Tag Archives: Market Research Foundation

MRF Board Meeting: Advancing Innovation


Market Research Foundation is hosting its annual board of directors meeting in Leesburg, Virginia this week.  Last year’s gathering – which featured Victory Lab’s Sasha Issenberg as its keynote speaker – was a huge hit.

Not only did the organization showcase the success of its groundbreaking training programs, but MRF graduates and program participants were able to network with some of the leading figures in their industries.  Panel discussions also facilitated a host of new connections – which is ultimately what this annual gathering is all about.

This year’s event will feature Bob Ellsworth as the keynote speaker. One of last year’s expert panelists, Bob will not only explore the rapidly evolving political applications of big data – he will address how technological advancements are continuing to change the way we approach public policy.

Attendees will also hear from Erin Norman – whose data on lapsed and non-registered voters in Pennsylvania (presented at last year’s event) presaged the shocking Keystone State upset pulled off by Donald Trump earlier this month.

Continue reading MRF Board Meeting: Advancing Innovation

MRF Featured In George Will Column


Market Research Foundation (MRF) has received a nod from nationally syndicated columnist George Will.  In assessing the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, the Pulitzer Prize winner referenced our work in discussing Cruz’s efforts to “substantially reconfigure the electorate.”

“Cruz’s plan for winning the necessary 1,236 convention delegates is an extrapolation from his strategy for winning 270 electoral votes,” Will wrote in his latest column.

Part of Cruz’s reconfiguring and extrapolating?  Targeting nonvoting whites – especially those without college experience.  These are the Americans who sat on their hands in 2012, thus denying Mitt Romney the presidency.  They are also the ones warming to the ascendency of current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who is credited by Will with “energizing people whose alienation from politics has made them nonvoters.”

Should he become the GOP nominee, can Cruz successfully identify and turn out these alienated voters?  Or as Will puts it, can he “leaven the electorate with people who, disappointed by economic stagnation and discouraging cultural trends for which Republican nominees seemed to have no answers, have been dormant during recent cycles.”

That’s a good question – although as we have repeatedly noted, much fertile ground is to be gained via precisely such a strategy.

Citing MRF’s research, Will notes “whites without college experience include disproportionate numbers of nonvoters.”  He then delves into efforts by Cruz’s data scientists to locate these voters and prepare “a package of three- or four-issue appeals” aimed at moving them from dormant to the polls.

It’s a fascinating column highlighting the nuts and bolts of a modern turnout operation – not to mention a broader ideological evolution that deserves heightened scrutiny as the 2016 primary is now in full swing.

To read Will’s column in its entirety, click here …


Oregon’s Independent Streak


Last week this website unveiled a new report looking beyond partisan identification – or the percentage of the electorate identifying itself as Republican, Democratic or (increasingly) independent – and delving into the ideological matrices that drive people’s voting behavior.

To read more about the study, CLICK HERE.  To read the study itself, CLICK HERE (.pdf).

Prior to this nationwide study, Market Research Foundation (MRF) conducted research on party loyalty in South Carolina.  The Palmetto State is reliably Republican – voting for the GOP presidential candidate in the last nine presidential elections.  But South Carolina is home to a strong (and emerging) independent streak – one you can read more about in our report HERE.

All the way across the country is Oregon – a reliably Democratic state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1984 and which elected Barack Obama by 16-point and 12-point margins in 2008 and 2012, respectively.  According to The Oregonian, voter registration in the Beaver State in advance of the 2014 midterm elections has surged to 2.2 million people – a record for a midterm election (and just 7,000 voters shy of the 2012 record).

Naturally record midterm voter registration means an increase in both major party bases, correct?

Wrong.  As Oregon’s electorate is expanding, the share of Democratic and Republican voters is declining.

“Voters who are non-affiliated or registered with one of the minor parties — particularly the Independent Party — now constitute 32.1 percent of the electorate, a record for Oregon,” the website reported this month. “For the first time in at least modern Oregon history, Republicans have now dipped below 30 percent of the electorate while Democrats are at 37.9 percent of the electorate.”

By contrast, forty years ago the independent percentage of the electorate stood at only 4.2 percent.

In red states and blue states – and the “swing states” in between –  there is a clear trend toward voter independence.  Smart campaigns would be wise not just to acknowledge it, but understand the ideological underpinnings of this movement.

Beyond Partisan Identification


Earlier this year Market Research Foundation (MRF) studied partisan identification in South Carolina – one of the key early-voting states in the quadrennial presidential primary elections.  According to our study the Palmetto State – while reliably Republican in terms of the politicians it elects – is home to a large and independent-minded segment of the electorate that does not particularly relate to either of the two major parties.

This month a new study by Norman Analytics – prepared for MRF – discusses party identification at the national level as the 2014 election heads into its homestretch.  It found a similar independent streak – one that could play a pivotal role come November 4.

“Conventional wisdom tells us that Americans are more politically divided than they have ever been,” the study’s authors note. “In reality, most Americans fall somewhere between the two highly publicized extremes and are increasingly abandoning traditional political party labels even if they share an ideology with Republicans or Democrats.”

The Norman Analytics-MRF study – which surveyed 1,508 Americans between September 9-17 – explored participants’ self-identification by partisan affiliation and ideology.  It further explored specific issues matrices – economic, health care/ education and moral –  to determine how each matrix influenced voting patterns.

In addition to discovering a broad swath of pure partisan independents – 45 percent (a number consistent with Gallup partisan ID polling) – the survey identified a decided rightward lean on economic policy.  Republicans and Independents obviously contributed mightily to this lean, but the days of Democrats touting their “big government” allegiance appear to be drawing to an end.

“Self-Identified Democrats are more likely to support liberal economic policies, but even in this group very few unilaterally support specific liberal economic policies,” the study found.

In fact 31 percent of Democrats broke with their party on the issue of government spending – easily the leading “defection” issue (followed by immigration at 21 percent).  On the flip side, thirty-three percent of Republicans were likely to break from their party’s ranks on the issue of gay marriage.

Needless to say these fractures within the traditional party monoliths – along with the swelling ranks of pure independents – provide a fertile landscape for candidates of both parties.  Obviously the conservative economic lean is a potential boon for GOP candidates, but this data makes clear it will only provide an advantage to the extent Republican campaigns are able to target turnout strategies along ideological lines.

The American public is economically conservative in a time when economic issues reign supreme giving the Republican Party an edge in electoral politics,” the authors noted.  “Although at first glance it appears there is a higher incidence of Democrats in the population, self-identified members of the Democratic Party are more likely to be unenthusiastic or partial defectors from the party platform. After accounting for underlying policy preferences Republicans and Democrats start out with roughly equal size bases and Republicans may actually have a slight advantage.” 

But does this base advantage matter for the GOP if its turnout effort is missing the mark?

“Republican campaigns that engage in aggressive turnout efforts while simultaneously highlighting liberal economic stances of their opponents are very likely to be successful,” the authors conclude, adding that successful campaigns will get voters to “support individual candidates rather than the Republican Party or its entire platform.”

In other words touting the Republican brand may not always be the best way for Republicans to gain ground in the current electoral environment.

To read the study in its entirety, click on the link below …


The GOP “Haircut” Theory

gop haircut


This week Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus sent out a blast email warning GOP voters of an organized Democratic effort to suppress their participation in the upcoming midterm elections.  Dubbed the “GOP haircut,” Priebus is referring to a September 10 memo prepared by Democratic strategist Chris Lehane in which tactics for depressing Republican voter enthusiasm in Florida, Iowa and Michigan are discussed.

“It’s the liberals’ desperate attempt to trim Republican turnout at the polls – to ‘degrade Republican performance’ by ‘dampening Republican enthusiasm levels,'” Priebus wrote of the memo. “By spreading misinformation about Republican candidates, the liberals hope to divide our Party in a last-ditch attempt to save theirs – and to force their far-left agenda on America.”

Lehane’s memo – chronicled by reporter Dave Weigel, among others – is a fascinating look at the emerging field of “electoral depression,” or the science associated with discouraging certain segments of the electorate from showing up at the polls. 

Of particular interest is Lehane’s focus on the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli – a race that has been the subject of extensive research by the Market Research Foundation (MRF).

“Republican turnout in the Tri-County (Virginia) area was impacted as the result of revelations about the Republican nominee’s support for an out-of-state energy company over local landowners – while the Republican vote over-performed throughout Virginia in 2013, the notable exception was the Tri-Counties, which underperformed by approximately 11,000 votes,” Lehane wrote in his memo.

MRF identified this suppression effort – and discussed how the GOP could have more effectively responded to it – months ago.

“More aggressive efforts should have been initiated to counteract the overt suppression tactics of the Democrats,” MRF’s 2013 Virginia turnout report revealed.  “For example, attacks in the coal counties on support by Consul Energy for the GOP ticket needed to be addressed in a more assertive action, by local supporters, not by press statements.”

MRF’s research has gone much deeper than that, though.  In addition to addressing the Democrats’ effective regional “depression” efforts, our reports have also documented the GOP’s inability to play the same game – i.e. its failure to engage locally on exploitable issues that could have had a similar net negative effect on Democratic turnout (as a separate MRF report has revealed).

Most importantly, our research also documented how the GOP defeat in Virginia last year wasn’t merely due to stagnant vote totals in certain regions, but rather a larger failure to generate the level of vote growth needed across-the-board.

“GOP turnout was depressed throughout the state,” our turnout analysis noted. “In those counties and cities dominated by the GOP where overall turnout increased by more than 2 percent over 2009, the GOP ticket garnered less net votes than in 2009. And, in 38 GOP dominate jurisdictions, turnout was essentially unchanged from 2013 to 2009, resulting in lower net gains.”

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

This is not to say the same thing will happen in Florida, Iowa, Michigan – or other states – this year.  It is simply a reminder of the importance of not only identifying where one’s likely or persuadable voters are – but where (and how) they are being targeted, as well.

2014: Rise Of The Independents

New Gallup polling data reinforces America’s growing trend toward political independence – and an eroding position for Republicans and Democrats.

According to the latest Gallup data, 45 percent of American’s refer to themselves as independents – up from 33 percent in November 2012.  Meanwhile only 23 percent self-identify as Republicans – down from 30 percent after the last election.  In fact GOP self-identification hasn’t climbed above 25 percent since June 2013.

Gallup found 29 percent of Americans self-identifying as Democrats in July – up one percent from the previous month.

Most concerning for the GOP’s 2014 prospects?  The percentage of voters who describe themselves as either Republicans or “leaning Republican” fell from 44 to 40 percent – while the percentage of those describing themselves as Democrats or “leaning Democratic” also fell, from 44 to 42 percent.

Market Research Foundation’s Bill Wilson recently published this column cautioning GOP candidates against over-confidence heading into the 2014 election cycle.  His points have since been reinforced by Victory Lab author Sasha Issenberg, who has described in detail how Democratic agenda items are being used to blunt GOP turnout.

Among these agenda items?  The minimum wage – an issue Market Research Foundation has written about previously.

The key question among this surge in self-identified independent voters is whether their ideological leanings mirror or contrast with their partisan leanings.  Market Research Foundation has conducted polling in numerous states showing a rise in self-identified “conservative” voters, so look for more specific insights on that question soon.

Magnolia State Musings

The Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate in Mississippi has turned conventional political wisdom on its head – and we still aren’t even sure who won.

As it stands now, incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran enjoys a 7,667-vote advantage over State Senator Chris McDaniel (out of 376,323 ballots cast) – although McDaniel is expected to formally challenge the results, alleging illegal crossover voting by Democrats who already voted in their party’s primary.

Market Research Foundation commissioned an exit poll following the June 24 runoff election between Cochran and McDaniel – conduction in-person interviews at eighteen polling places.  A total of 1,127 interviews were collected from suburban Memphis and the Southern Gulf Coast.

The goal of the survey?  To determine the impact of various media methods on turnout and attitudes – and to assess which media most effectively delivered specific messages to various demographics.

Among the findings?

“Non-college educated white men are more receptive to the message that Congress and its staff are exempt from President Obama’s healthcare law,” an MRF report from Mississippi revealed.  “This demographic is more likely to say Congress and its staff get enough benefits and should pay for their own healthcare and are less likely to vote for an incumbent member of Congress if it is true that they have a special exemption.”

The survey found McDaniel was able to increase his margin among these voters from 51 percent in the June 3 primary election to 66 percent in the June 24 runoff.

“The issue of Congressional Exemption from Obamacare has significant potential impact, especially among White, Non-College voters – the segment of the electorate that has abandoned the GOP in recent years and who hold the balance of power in many jurisdictions in the nation,” the report concludes.

To view the report in its entirety (and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation), click on the links below …



Eric Cantor’s Loss: Not So Shocking?


There’s been a lot of discussion in the wake of U.S. House majority leader Eric Cantor’s “shocking” defeat in Virginia’s seventh congressional district.  Political experts remain incredulous, and the GOP has been ridiculed for its poor polling data in the race.

“This is one of the most stunning upsets in modern American political history,” veteran University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told The Richmond Times Dispatch in the aftermath of the election.

But just how stunning was it? Were there actually signs in previous polling data that pointed to Cantor’s defeat?

Yes …

In a new piece for The Huffington Post, Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman rewinds the clock two years to discuss polling done in the general election on behalf of Cantor’s Democratic opponent, Wayne Powell.

“In June 2012, Cantor’s personal popularity rating was 37 percent favorable, 27 percent neutral, 31 percent unfavorable,” he writes. “The intensity of feelings tilted to the negative side: 25 percent strongly unfavorable versus 20 percent strongly favorable. More voters wanted to replace Cantor (43 percent) than wanted to re-elect him (41 percent).”

Hickman’s polling also revealed troubling trend lines for Cantor among Republican voters.

“Bare majorities of his fellow Republicans gave him passing grades on dealing with the federal deficit, controlling government spending, or reforming Congress,” he noted. “Republicans overwhelmingly (57 percent to 22 percent) thought he was more interested in national politics than issues facing the district. Less than 50 percent believed he would do the right thing for the district when it conflicted with the national Republican agenda.”

A wave was building, in other words, just waiting for the right GOP primary candidate to catch it … and ride it to a victory that was in fact more probable than anyone previously imagined.

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 …


State Of The Media: The Proliferation Escalates

Moving public perception used to be all about delivering a simple, potent message on television.

Today? “It’s complicated.” The ongoing proliferation of media has changed the way messages are crafted, delivered and consumed. Potent messages must now be delivered across multiple media platforms to increasingly divergent audiences. This imposes several new demands – first and most importantly identifying where media consumption is taking place.

According to the latest data from the Pew Center – released earlier this year – cable television audiences continued to see declining viewership in 2013. Combined prime time viewership for the top three cable news stations – Fox, CNN and MSNBC – was down 11 percent last year.

MSNBC suffered the steepest fall, losing 24 percent of its audience. CNN was down 13 percent while Fox was down 6 percent.

(Click to enlarge)

media pew

Local news – which according to Pew remains “the primary place American adults turn to for news” – saw upticks in every time frame in 2013 after five years of declining viewership. Local morning newscasts climbed 6.3 percent, while evening news climbed 3.3 percent and late night news inched up by 0.1 percent.

Of course these increases did nothing to stop the ongoing consolidation of local stations – and the increasingly top-down generation of local content.

“At this point, fully a quarter of the 952 U.S. television stations that air newscasts do not produce their news programs,” Pew reports. “Additional stations have sharing arrangements where much of their content is produced outside their own newsroom.”

Network news saw a 2.3 percent increase over 2012 – with ABC News up 2.2 percent (to 7.7 million viewers), CBS News up 6.5 percent (to 6.5 million viewers) and market leader NBC News declining 0.7 percent (to 8.4 million viewers).

Newspapers saw modest upticks – gaining 3 percent circulation during the week and 1.6 percent circulation on Sundays – although Pew notes “that result is influenced by liberalized reporting rules … and includes both paying visitors to digital platforms and distribution of Sunday insert packages to non-subscribers.”

Speaking of digital, 82 percent of Americans now get their news on desktops or laptops – with 54 percent receiving news on tablets or smartphones.

How much of that content is really “news,” though? That’s a good question.

“In digital news, the overlap between public relations and news noted in last year’s State of the News Media report became even more pronounced,” Pew reported. “One of the greatest areas of revenue experimentation now involves website content that is paid for by commercial advertisers – but often written by journalists on staff – and placed on a news publishers’ page in a way that sometimes makes it indistinguishable from a news story.”

Separating the wheat from the chaff, then, becomes an indispensable skill for practitioners – whether in placing messages or responding to messages placed against them.