Thursday, December 30, 2004

More Painful lessons from the 2004 Presidential Campaign

This must read article confirms what I suspected. For all the bloggers and pundits criticizing the Kerry Campaign for their top down approach, I found the opposite was true. Part of Kerry's biggest problem was the over reliance (out of necessity) on 527 voter outreach programs. Kerry's message was muddled by these groups, because by law they could not coordinate with the campaign. They also overlapped precious resources.

Kerry was also hamstrung by the primary process. During a five week period after the Democratic Convention (during which time the GOP launched its harshest Swift Boat attacks, culminating with a bitter nasty anti-Kerry convention) Kerry had to rely on Party spending so he could stretch his $75 million from public financing.

Lastly, this article exposes my greatest pet peeve: the Dems are still woefully behind the GOP in data mining and direct target campaigns. Sure they've made strides, but nowhere near the sophistication of the GOP. (For instance why should it be so difficult to use a centralized email management system which would allow local/state campaign directors to craft more effective messages, in addition to the overall campaigns requests for money, etc)

Lets get to work and fix these problems. It's not rocket science.

READ: GOP Got More Bang For Its Billion, Analysis Shows

IFK Editor


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Nov. 2, GOP Got More Bang For Its Billion, Analysis Shows(Original link)
By Thomas B. Edsall and James V. Grimaldi, Washington Post Staff Writers

In the most expensive presidential contest in the nation's history, John F. Kerry and his Democratic supporters nearly matched President Bush (news - web sites) and the Republicans, who outspent them by just $60 million, $1.14 billion to $1.08 billion.

But despite their fundraising success, Democrats simply did not spend their money as effectively as Bush. That is the conclusion of an extensive examination of campaign fundraising and spending data provided by the Federal Election Commission (news - web sites), the Internal Revenue Service (news - web sites) and interviews with officials of the two campaigns and the independent groups allied with them.

In a $2.2 billion election, two relatively small expenditures by Bush and his allies stand out for their impact: the $546,000 ad buy by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign's $3.25 million contract with the firm TargetPoint Consulting. The first portrayed Kerry in unrelentingly negative terms, permanently damaging him, while the second produced dramatic innovations in direct mail and voter technology, enabling Bush to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision.

Those tactical successes were part of the overall advantage the Bush campaign maintained over Kerry in terms of planning, decision making and strategy. The Kerry campaign, in addition to being outspent at key times, was outorganized and outthought, as Democratic professionals grudgingly admit.

"They were smart. They came into our neighborhoods. They came into Democratic areas with very specific targeted messages to take Democratic voters away from us," Democratic National Committee (news - web sites) Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said. "They were much more sophisticated in their message delivery."

The ultimate test of the two campaigns is in the success of their efforts to increase turnout from 2000. Kerry and his allies increased the Democrat's vote by about 6.8 million votes; Bush increased his by nearly 10.5 million. In the key battleground of Ohio, Bush countered Kerry's gains in the metropolitan precincts by boosting his margin in exurban and rural counties from 57 to 60 percent, eking out a 118,457-vote victory.

A supposed strategic advantage for the Democrats -- massive support from well-endowed independent groups -- turned out to have an inherent flaw: The groups' legally required independence left them with a message out of harmony with the Kerry campaign.

A large part of Bush's advantage derived from being an incumbent who did not face a challenger from his party. He also benefited from the experience and continuity of a campaign hierarchy, based on a corporate model, that had essentially stayed intact since Bush's 1998 reelection race for Texas governor.

Take Office, Plan Campaign When Bush moved into the Oval Office in 2001, planning for his presidential reelection campaign began almost immediately. Under the direction of Karl Rove, Bush's top White House adviser who served as a kind of chairman of the board, White House political director Kenneth B. Mehlman, the chief executive officer, pollster Matthew Dowd, chief operating officer, and Mark McKinnon, the principal media consultant, the Bush political team developed a strategy for 2004, began investing in innovative techniques to target voters and prepared an early and cost-effective advertising plan. During this period, the Republican National Committee (news - web sites), where much of the planning was based, outspent its Democratic counterpart by $122 million.

In 2001, Dowd said that "we made some of the basic strategic assumptions about what we thought the election would look like."

One fundamental calculation was that 93 percent of the voting-age public was already committed or predisposed toward the Democratic or Republican candidate, leaving 7 percent undecided.

Another calculation was that throughout the Bush presidency, "most voters looked at Bush in very black-and-white terms. They either loved and respected him, or they didn't like him," Dowd said. Those voters were unlikely to change their views before Election Day 2004.

That prompted Republicans to jettison their practice of investing 75 to 90 percent of campaign money on undecided voters. Instead, half the money went into motivating and mobilizing people already inclined to vote for Bush, but who were either unregistered or who often failed to vote -- "soft" Republicans.

"We systematically allocated all the main resources of the campaign to the twin goals of motivation and persuasion. The media, the voter targeting, the mail -- all were based off that strategic decision," Dowd said.

Republican officials said they put $50 million into "ground war" drives to register and turn out millions of new voters in 2001 and 2002, and an additional $125 million after that.

Meanwhile, Kerry, faced with a difficult primary campaign and infighting and turnover among his consultants, did not begin seriously to address the general election until after his Super Tuesday primary election victory in March, eight months before the November vote. By that time, the campaign was hamstrung by legal restrictions on any cooperation between the campaign and the independent 527 organizations running ads and mobilizing voters on Kerry's behalf.

527s' Ineffective Messages The 527 groups, named after a section of the tax code and allowed by law to accept unlimited contributions, provided invaluable help in registering and turning out voters. America Coming Together put about $135 million into what became the largest get-out-the-vote program in the nation's history. But the 527s, fueled with money from billionaires such as George Soros, proved ineffective in helping Kerry deliver a consistent and timely message in his advertising.

Of all the money spent on television advertising for the Democratic nominee, Kerry's campaign controlled 62 percent, according to spending totals analyzed by The Washington Post. The rest was spent on ads whose content or placement could not be coordinated with the campaign. The Bush campaign controlled 83 percent of the money spent on its behalf, giving it far more control over when and how it advertised.

At two junctures, when Kerry was either out of funds or under pressure to conserve resources for the close of the campaign, the absence of an overall strategy had damaging consequences: in March 2004, just when the Bush campaign began its first anti-Kerry offensive; and in August 2004, when the Swift Boat Veterans commercials raised questions about Kerry's service in the Vietnam War.

The Democratic media 527s "didn't do what we wanted done," Kerry media adviser Tad Devine said. "We would have run ads about Kerry, we would have had answers to the attacks in kind, saying they were false, disproved by newspapers."

Harold Ickes, who ran the Media Fund, a 527 organization that raised about $59 million in support of Kerry, said the federal election law prohibiting communication with the Kerry campaign created insurmountable obstacles in crafting effective, accurate responses to anti-Kerry ads. Ickes said he regretted not responding to the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks, but at the time he thought they seemed "a matter so personal to Senator Kerry, so much within his knowledge. Who knew what the facts were?"

Early Research Is Like Yeast The 2002 elections, along with the Kentucky and Mississippi gubernatorial contests the following year, became testing grounds for the Republican effort to mobilize supporters. Designed to get base voters to the polls, it became known as the "72 Hour Project," whose cost Republican officials refused to disclose but is estimated by sources to have been in the $200 million range.

Under Dowd's direction, the RNC began investing in extensive voter research. One of the most striking findings, according to Republican consultants, was the ineffectiveness of traditional phone banks and direct mail that targeted voters in overwhelmingly Republican precincts. The problem: Only 15 percent of all GOP voters lived in precincts that voted Republican by 65 percent or more. Worse, an even smaller percentage of "soft" Republicans, the 2004 target constituency, lived in such precincts.

The RNC decided to cast a wider net for voters. But to work, Dowd's motivation and mobilization strategy needed expensive, high-tech micro targeting to cherry-pick prospective Republicans who lived in majority Democratic neighborhoods.

Republican firms, including TargetPoint Consultants and National Media Inc., delved into commercial databases that pinpointed consumer buying patterns and television-watching habits to unearth such information as Coors beer and bourbon drinkers skewing Republican, brandy and cognac drinkers tilting Democratic; college football TV viewers were more Republican than those who watch professional football; viewers of Fox News were overwhelmingly committed to vote for Bush; homes with telephone caller ID tended to be Republican; people interested in gambling, fashion and theater tended to be Democratic.

Surveys of people on these consumer data lists were then used to determine "anger points" (late-term abortion, trial lawyer fees, estate taxes) that coincided with the Bush agenda for as many as 32 categories of voters, each identifiable by income, magazine subscriptions, favorite television shows and other "flags." Merging this data, in turn, enabled those running direct mail, precinct walking and phone bank programs to target each voter with a tailored message.

"You used to get a tape-recorded voice of Ronald Reagan (news - web sites) telling you how important it was to vote. That was our get-out-the-vote effort," said Alex Gage, of TargetPoint. Now, he said, calls can be targeted to specific constituencies so that, for example, a "right to life voter" could get a call warning that "if you don't come out and vote, the number of abortions next year is going to go up. "

Dowd estimated that, in part through the work of TargetPoint and other research, the Bush campaign and the RNC were able to "quadruple the number" of Republican voters who could be targeted through direct mail, phone banks and knocking on doors.

Democrats had access to similar data files. But the Bush campaign and the RNC were able to make far better use of the data because they had the time and money to conduct repeated field tests in the 2002 and 2003 elections, to finance advanced research on meshing databases with polling information, and to clean up and revise databases that almost invariably contained errors and omissions.

"Very few people understand how much work it takes to get this technology to actually produce political results. We are one election cycle behind them in this area," said a Democrat who helped coordinate voter contact in the 2004 campaign.

The Bush campaign's early fundraising success made much of this possible. By March 2004, Bush had $110 million in the bank and virtually no debt. During this period, Kerry was forced to spend all his time and money in the Democratic primaries, a fight that cost him $36 million and that left him $5 million in debt.

"Nobody was giving a thought at all to the general election," said Kerry pollster Mark S. Mellman. Until that March, "it was: How do we survive this week?"

Bush Ads Undermine Kerry Two days after Super Tuesday, the Bush campaign, anticipating Kerry would have no money to respond, began a $40 million, six-week televised assault designed to crush the Democratic nominee before he could get off the ground. "We had a financial advantage over them for four to six weeks. That's why we did what we did," Dowd said.

With a $177 million ad budget, the Bush campaign and its allies ran more than 101,000 anti-Kerry "attack" or negative ads, more than the combined total of "positive" and "contrast" ads, according to the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, based on data from Nielsen Monitor-Plus ratings of media buying effectiveness.

Less than 5 percent of Kerry's ads were "attack" or negative, according to the Wisconsin advertising project, and the remaining 95 percent were positive or contrast ads.

During March and April, before the candidate had replenished his war chest to finance TV ads, Kerry strategists were convinced that Kerry needed a barrage of positive biographical ads describing him in a sympathetic light to counter the negative picture drawn by the Bush ads. But when the Democratic 527s began their ad campaign, they aired negative ads reflecting their intensely anti-Bush donor base.

By the time Kerry had raised enough money to begin his positive ad campaign two months later, the Bush "attack" ads had helped convert the ratio of Kerry's positive to negative ratings in battleground states. Kerry's positive ratings fell from 40 percent to 35 percent, and his negative ratings rose from 24 percent to 36 percent at the start of May, according to the National Annenberg Election Surveys.

The negative Bush barrage was followed in August by the Swift Boat Veterans ads, the first one airing on just four cable channels at a cost of $546,000. The Swift Boat Veterans eventually would raise and spend $28 million, but the first ad was exceptionally cost-effective: most voters learned about it through free coverage in mainstream media and talk radio.

An additional Republican television commercial that significantly affected the race, according to surveys, was a positive spot financed by a second GOP 527 group, Progress for America. It invested $17 million in "Ashley's Story," which featured Ashley Faulkner, 11, whose mother had been killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, describing her meeting with Bush.

GOP Dollar Power Overall, Kerry, the DNC and the Democratic 527s spent $344 million on ads, while Bush and the GOP counterparts spent about $289 million, much of which was disbursed in the final three months. Arguably, Republicans got more bang for their bucks.

The Bush campaign's early strategy decisions shaped GOP spending. Under the guidance of Rove, Dowd and Mehlman, the Bush campaign had financed early research into ways to communicate to center-right voters through nontraditional media.

The Bush campaign concluded that many of their voters did not trust the networks and the establishment press, and therefore did not trust messages transmitted through them.

Mehlman said that talk radio and cable television "are more credible" to potential Bush voters. Ultimately the Bush campaign invested an unprecedented $20 million in narrowly targeted advertising on cable and in radio, with a heavy emphasis on religious, talk and country and western stations, and such specialty outlets as golf and health club channels.

"They did a lot of stuff really well. They were ahead of us," said one of the Democrats' get-out-the-vote managers who did not want to be identified. "They had a strategy set by the beginning that they were going to live and die by. And we didn't."

In an election with a 2.6 percent margin of victory, the Bush campaign was run to ensure that every dollar went to fulfill core strategies, that resources were allocated to capitalize on Bush's strengths and on Kerry's vulnerabilities, and that the money necessary to finance research, technological advance, television and the ground war was available when needed.

At the July Democratic National Convention in Boston, McAuliffe commented on the disciplined Republican team: "We are up against the dirtiest, meanest, toughest group of people we have ever faced. They have money, they have power, and they ain't going to give it up easily."

Researcher Alice Crites, database editor Sarah Cohen and research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1. A wartime president

Voters were drawn to Bush by memories of the 9/11 attacks and a reluctance to change leaders in the midst of war. They won't have that option in 2008, when Bush can't run again. But the craving for continuity helped him this time among swing voters and in areas with new voters.

2. Who was tough enough?

Democrats were damaged by the perception that the party and its nominees are weak on national security. Years of attempts to counter that image, including the nomination of Vietnam vet and Iraq-war supporter Kerry, did not persuade apprehensive voters. The ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacking Kerry took a toll.

3. Values mattered

Values led some voters to Bush. This bloc was reinforced by ballot initiatives in some states to ban same-sex marriage and restrict abortion, and by the perception that the urban, liberal Kerry might restrict gun-owner rights.

4. 'The move-in people'

Republicans benefited from demographic shifts. These included an influx of 20,000 Hispanics to Osceola County since 2000 and migration of white-collar health and insurance industry workers to Boone County, home of the University of Missouri's flagship campus. In both cases, the newcomers have helped make onetime Democratic strongholds competitive. Schnarre calls them "the move-in people."

5. Nuts and bolts

Republicans out-campaigned Democrats. They built better grass-roots organizations, aggressively courted newcomers and sold their candidate to voters with a smart message. Democrats fell short despite Herculean efforts in Boone and some other counties.

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