For some reason, we as Republicans seem loathe to do the type of introspection that is healthy after a loss. Perhaps it’s because there’s a fine-line between learning from your experiences and placing blame when things don’t go as planned or desired. Learning = good. Blaming = not good.
With that, here are 5 things I think really mattered (besides money and incumbency – those always matter).
1. Data matters. Holy cow, does it matter. The Obama campaign told us what they were going to do. There are scads of articles over the last couple of years talking about how data was driving the 2012 election. Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, took the Obama campaign into new territory (again), where his plethora of data geeks hung out in “The Cave” and analyzed input day in and day out for months. Data is not enough, however. It has to be used! The Obama campaign knew this. So did Jim Matheson. He dug deeply into data – and I mean deeply. His entire campaign was data-driven AND he translated that data into a plan. He worked the plan. He tested and tweaked the plan and worked some more. Other Utah candidates used data to drive winning campaigns as well, perhaps most notably Ben McAdams and Orrin Hatch.
2. GOTV matters. Get-out-the-vote strategies in close elections can make the difference between waking up as a president-elect, or a footnote on Wikipedia. (I know. Ouch.) GOTV sounds SO basic – and it is – yet Democrats beat us at this game over and over and over when it matters most. (Let’s be honest – if you’re down 30 or 40 points, it’s not going to get you a win.) In Utah, I think the Democrats have us beaten on GOTV. I know, I know, Republicans have super-majorities in the House and Senate, have the Governor’s mansion, and have almost all of the federal delegation. BUT – most of those races are decided by convention and almost all are decided by the June primary at the latest. When it really counts, we don’t do GOTV all that well. Largely, we don’t need to know how – so we ignore it or we hope we can figure it out on the fly. Plus, it’s not a “sexy” campaign position, so there aren’t many people scrambling to do the job…….
3. Social media and an online presence matter. Obama won younger voters, plain and simple – and they’re online. You can get some good insight into the level of engagement any given campaign has by looking at their online presence. It’s not a perfect predictor of outcome but a candidate that “gets it” is much more likely to win when matched against a relatively equal opponent who doesn’t get it. Here’s a nugget – the Obama campaign outspent Romney online by a margin of 10 to 1 – and they used data to drive those spending decisions. Messina predicts that future campaigns will be a combination of online work plus old-fashioned GOTV efforts. He says the TV markets have reached (probably passed) their peak effectiveness. Times, they are a’changing, and just like 2008, the Democrats are catching the wave of the future while Republicans are wondering what hit them.
4. Likeability matters. We may not like that likeability matters. We may grumble and complain because it seems so shallow and contrived – but it matters. Who “connects” better? Who would you rather hang out with? A lot of times, that’s who you vote for. It’s all an illusion, of course – only the tiniest fraction of people actually KNOW presidential candidates. A slightly larger percentage know Congressional candidates but the bottom line is, how likeable a candidate appears to be is a determining factor for many voters. Obama had it in spades. Matheson ran “You know me” ads and worked to portray his opponent as someone NOT likeable – because it matters.
5. Messaging matters. “Legitimate rape,” anyone? The limited-government, pro-family, pro-freedom platform of the Republican party is a good one. It carries broad appeal, but we lose the messaging war time after time after time. We seem to forget that all politics is personal. Every voter wants to know why it should matter to THEM. From top to bottom, politics is personal. Why should I care? How does this affect me? How does this affect my family? My friend John English put it well: “The GOP needs to resist the urge of demographic pandering but more importantly, they need to stamp out the appearance of demographic dismissal. Saying “Oh, single women voted 67% for Obama? Eh, they just want big government as their sugar daddy” will do nothing to leave the door open to sway single women in the future.”
We can – and we must – learn the lessons of the 2012 election cycle or be prepared to keep losing races we “should” win.