[Sometimes I run across original research or information that is exactly the kind of stuff I live for - well thought out, well written, well researched commentary, the kind that your media experts get by the pound but think is too much for you to understand. The author, like many bloggers, has a need to keep his avocation under the radar for professional reasons. As he explains below, he goes by the name thereisnospoon at the progressive political website DailyKos, where we are both active members of the community. He has given me permission to publish his comments in their entirety. Enjoy]


I loved Sarah Palin's speech last night. No, really, I did. As a student of rhetoric, I couldn't help but admire the poise, the confident delivery of cutting lines read with a smile, the deft moves from pulling the heartstrings with family stories to clever jokes about hockey moms and pitbulls to biting invective at political opponents.

It was a speech in the best Ciceronian tradition, delivered not with stentorian bombast but with the charm of your small-town neighbor and the visual appeal of a celebrity actress.

And it was an utter, unqualified failure. As with so much else in her life, Palin may have gained greatly from her performance, leaving her a force to be reckoned with for years to come (assuming her myriad personal and political scandals don't sink her first), but she probably just hurt McCain's chances in 2008 as surely as she hurts everything else she touches.

Already the results of two focus group projects in different places (Nevada and Michigan) already strongly suggest that Palin did not sway the independents or the Clinton supporters that she needed to in order to overcome their concerns about her experience. Thing is, that shouldn't have come as any surprise to anyone who has ever done a political focus group this election season.

You see, I moderate focus groups for a living--mostly on the corporate side, but with some political work thrown in. I've done a couple of projects for non-partisan 527s and NGOs who are nonetheless on the progressive side, talking about what matters this election season. I was a precinct captain for the Obama campaign, talking to conservative Dems and independents. I also live in a Republican district, and don't miss an opportunity to talk to regular voters about what's on their minds. And anybody with half a brain who does this for a living could have told you that Palin's speech wouldn't work to persuade the independents and Clinton supporters McCain needs.

Without revealing too much (my clients' research results are proprietary), what I can tell you without hesitation are four universal factors:

1. Most importantly, times are too tough and the public too worried about their economic security to sweat the small stuff.

2. Issues trump personality this year. I know we say this every election cycle, but it really is true this year. People are apprehensive about the issues, and they're paying more attention than ever. Allow me to give you a quote from a Republican I talked to in a focus group setting:

    "I like McCain personally. He's a war hero. I would have voted for him eight years ago, four years ago. But the issues are way too important now. People are in trouble."


3. Voters have very low tolerance for partisan red meat this year. This cuts both ways: voters no more want to hear about the reasons we got into Iraq (though many acknowledge it was for oil) than they want to hear about God, guns or gays. They want solutions.

4. Economics trumps all. Only in the Midwest Mountain West does Iraq play even a close second fiddle to economic concerns. Voters want solutions to stagnant wages, massive debts, gas prices, healthcare and a host of other economic concerns. They're sinking, and they want the government to do something.

By all four of those measures, Sarah Palin's speech was an absolute disaster.


1. In an election where the voters find "small" unappealing and want big, bold solutions to weighty problems, Palin's speech did little but extol the virtues of small: small towns, small government, small-scale issues and small-ball politics. She gave voters nothing profound, no inventive solutions or even inventive perspectives. At the end of the day, voters still had no idea what she would do to solve their problems.

In fact, she did spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing Democrats for wanting to increase the size of government. In an environment where voters are worried that politicians are selling out government infrastructure and not paying attention to job losses, and where "high taxes" don't even break the top five issues, selling the governor's plane on eBay and firing the governor's cook aren't exactly selling points.

2. As a personality on stage, she was terrific. Too bad voters aren't really that interested in personality this year. They want problems solved, they want change and they want answers. Sarah Palin talked a lot about her family and her values, but she provided no answers and talked very little about the issues that matter most to Americans.

3. It was a great piece of Ciceronian oratory--but like most Ciceronian oratory, it was nasty, cutting, vicious and full of divisive red meat. It was exactly the sort of grating partisan rhetoric that voters have said repeatedly they are turned off by.

4. Outside of oil drilling, there was almost nothing about core economic issues in her speech. In fact, they were so assiduously avoided that I can't help but wonder if independent voters felt almost insulted by the nonchalance of it all. Coupled with Rudy 9/11's rhetoric about "giving workers the right to work", Republicans clearly have no understanding what the problem is. It's not that workers can't necessarily find jobs (though that can be a problem depending on the community): it's that the jobs they can find don't pay enough to cover the bills.

What she did manage to do without a doubt is motivate and mobilize to a certain degree the evangelical base. But Republicans must take that for granted, else Obama will win in a devastating landslide. What the Palin pick was designed to do was appeal to independents and to Hillary's voters. By that measure, I'm almost certain that she flopped terribly. I could be horribly wrong, of course, but already the data are appearing to bear me out.

Of course, insofar as the speech was written for her she may escape much of the blame for this debacle. But that doesn't matter now: she gave the speech. She owns it.

And now the GOP will get to pay the price.


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2 comments:

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

I couldn't agree more. I loved her presentation too, but it may well have been her 24 hours of fame. Thank God for her extreme positions that will give many women pause in voting for her.

Anonymous said...

"insofar as the speech was written for her"

did mccain "throw her under the bus" this morning?

i watched some parts of his interview on "meet the press" (or was it "face the nation") and he was asked about whether attacking "community organizers" was really the thing to do and his response was that he "thought" SHE was responding to "attacks" on "small-town mayors."

both his verbalization AND his body language, mccain apparently thought we were going to believe that SHE wrote the speech, it was all her idea.

given the recent news from pakistan, it is clear that we are entering an even more dangerous time in the world.

the mccain campaign would have been better served by the bush admin if they had kept cheney home. the punctuation of reports of cheney's travels in and around georgia and asia simply highlights that vice presidents in fact do more than simply hang around in the lobby waiting for the president to die.

is it possible that enough people will be able to swallow palin in that role (much less mccain as president under any one of the present circumstances, much less all of them) and actually vote for the republican ticket?

let's hope not.

p.s. BMTH has become one of my blogs to go to for insight and information. thanks so much!

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