Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fako & Associates, Inc. Congratulates our Winning Clients

Fako & Associates, Inc. would like to congratulate our winning clients in last night's historic election. We saw unprecedented victories in Missouri, New York, and our home state of Illinois.

Our congratulations and thanks go out to the Democratic Party of Illinois for allowing us to help expand their majority in the Illinois House of Representatives with the victories of challengers Keith Farnham and Emily McAsey and the previously Republican held open seat victories of Mark Walker and Jehan Gordon.

We assisted in developing the strategy that helped maintain the following Illinois House of Representatives seats: State Representatives Fred Crespo, Paul Froehlich, Careen Gordon, Gary Hannig, Naomi Jakobsson, John Bradley, Arthur Turner, Barbara Currie, Monique Davis, Ester Golar, Deborah Graham, Al Riley, and Elaine Nekritz.

Missouri proved once again to be a difficult state for Democrats. At the time of writing this note of congratulations, we are still unsure of the Presidential results for the Show Me State. We can, however, offer our congratulations to Missouri Representative-elect Jill Schupp in her dominating victory over Frank Plescia.

Democrats in New York won a majority in the New York Senate last night for the first time in forty years and we’re proud to have helped accomplish this goal with the successful re-election of three incumbent Senators and the victory of two challenger candidates that turned the tables in New York State.

We congratulate Senator Darrel Aubertine, David Valesky, and Bill Stachowski in maintaining their seats in the New York State Senate. We worked on two amazing challenger campaigns with Senator-elect Brian Foley defeating longtime incumbent Caesar Trunzo in Suffolk County's Third Senatorial District and Senator-elect Joseph Addabbo defeating Serph Maltese of Queens.

These victories represent the work of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, staff, and numerous highly talented consultants. We thank you for allowing us to be a part of your team.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Exploring Ideology and Partisanship in Political Polling

The public, campaign professionals, news media organizations and interest groups are being inundated with polling results now that we are in the final stages of the 2008 election cycle. We are already witnessing reports about who is winning, losing, and why a candidate is stronger or weaker than the other as campaigns position for earned media and fund raising dollars.

Party Identification (ID) is one of those demographic sub-data points receiving a lot of attention this cycle. Party identification may be reported based on a poll respondent’s declared or partisan registration status in states where this data is available and applicable or, more commonly, based on a “self-identified partisanship” demographic question in polls. This data is very useful for both public review and internal strategic analysis.

We see many reports that Democrats have a certain percentage advantage compared to four years ago, etc. This polling data is catching legitimate changes in voter attitudes. However, self-identified partisanship is a moving target. An individual who identifies as a Democrat today may have said Independent a year ago and Republican four years ago. This is a natural adjustment as people’s attitudes and perceptions of the political parties change over time.

The current partisan shift and trends are fueled by negative perceptions of the GOP brand, which causes fewer people to admit they are affiliated with / support the GOP, even if their underlying beliefs are more in line with Republicans. Obama’s appeal to elements of the electorate who previously didn’t participate (younger voters) and those who are shifting their affiliations based on their attraction to Obama, also fuel the changing partisan identification.

Self-identified partisanship shouldn’t be relied upon as an indicator of voting behavior in isolation. Due to its fluidity, we strongly recommend all polling analysis and public released polls include an evaluation based also on self-described ideology. This sub-group is frequently arrived at by a question such as the following (or similar iterations):

  • How would you describe your own political beliefs -- very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative or very conservative?

Ideology tends to be a more stable, underlying factor that drives an individual’s voting behavior. It is an excellent variable to evaluate in conjunction with and context of changing partisan affiliations. It can verify strong partisan shifts in favor or against a candidate. It allows for a more realistic, accurate assessment of the political environment if the underlying ideological make-up of the surveyed electorate is out of alignment with a shifting partisan composition.

For example: If a Congressional District shows a 10 point increase in Democratic identification from two years ago, but the District remains a moderate to conservative leaning area, then the surface movement among partisans may be tempered by the voters’ underlying ideological leanings. This situation would show favorable trends for a Democrat, but not a fundamental change in the voters’ likely behaviors, although the partisan shift will have an impact on the immediate election.

Alternatively, in an area that has a 10 point Democratic gain from the last cycle and shows a moderating, more liberal electorate than previous elections, is catching a fundamental change in the electoral make-up and an indication of a long term, more stable movement in the Democrats favor.

The two scenarios where Democrats receive a similar gain in self-identified partisanship will require a different tone of message because of the underlying ideological composition of the District. A campaign that fails to realize the ideological difference between a liberal Democrat and a moderate to conservative Democrat or a center-right, Independent leaning area where self identified Democratic affiliation is increasing can be disastrously off message.

In conclusion, opinions of partisan sub-groups should not be reported or analyzed in isolation of the voters’ ideological position. Publicly released polls should include sub-group analysis by partisan and ideological breakouts and all reporting on polls should include similar evaluations. We also recommend campaigns utilize ideological data in their internal strategic analysis, which will lead to better, more accurate strategic recommendations and decisions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Informed Polling and Getting it Right

Every pollster will tell you that political polls are a snapshot in time and at best consecutive polls can elicit trends, but should not be used to predict turnout or the outcome of an election.

While the national attention is on how the pollsters got it wrong in several contests with surveys taken only days before an election, few are talking about how early surveying often-times gets things right. We've occasionally written about the importance of informed trial heats in some of our past posts.

To refresh, an informed trial heat is designed to simulate the effects of an engaged campaign, presenting balanced positive and negative messages about each candidate (or multiple candidates). The end result of the election scenario tells a campaign what is possible with their messages and themes they plan to implement. Most importantly, this section will determine if the core message works in direct contrast to the opponent(s)' message and can identify movement among the various demographic and attitudinal groups -- helping refine strategy.

F&A recently conducted a benchmark survey for a client running in a Democratic primary for open seat in a multi-candidate open-seat race. The benchmark poll was designed to evaluate the political environment, determine voter’s top issue concerns, examine opinions of the candidates and other significant figures, and test messages in support and in opposition of various candidates. As we always do in comprehensive benchmark polls, we included an informed trial heat question in the survey. The client was on a tight budget and didn't want to include "minor" candidates in the informed trial heat. After some debate, we were able to convince the client to include the "minor" candidates in the question.

We accounted for the ability of the "minor" candidates to get their message out given their budget constraints. Their messages were curtailed in the informed scenario to a simple bio-statement, while "major" candidates received bio, supporting, and opposing information, simulating an engaged campaign.

In our poll, the results of the informed trial heat were unexpected; a "minor" candidate took a 22 percentage point lead above the assumed frontrunner in the informed scenario, an increase of 25% above the candidate's level of support in the initial trial heat (the uninformed horse race question). A "major" candidate jumped up 7% and the assumed frontrunner stalled with a gain within the margin of error. Undecided voters in the initial trial heat heavily sided with one of the "minor" candidates. The percentage of undecided voters was reduced by over 40% in the informed trial heat. At this point we recognized the minor candidate's growth potential and advised the client to pay close attention to this so-called "minor" candidate. We noted that this individual clearly had the basic background and simple message that would break through the clutter of a highly engaged multi-candidate race, despite an initial perception of not being viable.

As the campaign progressed, the so called minor candidate ended up raising some serious money and gained significant earned media attention in addition to their own paid activities. It became apparent that this minor candidate was not minor, something our polling has observed only three months before the election

The "minor" candidate ended up winning this election, slightly ahead of the "major" candidate that we also observed gaining traction through the informed trial heat. This highlighted the usefulness and importance of utilizing informed trial heat questions in polls and why clients should never ignore perceived "minor" opponents. Polls that include an informed trial heat are one of the most useful strategic planning tools available to a campaign. It gives campaigns the information needed to determine if their message works (in the above example, out client’s message was not working); provides detailed strategic planning information, particularly at the demographic sub-group level, and gives campaigns information to prepare and adjust strategy for unanticipated situation (such as an unexpectedly strong opponent).

Congratulations Aubertine Campaign

Fako & Associates, Inc. congratulates Darrel Aubertine and the Aubertine campaign team for running a successful campaign that resulted in a 52.4% to 47.6% victory in New York's 48th Senate District. While some refer to the results as shocking, our strategic polling showed that victory was achievable, even with a staggering partisanship deficit of thirty thousand more Republican registrants. Congratulations goes out to the Aubertine campaign for their hard work and sticking to the strategy that lead to victory, no matter how badly the odds were stacked against them.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Open Ended & Listed Issue Concerns

Our polling and several national polls by other organizations have shown that the Iraq War is no longer the highest issue concern among likely voters. While still a major issue that could quickly rise to the top again given sufficient media attention, the War is being trumped by financial concerns about the stalling economy, foreclosures, raising taxes, and health care and prescription medicine.
"The economy, stupid"
Different Bush, different Clinton, same message... new Obama?

Is it really 1992 all over again?
"It did take a Clinton to clean (up) after the first Bush, and I think it might take a second one to clean up after the second Bush..." -- Hillary Clinton, January 31, 2008
Some seem to think so.

Carville's famed sign on the wall of the Little Rock office in 1992 also included two other important phrases:
1. "Change vs. more of the same"

2. "Don't forget health care."
While the relevance of 1992 is up for debate, we're finding that health care is becoming ever-more defined as an economic concern, and undoubtedly, an underlying component of the current feeling of economic uncertainty. According to a 2005 Harvard University study*, 68 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy in the US had health insurance. In addition, the study found that 50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses. Indeed, don't forget health care.

Simply talking off a bullet point isn't enough to relate to the voters. Candidates have to speak directly to the concerns of the electorate. While all challenger campaigns are inherently running on a message of "change," even if that message is never directly communicated, the nuances of the message behind their version of "change" will determine if they connect with the voters. As we've seen in the recent debates, none of the candidates were shying away from the word "Change..."

Undoubtedly the word "change" tested well.

Pollsters sometimes use listed issue concern questions instead of open-ended issue concern questions to save time (and money) in a survey. We find that listed issue questions often miss the way how issues are being discussed. While F&A, Inc. hasn't recently conducted a nation-wide survey that included a top issue concern question, some of our recent surveys in several mid-west and east coast state legislative campaigns included open-ended verbatim response questions about the voters' top issue concerns.

For example, in one of our recent surveys, a respondent offered the following when asked about his or her most important issue concern:
This response was typical of all responses that related to health care. A campaign in this district that focuses it's health care message on concerns other than making health care affordable and lowering the cost of prescription drugs will not be connecting with the concerns of the voters in this particular district.

1992 or not, candidates who speak directly to the concerns of the voters in a way that addresses their concerns will fair far better than a candidate who elaborates off a bullet point without qualified direction.

Early benchmark surveys should be as comprehensive as possible and include open-ended issue concerns whenever possible and appropriate for a campaign's budget. These types of questions help drill deeper into the how and why a voter thinks and cares about a particular issue and provides better strategic direction on how a candidate can address the issue.

In a presidential race, 1992 or 2008, there simply is no excuse for not having the message right. Regardless of the level of campaign, we always say it is better to have the message designed right the first time, than to spend the rest of the campaign correcting it.

* Himmelstein, D, E. Warren, D. Thorne, and S. Woolhander, "Illness and Injury as Contributors to Bankruptcy, " Health Affairs Web Exclusive W5-63, 02 February , 2005.