Case Study: Political – Winning Message

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Case Study: Political – Winning Message

Case 3: Focusing the Campaign Agenda on the Winning Message

Early in Ed Bryant’s primary campaign for Tennessee’s U.S. Congressional District 7, he and his campaign staff came to Ethridge for strategic communication consulting and polling. At the time, they were talking about a wide variety of issues in their speeches and other voter communication: tort reform, gun control, abortion, taxes, spending, the deficit, international affairs and many others. Part of the challenge was to focus their message because, considering the limited time that someone has in a 60-second radio spot, a 30-second television spot, or a 9-second sound bite on the news, no campaign could possibly be effective trying to talk about so many issues at once.

Contrary to the criticism that is often levied against pollsters in general, we never tell a candidate to change his or her convictions and to say something that they do not believe in just to win. Instead, what we do is figure out, of all the convictions that a candidate has, which ones do voters care about most and how can we best communicate to voters about those convictions. This is what we did in Ed Bryant’s case.

Prior to running for this congressional seat, Ed Bryant had been a U.S. Attorney representing West Tennessee. In this capacity, he had become known as a proven crime fighter. He had even made national news for his crime fighting reputation.

In our strategic polling, we measured the relative importance of issues, the perceptions of candidates on key attributes, and the relative importance of those candidate attributes. We found that the most important issue that people in District 7 were personally concerned about at the time was crime. We also found that the attribute proven crime fighter ranked high in importance to voters, and that Ed Bryant had a clear image advantage over his opponent on this attribute.

Based on this finding, we recommended to Ed Bryant’s campaign that he set the campaign agenda on the question of which candidate would do a better job of fighting crime and reinforce Ed’s position as a proven crime fighter. Thus, his campaign developed advertising that focused on these themes. Our tracking polls showed that this agenda was working. Late in the campaign, his opponent picked up on our agenda and ran ads trying to say that he would be tough on crime. However, Ed’s opponent had no credibility on this issue; moreover, he was too late with this message. Thus, Ed was able to win this campaign largely because he used our strategic polling to focus his campaign message on both the issue and the image agenda that mattered most to voters and on which he had the most credibility.

We later polled for Ed to help him win the General Election and then to win reelection to three subsequent terms. For a testimony from Congressman Ed Bryant, click here.

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