Election Day is three weeks away and most polls show Barack Obama with a comfortable lead over John McCain. State polls are also suggesting that Obama could amass more than 350 electoral votes in a Democratic rout. He is saturating the airwaves with advertisements and sending his wife, the Clintons, and the Bidens off on the campaign trail to campaign solo, thus allowing the Obama campaign to cover more ground in less time. The economy has pushed every other political issue to the side and caused states that were once wishful thinking to real possibilities (e.g., North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, and Missouri). While the Obama campaign certainly wishes today were November 3 instead of October 13, they have to be feeling pretty good about their political fortunes.
Optimistically, John McCain claims that despite all this, "we've got them just where we want them." It is unclear if "them" refers to the media, Obama, Democrats, or his Republican skeptics, but it is clear that having been written off before, McCain relishes being the underdog and is bullish about his chances.
However, what McCain doesn't realize is that to an extent larger than he realizes, the economy, the Obama campaign, and the media are not what is hamstringing his candidacy. It's his own campaign. For all the high paid consultants, spokespeople, press secretaries, surrogates, and ad designers, McCain has consistently bungled one of the most basic tenets of effective communication: message consistency.
Message consistency has three components: 1) speaking with one voice, 2) not putting out messages that conflict with each other, and 3) sticking to a single message long enough so that your audience comes to automatically associate the message with your campaign. These three basic tenets comprise not just the foundation of effective political communication, but effective communication in general. Any college journalism student should understand this, which is what makes the McCain campaign's violations of these rules all the more difficult to understand.
Let's examine these three components one at a time.
1. Speak with one voice. Before dispatching any surrogates to engage in battle before the cameras or on the nightly news shows, McCain and his senior staff need to ensure that they know what the message of the day is and that everyone sticks to this message. Unfortunately for McCain, some of his surrogates seem to have a penchant for shooting from the hip and creating new news. While these surrogates may indeed be McCain supporters, they don't seem to be well integrated with his campaign.
The most obvious example of a supporter gone awry is Carly Fiorina. McCain was incensed after Fiorina claimed last month that neither he nor running mate Sarah Palin were qualified to run a corporation. Fiorina was trying to make the point that competence in politics does not necessarily translate into competence in economics:
"It is a fallacy to suggest that the country is like a company. So, of course, to run a business, you have to have a lifetime of experience in business, but that's not what Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Biden or Barack Obama are doing."But that didn't matter. Rather than reporting on Fiorina defending McCain's economic policies, the media had a field day with the idea of McCain being trashed by his own campaign staff.
A more recent example of not speaking with one voice concerns the recent McCain campaign leak that they had to "change the subject" from the economy to Obama's character. Who was this McCain official, and why was he or she giving this information to the press? This unauthorized leak only fed into the narrative that McCain had no economic solutions and was out of touch. And if McCain had indeed been planning to pivot from the economy to Obama's character, what good would it do them to give Obama and everyone else advance notice by talking to the press beforehand? This unauthorized disclosure to the press had the whiff of "Okay, I'm going to attack you now! Get ready!" That most definitely was not the message McCain wanted to get out.
2. Don't put out messages that conflict with each other. John McCain himself is guilty of breaking this rule. Who is John McCain? Is he the candidate who wants his supporters to "be respectful" to Obama, or is he the candidate who is going to whip" Obama's "you know what?" Is McCain the candidate who believes Obama is a "decent family man," or is he the candidate whom his running mate says "pals around with terrorists?" Is John McCain the candidate who wants government to "reduce spending" and "get out of the way," or is he the candidate who voted for the recent $700 billion economic relief bill? Is John McCain the candidate who rails against all earmarks, or is he the candidate who voted for $2 million in tax breaks for wooden arrow manufacturers? It seems that McCain is trying to have things both ways.
3. Stick to a single message long enough so that your audience comes to automatically associate the message with your campaign. Barack Obama has done a stellar job of following this rule. Notice that with his campaign, rarely does an interview go by without a mention of the words "change," "judgment," or "Bush." People know that when they are voting for Obama, they are voting for "change." They are voting against McCain because they know he represents "a third Bush term." Now the Obama campaign is pushing the word "erratic," though it is unsure how well that will stick. But the repetition of "change" and the constant linking of McCain to Bush have really helped brand the Obama campaign.
What is McCain's message? What is the McCain "brand?" He has tried several messages, but he keeps minimizing their effectiveness by not repeating them enough or by changing them before voters have a chance to internalize them. To describe himself, McCain has used the following terms: maverick, experience, reform, strength, and country first. Obama simply uses one word: change. To attack Obama, McCain has used the following terms: celebrity, risky, liberal, tax-hiker, naive, and radical. Again, Obama simply uses one word: Bush.
There is simply too much clutter in McCain's message. As a result, it's difficult to pin down exactly how McCain is trying to portray himself. McCain needs to choose a message, any message, and stick with it. If he gives voters an easily digestible encapsulation of his campaign, it will help them better focus on what he has to offer. And in the meantime, he needs to exercise greater control over his campaign and ensure that everyone associated with it, be they surrogates, campaign staff, or even Sarah Palin herself, understand what the message of the day is and stop making news that distracts the media from covering what this message is.
The economy and the Obama campaign may be working against the McCain campaign, and one could argue that the media are working against them as well because of their interest in having the first person of color winning the presidency. But that's no excuse for the McCain campaign to be working against itself.
Anthony, I always enjoy your questions off to the side. However, might I suggest you should have had a none of the above category on that one.
Frankly, unless he makes some big turn around soon, the more provocative political question might be:
"Which red state do you think McCain will be able to keep?
B. North Carolina
E. None of the above"
(channeling Chris Matthews) HAH! I actually had a fourth option in the poll that said "he should forget playing offense and focus on defense," but it looks like you beat me to it.
I could change the poll though because I like yours more. It's a more provocative question.
Glad you like the polls.
I think none of the above is an appropriate response if this Rolling Stone's article " John McCain, The Make Believe Maverick" has any legs.
I think McCain's own nature and history are acting against having a consistent message. He tends to be kind of seat-of-the-pants, case-by-case in how he deals with political problems rather than organizing grand campaigns. He's also tended to take a wide variety of positions across the political spectrum, although most of his positions do tend to fall into the "conservative" side of things.
Both of those are damaging to anything like message consistency. It doesn't help, too, that he's from the Republicans, who have kind of picked up that prudish, "that's not very nice young man" image.
Wow. You are absolutely right! McCain's campaign is it's own worst enemy. Both McCain and Obama do a very poor job at convincing America that they "understand" the average joe's plight. The difference is, Obama has the whole world chanting "Yes we can!" like brain-washed parrots. Quite frankly, I have NO idea what qualifies Obama to be the next president, since he has done absolutely nothing. But I DO know that he wants to cut taxes for 95% of Americans (Code for: raise your bosses' taxes so you won't get a raise next year -- you may possibly lose your job, too, when he can't afford you anymore). Hmm... I may not agree with a thing Obama says, but at least I am perfectly clear about where he stands. Obama over-simplies everything, but let's face it- the average american understands his message because it is simple and consistent. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the media loves Obama and would never scrutinize him in a million years). McCain may have a thousand qualifications over Obama, but if he and his campaign fail to unite and send a clear message, he's doomed. And he is.
The difference is, Obama has the whole world chanting "Yes we can!" like brain-washed parrots.
You know, I keep hearing claims like this, that somehow there's an Obama Mind Cult out there. I have no doubt he has his fans, but a lot of us actually like him for his policies, and because he's actually shown knowledge when questioned under pressure (unlike the Palinistas).
Brett- I have not heard very substancial criticism of McCain, nor substancial support in favor Obama. Knowlege and wisdom are two different things. Just because Obama is knowledgeable (and eloquent) does not mean that he has the experience to know how to negotiate fixing the economy (or run a war, or anything else, for that matter). It strikes me as unfair that you should pitch Obama against Palin; she is not even the front runner. Why don't you tell us what it is you like about Obama's policies? How is it good for the economy to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year? Let me get this straight - you start your own business, and right when you begin to experience real success, you get sunken with taxes. America, wake up!! $250,000 a year is not that much, when you consider that these are the small business owners that create jobs for the rest of us. Coorporations create jobs, too. Most of the people I know who are voting for Obama work for either a corporation or a small business. Isn't that ironic? Please tell me what sense there is in taking money from people work hard and experience sucess and giving it to people who haven't? Government (not BUSH, but democrats and republicans alike!) has already proven to us that it doesn't know how to manage money (see subprime loans; wallstreet). Why won't Obama just let us decide how to use our own money? The middle class don't create jobs - the upper middle class do. If they have more money in their pockets, more jobs will be created for the middle class.
How is it good for the economy to raise taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year? Let me get this straight - you start your own business, and right when you begin to experience real success, you get sunken with taxes.
A 39% tax rate is not "sunken with taxes" - that's the top bracket tax rate of the Clinton Era (you know, that period which had a long economic expansion and low unemployment for the latter 1990s?).
This is what annoys me about a lot of these anti-tax folk. They act as if simply raising the taxes into the 40th percentile is the most devastating, nasty thing ever, even though a number of European countries continue to survive with these types of tax rates (the Scandinavian countries do it), without a devastating, complete collapse in the economy.
Please tell me what sense there is in taking money from people work hard and experience sucess and giving it to people who haven't?
Aside from the fact that not everyone who has high income earned it (I notice that a lot of these anti-tax folk also tend to oppose inheritance taxes, even though the lack of them leads to concentrated wealth and Paris Hilton equivalents), society has an obligation to create a better socioeconomic environment for all its citizens, and reducing the power of concentrated wealth is part of that. Ensuring equal opportunity to take part via schools and some subsidies is part of that. Ensuring that health care costs don't turn life or death into something that spins on your income is part of that.
the upper middle class do. If they have more money in their pockets, more jobs will be created for the middle class.
This is an argument for eliminating the capital gains' tax, not lowering income tax for the rich.
"Let me get this straight - you start your own business, and right when you begin to experience real success, you get sunken with taxes. America, wake up!! $250,000 a year is not that much . . ."
I read somewhere that those fortunate enough to hit the $250,000 level will have to pay a whole extra $17 in federal income tax under Obama's plan.
(OK, I'm not sure of that precise figure, but the fact-finder-type news item gave an amount similarly modest, considering income that high. It was way, way under $100; I know that.)
No, anon, you wake up. A quarter-million dollars is something millions of hard-working people have to toil many years to earn. Proportionate to income, they 've been getting hit harder and harder for years, while the wealthy have had their load lightened every which way.
Where has that gotten us? Has it grown the economy? Has it strengthened the dollar, turned our outrageous trade imbalance around, balanced the budget, fixed our crumbling infrastructure or brought forth a wave of prosperity for all who are working and trying to do the right thing?
Hell no! What it has done is create a sense of entitlement and dependence on government among the rich and super rich. It's made a complete mess of our economy, screwing workers, savers, investors and small-scale business people.
If our current debacle isn't enough to bury the stupid trickle-down con job under history's dung heap, along with the con artist pols who keep pushing it, there's no hope for Americans. They will deserve all the reaming they will go on getting.
Oh, and while I'm at it, anyone bringing in 250 grand who gets all discouraged and resentful, and decides to call it quits because of a few extra bucks in taxation, wasn't really that interested in pursuing success in his career or or business.
Sounds like an eternal adolescent in spoiled-brat mode to me.
anonymous wrote: "Why won't Obama just let us decide how to use our own money?
Why can't we have free police, fire and military protection? Why can't we get nice new highways from the Concrete Fairy?
For that matter, if we have people who can't get out and earn a living so they pay their own way — you know, profoundly abnormal kids; old folks who can't care for themselves and have no family; people in prisons and other institutions — why can't we just eliminate them and all the trouble and expense they cause?
Tell you what, anonymous. If you don't want to have to pay your fair share to make this country decent and livable for everybody, why don't you take your money and go somewhere where the living is cheap. I'm thinking Somalia, maybe. (Of course, you might have to pay off the local gang leader to stay alive.)
"The middle class don't create jobs - the upper middle class do. If they have more money in their pockets, more jobs will be created for the middle class."
Don't just get on this blog and recite trickle-down propaganda while hiding behind "anonymous." Bring us some proof from a credible source.
I won't hold my breath. You won't produce it because it only exsists in the stale, discredited rhetoric of right-wing pols and propagandists.
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