It's NOT the Economy, Stupid, It's the "Future"
Obama Still Connects Using What Got Him Elected
Conway's "Aqua Buddha" Trumps Paul's "False Witness"
Part IV of a Series
New York City (October 25, 2010) - It's easy to say that this election is about the economy, from jobs to taxes to outsourcing. But a closer look at the midterm election ads that test best shows that voters don't just want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about the future, where we are headed, and how we are going to get there, according to just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research.
Today, however, the President is mostly concerned with just getting Democrats out to vote. And based on our test of his and the First Lady's on-camera get-out-the-vote plea, they are still able to move the Democratic base.
We also tested the Aqua Buddha ads from Jack Conway and Rand Paul in Kentucky and some of the latest ads that focus on health care reform. Results for both are below.
In all, we tested eight new political TV ads and videos using The Reactor, a technology that taps into voters' emotional responses to understand exactly how voters feel when they view ads and hear political messages. This week's test was conducted with 528 Democrats, Independents and Republicans from around the country to gauge voters' second-to-second, gut reactions.
Note: while the ads tested were for local Congressional and Senate races, they were tested with voters across the country and thus reflect national political sentiment.
Check out the results yourself by clicking below:
The Future is now. In the midst of all the negativity in this election cycle, there are still some positive messages about the future hidden in some of the thousands of midterm ads. And among these ads, voters respond most to messages that focus on the future, the importance of this year's election and the power of the people to impact the direction of our country.
• President Obama and Michelle Obama generate a positive reaction from Republicans when they note that "this year's elections are just too important to sit out for our future and our nation's future."
• When Citizens Against Government Waste launched a Chinese language ad talking about the demise of the US, voters didn't know how to respond, until the surprisingly positive ending.
Now it is no surprise to say positive ads generate positive reactions. Yet this has been largely forgotten in this race. Candidates have missed or ignored the opportunity to build their own brands with positive messaging.
Post-partisanship still resonates. There are many who lament the fact that President Obama moved away from his post-partisan rhetoric once he became President. The fact is, the message worked and it still does. While he is certainly a more polarizing figure today than two years ago, independent and even Republicans STILL respond positively when he delivers lines like "this election isn't about one voter or one party."
Aqua Buddha. In one of the oddest and most coded attack volleys of the campaign, Democratic Kentucky senate candidate accuses Republican Rand Paul of being a pagan and Paul responds by claiming that Conway bears "false witness" with his accusation. The end result: Conway wins (though we hate the fact that ads like these are used). His attack drives voters strongly negative, but the attack seems to land as intended. As soon as people hear Rand Paul's name in the ad that follows, the reactions dive (not a good sign).
Healthcare, it's complicated. We all know the healthcare reform bill was complicated. Unfortunately, many of the candidates have done nothing to simplify their messages on healthcare. The result, confusion and disillusionment.
• Democratic Wisconsin senate candidate Russ Feingold's healthcare ad tries to do too much - attacking Ron Johnson and providing Feingold's bona fides in 30 seconds. The back-and-forth renders the ad virtually ineffective, leaving us with only a vague notion of who stands for what on health care.
• Revere America's attack on Democrat Bill Owens doesn't equivocate with a litany of reasons why Obamacare will hurt America. Unfortunately, the ad fails to generate the desired reaction. Relative to other negative ads tested during the past few weeks, this ad didn't get the intensely negative or positive response you look for from an emotionally charged ad like this one.
• On the other hand, Rand Paul is able to drive positive reactions from all voters by emphasizing his own experience in health care. Though he polarizes the audience with an attack on "Obama and Pelosi's health care plan," the positive framing of the ad gets him strong positive reactions from all voters.
This research is part of an ongoing collaboration between maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research to monitor Americans' reactions to a range of political ads during the run-up to the midterm elections. The Reactor is Roy Morgan Research's proprietary online research tool designed to measure respondents' continuous reactions to ads.
More to come. We expect the next update to be out next week. If you would like to see the results of these and similar research studies, just sign up on our site.
Michael Maslansky is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy and research firm, and author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.