Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national, and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst for numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US
Q: What tactic defined 2020?
A: Virtual everything, from Zoom calls to remote directing of commercials to online conferences to contactless fundraisers to virtual field. As the post-pandemic world becomes a reality, and face-to-face contact resumes, these virtual tools will remain, and even proliferate, as obligatory options in all campaigns for the foreseeable future.
And no, I don’t think that we’re irrevocably on a slippery slope to “The Matrix,” in which campaigns get stuck inside a simulated reality. But I do think that COVID-19 has coerced everyone into becoming early adopters, bringing new products and technology into wide usage, years before they would otherwise have gone mainstream.
Q: Is it time to rethink survey research?
A: Four years ago, polling took a big hit for the overall failure to foresee the final presidential results. But in many ways, that hit was overstated, since too few polls were done in the “Blue Wall” states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, leading to sweeping pre-election presumptions based on too little evidence.
This year, the shortfall was concentrated less on the presidential outcome and more on the tighter-than-expected margins in some battleground states, and mostly on the down-ballot results, i.e., the Democrats did a whole lot worse in Senate and House races than most polls had “predicted.”
When they’re being candid, most pollsters in both parties agree that they face an existential threat due to respondent hostility. It’s easy to undercount voters who express their hatred of the system by refusing to answer questions. And then there’s burnout/distraction. It’s not a coincidence that the more polls there are, the less accurate they seem to become.
So yes, many aspects of survey research are broken, but that admission begs a question that we can address in future installments: Is polling fixable by tinkering with methodologies — screens, sample sizes, weighting — or is it possible to expand the research that goes into modeling an electorate — deeper voter history, qualitative analysis, anthropological tools, etc. — while remaining cost-effective?
Q: I am looking to retire after 2020 and have had offers for my business, but some of my senior staff want to buy it on a payment plan. Do you think it’s better to make a clean break or take in more through longer-term payments?
A: I had an accountant, years ago, who said that the only worthwhile assets of smaller consulting firms went down the elevator and out of the building at the end of every workday. The point being, the value of your business is greater if it’s less dependent on you personally, and that valuation affects whether you “sell now” or hand it over to staff on a “slow burn” schedule.
If you want the firm to live on, with a human connection to what you built, negotiate a deal with your senior staff. In other words, dance with the ones that brung you. If you just want to make your exit bucks and be done with it, go with the outside offer, although that seems like an iffy reputational move if you’re throwing employees out on the street, in the middle of a pandemic and recession, who helped you to build your business.
Q: You have any final thoughts on a year that sometimes felt like it was 100 years long?
A: Let’s end with a quote, and only one, from Navy veteran, professor, ambassador, adviser to four presidents (two Democrats and two Republicans) and, for 24 years, United States senator from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion,” he pungently said, “but not to his own facts.”