“message discipline” in winning campaigns

Something to watch for in the next few weeks: The Romney campaign is going to start trotting out a smorgasbord of attack lines against Obama.  We saw the same thing from McCain/Palin in 2008.  Comparatively speaking, Obama is going to seem like a model of “message discipline.”

Any dimestore campaign hack can tell you, message discipline is one of the keys to victory.  Winning campaigns offer the same consistent message, week after week, in making their case to the voters.  Losing campaigns tend to waver.  They try out a lot of different messages.  None of those messages stick.

They’re correct about the correlation, but wrong about the causal arrow.

Message discipline doesn’t cause a winning campaign.  Winning campaigns reinforce message discipline.

The Romney campaign now provides a perfect example: throughout the summer, the Romney strategy has been to paint President Obama as a good guy who was in over his head.  You see this in the RNC’s latest ad “Break Up With Obama,” where a former Obama supporter* tells a cutout of the President “It’s not me, it’s you.”  This strategy acknowledges Obama’s high likability ratings and tries to work around them.  It’s a reasonable strategy, more promising than a Republican base turnout strategy would be.  But in the aftermath of the conventions, polling suggests that it isn’t working.

There’s still a long time between now and election day.  But if you’re an Obama strategist, the current polling lets you comfortably stay “on message.”  If you’re a Romney strategist, now is the time when you try something new.

The result will look like chaos.  The image of message-chaos isn’t the cause of that result, though.

 

*Actually an RNC staffperson.

4 thoughts on ““message discipline” in winning campaigns

  1. *Actually an RNC staffperson. It is good to know the Romney campaign is disciplined. They lie at every opportunity. It takes real discipline to achieve that.

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  4. I’ve actually wondering whether Team Obama will have to change its message as a result of Team Romney’s ineptitude and message meandering.

    The Obama campaign evaluated two contradictory messages — 1. Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper whom you can’t trust; 2. We take Romney at his word, and don’t you believe he won’t do exactly what he’s saying he will — and decided on the latter.

    But what do you do when Romney is incapable of staying on his own message not just post-Convention but actually hour to hour?

    At some point it’s not just about exploiting a weakness. It’s about making sure your description of your opponent aligning with reality. So if we reach a tipping point where the single most resonant idea about Romney is is lack of a stable core, Team Obama may have to modify or abandon their “take him at his word” message.

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