Adam Schaefer and Nancy Smith have posted the results of some fascinating experimental research on Ken Cuccinelli’s loss in Virginia. Their research suggests “an aggressive attack on McAuliffe for supporting Obamacare was ineffective at best and counter-productive at worst. An attack on McAuliffe’s business record possibly helped, but was anemic.”
So what would have worked in Virginia?
What moved the voters most was an attack on McAuliffe’s positions on abortion; a single phone message emphasizing McAuliffe’s support for unrestricted, late-term, and taxpayer-funded abortions shifted support a net 13 to 15 points away from McAuliffe and toward Cuccinelli. The cost per vote here was a remarkably cheap $0.50 per additional vote, and even less expensive still when targeting the most persuadable segment of the electorate.
A topic declared radioactive by nearly everyone, locked away in secure storage behind a blazing Hazmat warning by the Cuccinelli campaign, appears to have been a powerful weapon for the Republican ticket that could have substantially closed the gap, and possibly even won Cuccinelli the election.
Schaefer and Smith argue the most important lesson for conducting campaigns: Do research, don’t trust your guts. Or your consultants’ guts.
Learning from failure is important. Learning the wrong lessons is disastrous.