13%)
New coalition Democrats (10%)
Hard-pressed Democrats (13%)
Solid Liberals (14%)
Bystanders (10%)

Check out the report for information on who is in these groups and what they support or here to take the quiz to see where you fall.

Even in individual Congressional districts that favor one or more of these cohorts more than the national average, chances are voters are electing their state legislators on up with a mix of legitimate support and luke warm if not disgruntled voters who don't have an option more in line with their views.

There is very little that brings together a majority of Americans. For example, less than ten percent of Americans would enthusiastically support a big business candidate. Only two of the seven cohorts, would strongly favor a secular candidate. The list goes on and on. Pick an issue and pick a position on that issue: chances are only a minority of people support it. Do that several times over and overall support for the candidates views erodes dramatically. Here's a hypothetical example:

Healthcare position 43% support
Economic position 44% support
Immigration position 40% support
Foreign policy position 39% support
Environment position 52% support

As you would expect, there will be voters who agree with the elected official's position on the environment but disagree with the official's views on immigration and others that support his healthcare position but don't agree with his economic position. To make a long story short, in this hypothetical example, the elected probably has the support of a third of his constituents, give or take, on all of these five major issues.

Ironically, distrust for the government and big business are among the few positions that Americans agree on. Good luck recruiting a candidate who's excited to run for an office he distrusts! Even if you could find such a candidate, you won't be able to motivate the magic number of voters with that campaign message despite support for it. I can see the TV ads now...

This leaves us with three options: just do what I say (my favorite option), endure a generation political cynicism and infighting, or build a new American consensus. There is hope. While there aren't many issues that Americans come together on there is support for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, focusing on alternative energy, a foreign policy in the Middle East that encourages stability, and reducing the size of the national deficit. There are some issues that we can deconstruct why there is support for them and apply those same principles to other to create a political ideology that the majority of Americans would support. In addition, unlike any other time in history, we have the ability to quantify whether a policy is working or not. If we can find common ground on public policy goals and agree to adopt what works on the basis of data and not necessarily what fits our political worldview, we'll build a new American political consensus and start electing candidates that we're proud of.


Fri Sep 09, 2011 at 07:13 PM PDT

Get Out the Vote - Q&A

by bendonahower

When Should Your Campaign Start GOTV?

Get out the vote, or GOTV, is a phase of a political campaign that is focused on getting more of your supporters out to vote on Election Day. Essentially, you are contacting preferably known but oftentimes also likely supporters to remind them about the upcoming election and support your candidacy for elected office.

GOTV has been proven to increase turnout by several percentage points by campaigns who execute it well. GOT has been a critically important factor in many campaigns. Campaigns that get out the vote right are often a distinct advantage over their opponent.

One of the elements of getting GOTV is starting at the right time and use the appropriate strategies as the phase matures. Many local activists have used GOTV interchangeably with Election Day. If your political campaign is only reminding people to come out and vote day of, you won't run an effective get out the vote campaign.

Article Source:

What are the most effective GOTV tactics?

During get out the vote, political campaigns need to focus on the voters who are identified supporters and if that number isn't a majority of the likely voters to also include certain groups of voters who are likely to support the candidate on Election Day. The best way to connect with your get out the vote universe is by using the same direct voter tactics strategies that you have used earlier in the campaign.

Canvassing or door knocking

You just can't beat face to face contact in a political campaign. With that said, it's important to consider how little time there is before the election. GOTV is traditionally three or five days. Depending on the amount of volunteer resources that you have and the size of the district, you may not be running any canvasses during the get out the vote phase of the campaign.

Phone banking

Phone banking is an excellent way to contact known and likely supporters in the lead up to Election Day. It is fast, effective and inexpensive. In many cases, making phone calls will the cornerstone to a great GOTV effort. This means that it's critical to have a phone script that is spot on. Your volunteers should be well-trained and using the phone script to communicating the campaign message exactly to voters.

Direct mail

Particularly since you will be doing proportionately less canvassing and more phone banking during get out the vote, it's important to send a piece of direct mail to known and likely supporters. For many people, having a physical piece of paper is the best reminder that Election Day is around the corner. Also, having something physical that a voter can bring to the polling place, where the law allows for it, is also useful to voters so be sure to include instructions on how to vote for the candidate and encourage the voter to bring the direct mail piece to the polls.

Other strategies to consider

Outside of these direct voter contact strategies, particularly television but also radio is effective. TV is a very persuasive medium and using it to contact voters close to Election Day can stir them to action.

Article Source:

What happens on Election Day?

Volunteers outside the polls

This does not apply in all states. Some states have laws that prohibit politicking near polling places, but for the jurisdictions that do not, it can be valuable to have someone outside of the poll to greet people as they come to vote and to help anyone who has questions about the candidate or the voting process.

Volunteers inside the polls

Again, depending upon your state this may not apply, but having someone inside of the poll is useful to keep a watchful eye on the pollworkers who might ave affiliated with another party and to help cross off the names of identified supporters that you have accumulated over the course of the campaign. The volunteer inside the poll can then hand off this list to other volunteers to call through those who have yet to vote and remind them when the polls close and that their support is critical to win the campaign.


Flushers are canvassers who knock on targeted doors on Election Day who are trying to literally coax supporters out of their homes and to get out to the polling place to vote for your candidate. If you have the manpower for a strong flushing operation, this is an effective tactic to increase turnout among your supporters.

Rides to the polls

In addition to all of the other volunteer needs on Election Day, it's a good idea to have people who are able to give rides to the polls for people who are physically unable to get their on their own. If you have volunteers who are willing to give rides to the polls, be sure to include a questions such as "do you need help getting to your polling place?" to the Election Day phone script since most people do not volunteer their need for assistance to go vote.

Election protection

In case there are any concerns about election law violations on Election Day, recruit an attorney or two for volunteers and voters to call if there are problems.

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