Category Archives: Featured Insights

Virginia Special Election Lessons

In January 2014 Democrat Lynwood Lewis defeated Republican Wayne Coleman by a mere nine votes out of more than 20,000 ballots cast in a special election for the Virginia State Senate. That’s an infinitesimally small 0.04 percent margin of victory for Democrats – one that could have been much larger had the party consistently engaged turnout mechanisms across the district.

Meanwhile failure by Republicans to turn out voters in a precinct they won in 2012 and 2013 cost them the election.

“One precinct left unattended can change the outcome,” a new study of the Virginia Senate District 6 special election conducted by Market Research Foundation (MRF) reveals.

In the District 6 race, that precinct was Virginia Beach – where only 6.83 percent of registered voters showed up to cast ballots. By comparison 27.96 percent of voters turned out in Accomack, 29.95 percent turned out in Mathews and 26.44 percent turned out in Northampton – all three GOP strongholds. Virginia Beach also saw only 29.5 percent of GOP primary voters show up for the special election – well below the 50.4 percent district-wide figure.

Of course the Democrats failure to successfully engage “get out the vote” (GOTV) methods in Norfolk City kept the GOP in the race in the first place -as a modest four percent increase in this precinct would have put the election out of Republicans’ reach.

“For both parties, failure to apply GOTV models throughout the entire district had significant and negative consequences,” MRF’s analysis reveals.

What other lessons can be drawn from this race?

Click on the analysis below to find out …


GOP’s “Black Outreach” Faces Daunting Odds

There’s an article out this month from Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins detailing efforts by national Republicans to mitigate their longstanding inability to attract black voters.

“The RNC has hired at least 42 black and Latino field representatives, spreading them across the country in key states with the mandate to lay a permanent groundwork for future Republican candidates,” Coppins reports. “They have recruited local surrogates, identified sympathetic business organizations and churches, and organized grassroots voter contacting. At the national level, (RNC Chairman Reince) Priebus has spoken at black colleges and given interviews to minority media outlets, preaching a gospel of inclusion and diversity.”

Will it work? Recent results would indicate the GOP faces long odds.

Market Research Foundation has conducted extensive research and analysis in the wake of the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election – which took place months after the GOP announced its latest “outreach” efforts. The Virginia race produced a mass mobilization of black voters in key Democratic strongholds – boosting black turnout by 25 percent from the previous gubernatorial election (actually matching the 2012 black turnout for Barack Obama’s reelection).

Blacks voted 9-to-1 in favor of Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe – carrying him to a narrow win over GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

Over the last half century, black support for Republican presidential candidates has never topped 15 percent. And even with high black unemployment and stagnant income growth in 2012, black voters still turned out in droves for Obama. In fact for the first time in history, black turnout as a percentage of eligible voters topped white turnout (66.2 to 64.1 percent) in the last election – and only six percent of those voters chose Mitt Romney.

That’s the definition of monolithic …

How Deep Can The Web Drive A Message?

Internet advertising is an essential component of any modern candidacy or campaign. But how deeply can the web really drive a message all by its lonesome? And what circumstances are most advantageous for such penetration?

According to an analysis conducted by the Market Research Foundation (MRF), targeted Internet advertising to a “clearly defined geographic area” can indeed give candidates a measurable advantage – assuming such an investment hinges around a pressing local issue.

“The use of local issues to reinforce an over-arching theme can produce significant support,” the report found.

How significant?

Take a look …


That’s a map of Prince William and Loudoun Counties, where MRF performed an internet penetration experiment during the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election.

“Beginning the second week of September, MRF, in cooperation with a 501(c)4 organization, ran extensive internet advertising aimed at registered voters in the affected areas,” the study reports. “The advertising was across all mediums including mobile devices and included embedded video as well as links to webpages and linked video. A total of 3 million impressions were registered over the course of seven weeks.”

The ad focused on the proposed Outer Beltway, a planned road with extensive local opposition, and the failure of Democratic candidate Terry McAullife to take a position on the controversial project.

McAuliffe narrowly won statewide, yet his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli registered a marked uptick both GOP and Democratic-dominated precincts where the Outer Beltway internet ads were running. And since neither campaign ran any paid advertising related to the issue, we know the impact came from internet ads – which “elevated an issue that had previously only been simmering.”

To view the data for yourself, click on the link below …


2013 Virginia Election: Turnout Analysis

How did ethically challenged Democrat Terry McAuliffe manage to eke out a narrow victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial election?

According to a new turnout analysis of the election conducted by the Market Research Foundation (MRF), the real question we ought to be asking is “where” McAuliffe eked out his win.

Or rather where Cuccinelli lost this race …

As expected, McAuliffe and the Democrats scored huge wins in the eleven Virginia jurisdictions with high concentrations of black voters. That’s not surprising – even in an off-year election.

These jurisdictions gave McAuliffe his net plurality of 228,147 votes.

(Click to enlarge)

mcauliffe plurality

What was very surprising, though, was the depressed level of GOP turnout. In thirty-eight GOP-dominated jurisdictions, turnout was unchanged from 2009 to 2013 – resulting in lower net gains.

“It is no overstatement to say the GOP campaign left the victory (on) the table,” the report concludes.

What could the GOP have done to turn a 2.5 percent defeat into victory?

Click on the report below to find out …


Don’t Snooze On This Study: How Sleep Impacts Turnout

A rested electorate is a motivated electorate – or so concludes a new study by Iowa State University political scientist Robert Urbatsch. According to Urbatsch, the awarding – or withholding – of an extra hour of sleep not only impacts turnout at the macro level, it has a discernable impact on the ideological composition of those who show up to vote.

Published in the March 5, 2014 edition of American Politics Research, Urbatsch’s findings showed increased turnout in years when November elections take place after the conclusion of daylight saving time. Democrats enjoy a slight edge in those races, whereas Republicans enjoy an advantage in elections held prior to the time change.

How much of a bump are we talking about? Using state-level voter turnout data from 1971-2011, Urbatsch concluded that “having an extra hour in the day just before the election again associates with more voting,” by an average of 4.5 percentage points. Data gleaned from the American National Election Study over roughly the same period – from 1972-2008 – also determined that “a clock change made just before the election associates with a higher probability of voting,” this time by 2 percentage points (when controlled for other influencing factors).

Companion research done in Indiana – which until recently had some of its counties on daylight saving time and others on standard time – also revealed “an approximately 2.5 percentage point increase in predicted turnout” when voters had an extra hour of sleep.

Obviously the impact of a good night’s sleep has no bearing whatsoever on absentee ballots and early voting – meaning the modest outcomes observed by Urbatsch are likely to yield diminishing returns in future elections.

Still, it’s clear there is a cause and effect at work – one savvy organizations would be wise to leverage. Count on MRF to explore optimum ways of doing just that as we incorporate these findings into our research.

In the meantime to view Urbatsch’s study for yourself, CLICK HERE.