Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Bucking the trend...

Fako & Associates congratulates our many successful clients of yesterday’s mid-term election.

It was a tough year for Democrats throughout the State and Country, but there were several victories that deserve note:
  • Sara Feigenholtz (IL HD 12)
  • Keith Farnham (IL HD 43)
  • Daniel Biss (IL HD 17)
  • Bill Cunningham (IL HD 35)
  • Kevin McCarthy (IL HD 37)
  • Fred Crespo (IL HD 44)
  • Elaine Nekritz (IL HD 57)
  • Karen May (IL HD 58)
  • Carol Sente (IL HD 59)
  • Jack Franks (IL HD 63)
  • Chuck Jefferson (IL HD 67)
  • Patrick Verschoore (IL HD 72)
  • Lisa Dugan (IL HD 72)
  • Emily McAsey (IL HD 85)
  • Jack McGuire (IL HD 86)
  • Jehan Gordon (IL HD 92)
  • Naomi Jakobsson (IL HD 103)
  • Tom Holbrook (IL HD 113)
  • Dan Reitz (IL HD 116)
  • Stacey Evans (GA HD 40)
  • Joseph Addabbo (NY SD 15)
  • David Valesky (NY SD 49)
  • Tammy Irons (AL SD 1)
  • Dan Foley (Montgomery County, Ohio Commissioner)
  • Michelle Mussman (IL HD 56) (Presumed Winner)
Many of the Illinois House races were through the Democratic Party of Illinois and New York Senatorial races were Independent Expenditure campaigns.

Fako & Associates would also like to congratulate Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride for winning his retention election in the face of a serious effort by national political organizations to attack his judicial integrity and oust him from State Supreme Court. The campaign organization constructed on his behalf was a focused and disciplined campaign with a unique strategy and a dedicated team.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Polling - Public vs. Internal

This is an interesting article written by Charlie Cook on the National Journal. He quotes Stu Rothenberg's comments about internal polling and much of what is publicly available.

The passage that most interested us is:

"I should echo an argument made several weeks ago by my good friend and competitor Stu Rothenberg. He scoffed at those who mistakenly believed that polls conducted independently from the candidates and parties were inherently better or more reliable than campaign polling.

My view is that most academic polling, as well as the polling sponsored by local television stations and newspapers, is dime-store junk.

The far more sophisticated polling is done by top-notch professional polling firms for campaigns, parties and major business and labor organizations. These polls are considerably more expensive and the methodology is more rigorous.

Most of these surveys are not made public, but insiders can be made aware of them. While even the most experienced and contentious political pollsters have more challenges than a generation ago, their work is still far superior and reliable.

The end result is that you have two separate conversations about these political races: one that is driven by the publicly available, but less reliable, stock of polls and the other made by the black market of high-quality and more expensive surveys done for private clients, including the campaigns themselves."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Avoid Getting caught Under the Dome

"I would say that we may have underestimated the anti-incumbent mood."

-- U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas),, June 8, 2010

After reading this, we were wondering where the Senator has been living for the last year – in a cave?

A strong anti-incumbent, anti-establishment and anti-Washington sentiment has been brewing for over a year, manifesting in real political movements and some partisan driven groups.

The Senator's comments reflect a common affliction with many office holders, they develop an "under the dome" mentality, which is when their sphere of influence and perceptions are based on what a small circle of capitol insiders say and feel. Incumbents lose touch with the real needs and concerns of the people they represent. This mentality drives incumbents to feel everything they do in the Capitol is important to the voters back home while ignoring the local (small) things they must do back in their community.

Elections are won by candidates who remain in touch with the core needs and values of the people they represent and recognize that serving in a governing body is an honor and not a right bestowed upon them. They must recognize their job is to advocate for the people they represent, not a small group of capitol building advocates. Elected officials must advocate the issues and values in the legislature and beyond that connect with the voters in their communities, states, Districts. Incumbents should always be actively engaged in their communities when not required to be in session or the Capitol – this will prevent disconnections exemplified by Sen. Lincoln’s comment. Unfortunately, too many of our elected officials retreat to the safety cocoon of the Capitol and lose touch with the realities of what happens in their communities.

This is why we advise and push our incumbent clients to remain fully engaged in their communities throughout their term and to not focus exclusively on their work in the Capitol. This engagement includes aggressive earned and paid communications before the traditional campaign season, significant personal activity in their community among the voters – walking, Town Hall meetings, small groups / coffee meetings, as well as simply doing their job well – holding regular publicized offices hours, returning phone calls, taking care of problems with constituents no matter how big or small, etc. This also includes periodic polling to maintain a real pulse on the constituents they represent, identify opportunities and challenges and devise political and policy strategies to address these challenges.

Incumbents who remain engaged in their community will know the needs and concerns in their community that must be addressed and catch changes in attitudes. They will not have to climb out from their safety cocoon and be awaken by an anti-incumbent election.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Political Environment in 2010

Coakley's loss in the presumed one of the safest of US Senate seats for Democrats came as a major upset, but not a surprise based on data in the closing weeks of the campaign. It is apparent that Coakley was not a good candidate and Brown was very good. Tactical and strategic mistakes were made by Coakley’s campaign, and those mistakes have been and continue to be discussed in depth elsewhere.

This loss sparked a couple of questions, one of which, is this the result of campaign failures or an omen? We're already seeing the media sound the siren song about the upcoming "Republican Wave," and the talking-heads recounting 1994's losses, but the polling data suggest another, less sensational story.

The polling data tells us that there were two serious problems contributing to the Coakley loss. Elections can never be considered a formality and the political environment can't be ignored. We'll leave the operational criticism aside, hoping for agreement that there is no substitute for a hard working candidate and a finely tuned campaign strategy implemented with efficiency and discipline. The political environmental impact on this campaign must be examined in-depth by all Democrats so as to understand what lies ahead in 2010. As outside observers without direct access to any internal data, we can only make more general observations and conclusions based on our experience and recent work in similar situations on the East Coast.

The importance of polling and pollsters to conduct in-depth examinations of the political environment, with an emphasis on voter intensity / engagement is as valuable and vital to a campaign as more "headline grabbing" information like where a candidate stands in a trial-heat scenario or the persuasive strength of his or her messages. A thorough evaluation of the political environment within which a campaign must operate should identify opportunities and expose underlying problems that have not yet manifested. Third-party polling data suggests that there was a serious motivational problem among base Democratic voters in Massachusetts. These motivational problems were obviously not overcome.

Were the motivational problems due to displeasure (disgust?) with the progress (or lack of progress) arriving out of DC? Probably, but weren’t these issues exposed in the polling? Regular polling was not conducted during this well-funded senatorial campaign, which is a perplexing revelation to us. The campaign did not have the ability (or felt it was unnecessary) to check their progress and determine if the motivational issues were being reversed (that is, if it was exposed in the initial benchmark survey). The campaign also did not have data that would have told them if their message was resonating or if events outside of their control (like the healthcare bill) were having an impact among the voters.

The root problem appears to be that corrective action was not taken to motivate the base. A campaign was not run that was designed to win in a very unfavorable climate, despite the natural partisan advantages in the State.

While some will point to losses in New Jersey and Virginia as the foundation of a "wave" that helped to wipe out the Massachusetts Senate race, there were several local-level campaigns between Virginia and Massachusetts (with far less funding and ability to communicate to voters) that were able to weather the storm.

Our polling caught early signs of motivational problems in several New York elections. Our NY clients were able to address these problems during the front end of their campaigns and were able to drive turnout. Losses are inevitable and, even if a national political wave is turning against Democrats, campaigns that track environmental changes and work diligently to prepare for changing dynamics will be far more likely to weather the worst of political storms.