Republican Candidates: There’s a Trump Effect (and How to Handle It)

Republican candidates – especially congressional, state legislative, and local ones – go up and down with his number.

For the remaining tens of thousands of Republicans affected by Trump’s every move in the polls, there are ways to use his base but also expand yours.

But you need to get in the field with a survey ASAP to get some questions answered.

Set Your Baseline

We polled for a Republican candidate in a very red congressional district in the South in early October. His number (and Trump’s) looked great. The Democrat opponent was basically unknown. Trump led by 38pts, and our client was up 46pts. Respondents self-selected that they “always or usually vote” Republican 52%, Independent 21%, and Democrat 22%. Things were looking good.

Then Donald Trump / Billy Bush video bombshell exploded.

Fast forward a mere eight days when we surveyed again. Trump’s favs dropped 8pts and unfavs rose 7pts. Our congressional client fell with Trump; his favs dropped 8.6pts. The head-to-head ballots reflected this – Trump lost 7pts and our guy tumbled 11pts. Key to this change wasn’t a bad sample. The frame of race, age, gender, and party matched up perfectly to the first survey. Moreso, “always or usually vote” only moved to 49% Republican, Independent stayed the same, and Democrat inched up a couple points. This was all within the margin of error from the first survey, but the Republican freefall still happened (is happening).

I realize this is a long, nerdy-number story to tell. However, it reiterates the need for a baseline survey. If you haven’t conducted one since early October, do it now.

Test Message Options

You accomplish this by testing messages related to the decoupling. Look no further than the second highest elected official in the land (sorry Uncle Joe) – the US Senate. As of today, Republican US Senate candidates are outpolling Trump. Why? Because they convinced voters to vote for the candidate, not today but months ago.

That was only possible by finding issues that matter to voters in their state and defining their campaign on those issues, not what’s happening at the top of the ticket. It’s not too late for you to do the same.

Find the Swingers

Obviously we had an 8pt swing in this particular congressional district we surveyed – a la new swing voters. Based on the match back to the voter file, this contingent of voters that dropped off Trump and our client should be reliable Republicans with some moderates mixed it. The only way we could have know this is by polling, and polling more than once.

The surveys allowed us to define in clear usable voter data terms who the candidate needs to reach to bring them back on the team and what messages will get those voters to return.

Once found, dedicate resources to get the prodigals to come home.

Adjust Key Strategies

With a solid empirical understanding of “what the crap happened,” now you fix it.

I won’t pretend to completely understand your race, district, or numbers, but there are several things to look at when adjusting strategy.

  • Digital Advertising: This is one of the most nimble tools you have, just don’t make the mistake Procter & Gamble did in getting too targeted and nuanced. Maintain a healthy balance. Focus on the key demographics like gender, age, and family status.
  • Canvassing: Don’t tell me doors in your district are going unknocked! Phew. You are out canvassing. But it’s a waste if you’re not using a canvassing tool like Polis or Ground Game. Focus your volunteer resources on going back to the households of voters that match your “swinger” profile.
  • Television: Time to recheck your buy. Do your TV show and cable network choices still make sense considering who’s slipping from your base? Are you still reaching late choosers?
  • Phones: Yes, you can/should use paid phones for ID and persuasion. Also look to your volunteers to do calling on a system like CallFire’s predictive dialer or a VoIP system like Tele-Town Hall offers. If your brow furls when I say volunteer, you can even outsource this function to a grassroots phone firm like Mine Creek Strategies. Focus your firepower on the “swingers,” undecideds, and mixed-party households.

Last Not Least

Don’t dismay. Those that sow will reap a reward. You have limited time to do this though, so get on the phone and get a poll in the field. Keep your head up and turn on the afterburners. It’s go time; we can and will win this!