Some candidates will need to convey a sense of cultural connection with their voters that may differ from leadership. In those cases, we’ll not only test those district-specific issues but also examine how to position the candidate to best demonstrate his or her connection with their community and independence from party orthodoxy. A recent example of this approach is how we were able to win back the majority in the Minnesota House. Minnesota lost both its House and Senate Democratic majorities in the 2010 Republican wave. Early on, both the House and Senate committed to running an aggressive and highly coordinated campaign to get those majorities back in 2012.
We began with a battleground poll in the spring that took a broad look at battleground districts and tested a variety of frames and responses to core Republican attacks. Our findings showed us that a frame that centered on middle class priorities—and how Republican obstructionism and refusal to compromise actively worked against those priorities—was by far the most effective message. What is important here is that when we tested the middle class priorities and refusal to compromise separately, they did not test as well as they did when combined. That is, it wasn’t just that Democrats were for the middle class and Republicans weren’t, nor was it just that Republicans were obstructionists solely for the sake of being obstructionists. Rather, it was that the Republicans’ refusal to compromise demonstrated their wrong priorities and failure to prioritize the middle class.
We then used our baseline polls in individual battleground districts to refine the message within this frame. In some districts, depending on the individual examples we had for the Democratic and/or Republican candidates, elements of the “obstructionists/extreme” part of the frame popped and were focused on more heavily. In other districts, it was better to highlight more heavily on the “middle-class priorities” aspect. In short, all the examples and themes were individualized based on the district, but fit within the overarching frame.
Our job did not end after the polls finished fielding. Our team reviewed every piece of mail sent by the caucus, every newspaper ad, and every radio script. We provided feedback on all of these communications to ensure that they were on message and were using the most effective elements indicated by the research.
With a combination of a unified frame that was flexible given individual district realities, district baselines, and tracking to discover and monitor those realities, and disciplined monitoring of voter communications, we were able to take back the Minnesota House, defying the expectations of many and turning all of the statewide government over to Democrats.
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