How the Democratic campaign strategy in America is failing
The floor has shifted at polling stations across America. The “ticket splinter” that once decided the outcome of the election has almost disappeared. According to Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, ticket splinters made up 36 percent of voters in 2000. In 2020 this value had dropped to 11 percent.
Measurements of the effectiveness of political persuasion advertising, on the other hand, show a medium that has little effect.
A study from 2017 with 49 control group experiments to measure the effectiveness of political mail – mailings that were sent in primaries and votes – showed statistically significant effects. Mailings to support candidates in parliamentary elections with a party on the ballot had no effect.
These two developments represent the most unnoticed earthquake in the history of the American campaigns.
Compared to changing an electoral party, voting for a candidate is almost insignificant.
If 90 percent of voters are more likely to vote for parties than candidates, why are we spending all of our advertising money to highlight candidates?
Convincing a voter to cast a vote for a candidate is a one-off decision that affects one election campaign in one year. It could be a hundred times more valuable to get a voter to change party affiliation.
If the voters vote directly, a change of party usually affects every candidate on the ballot. But the benefits are even greater. Analysis in party-registered states suggests that a decision to register with a political party is a decision that has lasted more than 30 years. A study by the Democracy Fund found that between 2012 and 2017, 13 percent of voters changed their party registration, or 2.6 percent per year. If this is the average percentage of party changes per year, then the average length of party registration would be 38 years. If an Independent or a Republican becomes a Democrat, the decision could potentially benefit the Democratic candidates for three decades or more.
Getting a voter to change sides may be a difficult task, but it is now happening in a dramatic way. The Gallup poll regularly measures party affiliation. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the Gallup poll showed Americans with leaner Democrats and Republicans supported equally, 45 percent each. By the end of the first quarter of 2021, Democratic membership was nine percentage points ahead of Republicans: 49-40.
That shift is the result of outrageous Republican behavior – claims that the 2020 elections were stolen, demonstrated blind allegiance to a disgraced and discredited former president, and blocked a bipartisan investigation into the January 6 uprising.
It is worth noting that this shift was in no way aided by democratic efforts.
More recent measurements, especially after the Afghanistan crisis, show a movement back towards the Republicans.
But the point is that there is movement.
If 90 percent of voters vote direct tickets, that movement – more than the election of candidates – will determine the results of the American election today.
If elections have become far more of party contests than candidates, it is imperative that the Democrats take advantage of it. But the Democratic Party continues to follow the formula of the past 70 years: collect money. Ignore dramatic and election-changing events and save all that money on candidate listing for the fall of the election year.
So the first change has to be to shift our focus from the candidates to the parties. But how do we change the way we run our advertising campaigns given the ineffectiveness of most campaign ads?
First, we need to be more opportunistic. In other words, run our ads on the news cycle and use them to reinforce and improve news that is currently in front of the voters. Let me give you a few examples.
A majority of American voters believe the 2020 elections were fair. Still, a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cancel the election. How many Americans know this? Ads posted after January 6th could have had a profound impact on many voters.
85 percent of American households received a stimulus check for $ 1,400. But every single Republican senator voted against these controls. How many voters know? Isn’t it much more effective to report when the checks arrive than to wait until October 2022 when the checks have been issued or mostly forgotten?
71 percent of American voters want Republicans to work with Democrats for the good of the country. Yet Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin supports raising the debt ceiling with reconciliation if the GOP refuses, Biden must MORE his tax profit on both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside Billionaire (R-Ky.) Stated on video that he is “100 percent focused on stopping this new government.” Why don’t Democrats share this video with voters?
Linking advertisements to current events in the news increases the credibility of the messages delivered.
Instead of clumsy ads telling voters what to think and believe, we just need to add information about events that are already on the news.
In 2018 I participated in a mail experiment that shed light on the effectiveness of switching from propaganda to clean information. That year, a well-funded experiment tested three mailing concepts in a special election for Congress in the 17th Congressional District of Pennsylvania.
One of the pieces was a traditional mail format with pictures, color and dramatic headlines.
One of the pieces portrayed the opponent in controversial positions, as if the opponent had sent the mailing himself.
Neither had any effect.
The only mailing that moved voters in a statistically significant manner had no images, no colors, and only a font. It was lasered onto an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper and folded with the voters’ address on the outside. Inside was a letter. Do you remember that? The letter reads: “We are the voter information center, we do not support candidates, but we provide information about candidates for office.” The letter listed three topics and set out the positions of the two candidates on each topic. Each of these questions have been formulated in a clinical way to avoid any appearance of bias. Simple. Basic. Unadorned. It was the neighborhood guard’s mail without the dog’s picture.
The mailing added 1.5 votes per 100 voters sent.
The problems were the same for the three mailings tested. The only difference was that the winning play had no endorsement, a carefully neutral description of the problems and respect for the voter that allowed her to draw her own conclusions.
The obvious conclusion is that this mailing worked, others didn’t, because it was more believable to voters.
In the parliamentary elections, the Voter Information Center rolled out and measured the effect of 5.5 million pieces. The result was that the mailing produced 1.15 votes for every 100 voters sent.
Traditional political advertising hardly works anymore.
As voters vote for parties, we tell them about candidates.
The Republican Party’s reckless behavior is a historic opportunity to change voter loyalty – but amid that change, the Democratic Party has not reacted at all.
Hal Malchow is a Democratic political advisor and co-founder of MSHC Partners, which was the largest voter-liaison firm in America before it closed in 2010. He was a leading voice in moving from campaigns to advanced data analytics in voter targeting and was the founder of the Analyst Institute, which uses control group experiments to measure the effectiveness of campaign tactics. In 2016 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Association of Political Consultants.