The message of the campaign contains the ideas that the candidate wants to share with the voters. The message often consists of several talking points about policy issues. The points summarize the main ideas of the campaign and are repeated frequently in order to create a lasting impression with the voters. In many elections, the opposition party will try to get the candidate “off message” by bringing up policy or personal questions that are not related to the talking points. Most campaigns prefer to keep the message broad in order to attract the most potential voters. A message that is too narrow can alienate voters or slow the candidate down with explaining details. For example, in the election of 2008 John McCain originally used a message that focused on his patriotism and political experience: “Country First”; later the message was changed to shift attention to his role as “The Original Maverick” within the political establishment. Barack Obama ran on a consistent, simple message of “change” throughout his campaign. If the message is crafted carefully, it will assure the candidate a victory at the polls. For a winning candidate, the message is refined and then becomes his or her political agenda in office.
The habit of modern Western media outlets (especially radio and television) of taking short excerpts from speeches has resulted in the creation of the term “soundbite”. Examples might include:
- “John Doe is a businessman, not a politician. His background in finance means he can bring fiscal discipline to state government.”
- “As our society faces a rapid upswing in violent crime and an ever worsening education system, we need leaders who will keep our streets safe and restore accountability to our schools. John Doe is that leader.”
- “Over the past four years, John Doe has missed over fifty City Council meetings. How can you lead if you don’t show up? Jane Doe won’t turn a blind eye to the government.”
Permanent campaign is a theory of political science conceived by Patrick Caddell, then a young pollster for U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who wrote a memo on December 10, 1976 entitled “Initial Working Paper on Political Strategy”.
“Essentially,” Caddell wrote, “it is my thesis governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.”
The phrase “the permanent campaign,” its concept and history, were first defined by journalist and later Clinton presidential senior adviser Sidney Blumenthal in his 1980 book, “The Permanent Campaign.” In it, he explained how the changes in American politics from old-style patronage and party organization to that based on the modern technology of computer driven polling and media created a fundamentally new system. He explained that political consultants had replaced the party bosses and brought with them a new model by which campaigning became the forms of governing.
Blumenthal’s work resolved the problem in political science of “critical realignment.” According to Walter Dean Burnham, the leading political scientist of realignment theory, “If we view the arena of American electoral politics in historical perspective, we can say that the contemporary status quo extends back to some point in the mid-to-late 1960s. In his recent study, The Permanent Campaign, Sidney Blumenthal has advanced the argument that a critical realignment in fact occurred at about the point–1968–where many analysts had been expecting. They were, however, looking for realiagnment in the wrong place. For crucial to this one, and the ‘sixth electoral era’ which he argues followed from it, was the exact opposite of all previous events of this type. Instead of being channeled through–and thus revitalizing–the political parties, this realignment involved the conclusive marginal displacement of these parties by the permanent campaign…. The older linkages between rulers and ruled become ever hazier, ever more problematic.” (See Walter Dean Burnham, “The 1984 Election and the Future of American Politics,” in Ellis Sandoz and C.V. Crabb, Jr., ed., Election 84: Landslide without Mandate, New American Library, 1985, p. 206.)
Strategies of this nature have been in active development and use since Lyndon Johnson, where priority is given to short-term tactical gain over long-term vision. The frenzied, headline-grabbing atmosphere of presidential campaigns is carried over into the office itself, thus creating a permanent campaign that limits the ability of policies to deviate from the perceived will of the people (hence, intensive polling).
A famous example that illustrates just how strongly this mind-set has come to influence politics was during the Clinton Administration when pollster Dick Morris asked voters to help decide where Bill Clinton would go on vacation. In the words of columnist Joe Klein, “The pressure to ‘win’ the daily news cycle—to control the news—has overwhelmed the more reflective, statesmanlike aspects of the office.”
Scott McClellan, former White House Press Secretary for U.S. President George W. Bush, wrote in his 2008 memoir What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception that the Bush White House suffered from a “permanent campaign” mentality, and that policy decisions were inextricably interwoven with politics.Read more
Microtargeting is the use by political parties and election campaigns of direct marketing datamining techniques that involve predictive market segmentation (aka cluster analysis). It is used by United States Republican and Democratic political parties and candidates to track individual voters and identify potential supporters.
They then use various means of communication–direct mail, phone calls, home visits, television, radio, web advertising, email, text messaging, etc–to communicate with voters, crafting messages to build support for fundraising, campaign events, volunteering, and eventually to turn them out to the polls on election day. Microtargeting’s tactics rely on transmitting a tailored message to a subgroup of the electorate on the basis of unique information about that subgroup.
Although some of the tactics of microtargeting had been used in California since 1992, it really started to be used nationally only in 2004. In that year, Karl Rove, along with Blaise Hazelwood at the Republican National Committee, used it to reach voters in 18 states that George W. Bush’s reelection campaign was not able to reach by other means. The results were greater contacts with likely Bush voters. For example, in Iowa the campaign was able to reach 92% of eventual Bush voters (compared to 50% in 2000) and in Florida it was able to reach 84% (compared to 50% in 2000). Much of this pioneering work was done by Alex Gage and his firm, TargetPoint Consulting.
Democrats did only limited microtargeting in 2004, with some crediting microtargeting for Kerry’s win in Iowa in 2004. Some news accounts credited Republican superiority in that area for victories in that election cycle. Democrats later developed microtargeting capabilities for the 2006 election cycle. “It’s no secret that the other side [Republicans] figured this out a little sooner”, said Josh Syrjamaki, director of the Minnesota chapter of America Votes in October 2006. “They’ve had four to six years’ jump on us on this stuff…but we feel like we can start to catch up.”
Microtargeting is a modification of a practice used by commercial direct marketers. It would not be possible on a large scale without the development of large and sophisticated databases that contain data about as many voters as possible. The database essentially tracks voter habits in the same ways that companies like Visa track consumer spending habits. The Republican National Committee’s database is called Voter Vault. The Democratic National Committee effort is called VoteBuilder. A parallel Democratic effort is being developed by Catalist, a $9 million initiative headed by Harold Ickes, while the leading non-partisan database is offered by Aristotle.
The databases contain specific information about a particular voter (party affiliation, frequency of voting, contributions, volunteerism, etc.) with other activities and habits available from commercial marketing vendors such as Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Americas, and InfoUSA. Such personal information is a “product” sold to interested companies. These data are particularly illuminating when portrayed through a Geographic Information System (GIS), where trends based on location can be mapped alongside dozens or hundreds of other variables. This geographic depiction also makes it ideal for volunteers to visit potential voters (armed with lists in hand, laid out in the shortest route – much like how FedEx and UPS pre-determine delivery routes).
These databases are then mined to identify issues important to each voter and whether that voter is more likely to identify with one party or another. Political information is obviously important here, but consumer preferences can play a role as well. Individual voters are then put into groups on the basis of sophisticated computer modeling. Such groups have names like “Downscale Union Independents”, “Tax and Terrorism Moderates,” and “Older Suburban Newshounds.”
Once a multitude of voting groups is established according to these criteria and their minute political differences, then the tailored messages can be sent via the appropriate means. While political parties and candidates once prepared a single television advertisement for general broadcast nationwide, it is now not at all uncommon to have several dozen variations on the one message, each with a unique and tailored message for that small demographic sliver of the voting public. This is the same for radio advertisement, direct mail, email, as well as stump speeches and fundraising events.Read more