Craig “Campaign Doc” Varoga is a longtime Democratic strategist and manager. Questions on strategy, general consulting, or anything campaign-related? Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US and he’ll answer them right here.
Q: What was the dumbest campaign run in 2016?
A: You want to know the worst run campaign in the weirdest ever U.S. election, in which nobody – not even the winners – knew what was happening? Take a number, too many, not going there. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
But here’s one of our personal favorites: Republican Congressman John Mica of Florida, in his toughest reelection campaign in 20 years, bragged that he didn’t have a campaign manager, trashed his own “terrible press operation,” laughed blithely in the face of millions of dollars in attack ads aimed in his direction, and claimed that his wife would drive his getaway car (that was just weird).
In contrast, his challenger nailed the outsider message that worked so well in an anti-incumbent year: “If we’re going to change Washington, we need to change the type of people we send there.”
Mica’s incompetence was insulting to his constituents and mightily contributed to his 51-49 percent loss to Democrat Stephanie Murphy, a defeat that was, in retrospect, clearly avoidable.
Q: What's the future of TV advertising?
A: It’s a shared future with digital ads and social media (and yes, that includes Twitter).
Last October, the Financial Times analyzed the state of political advertising in the United States and Britain, and made these interesting points. First, no single image or commercial encapsulated the 2016 U.S. election. Second, “addressable” ads (the ability to target individual viewers household by household) will be a big piece of future campaigns.
The same FT analysis trenchantly noted of the successful Brexit campaign: “Ad agencies played no role at all in the case of the Leave campaign. The Remain camp hired several agencies but Leave did not, entrusting its video spots to a 25-year-old film-maker who worked for free. Its successful ‘take back control’ slogan was dreamt up by Leave’s campaign chief, rather than an agency creative director.”
That campaign chief ominously told FT that traditional advertising “has badly lost its way” and is “full of bullshitting charlatans.” That sounds like the adrenaline of an accidental winner, but still — agree or not — it is discussion worthy.
Are you ready to say, finally, that pollsters are ridiculous after getting the last election so wrong?
Hit the pause button: Most pollsters didn’t screw up. It was the campaigns that stopped polling, or that didn’t poll enough, or that thought (hubristically) that analytics had made traditional opinion surveys 100 percent obsolete, or that didn’t recognize the danger inherent in their candidate(s) polling under 50 percent. That wasn’t polling error, but it sure as heck was sometimes managerial malpractice of historical proportions.
One caveat: We aren’t endorsing those pollsters who enabled or otherwise went along with this malpractice, and now hide behind false explanations of silent voters and last-minute, King Kong-proportioned surges in public opinion that laid waste to so-called impeccable advice.
Q: Is analytics dead?
A: No, not at all. It is, however, in great need of wiser consumers, who use it as a tool to win, rather than as a bludgeon to hide inexperience and poor judgment.
Q: Persuasion or GOTV? Expand or energize the base? What do you say?
A: Those are false choices, like telling a medical team to choose between saving either the brain or the heart of a possibly terminal patient. Choose only one and you’re putting your fate in the hands of luck which – repeat repeat repeat — doesn’t exist.
Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst in numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.