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.

No comments: