GOPAC Strategy Session Memo

In this strategy session, we are sharing with you key messages on communicating conservative solutions for growing our economy. Recently, BJ Martino with The Tarrance Group gave a polling presentation at the GOPAC 2010 State and Local Summit. Pulling from The Tarrance Group’s public polling and his presentation at the State and Local Summit, BJ’s memo highlights key messages to help guide Republican messaging for state and local candidates in the 2010 elections.

Key Messages to Communicate Conservative Solutions for Growing Our Economy
By: BJ Martino, Senior Vice President, The Tarrance Group

  • In the aftermath of the 2006 and 2008 elections, conservative solutions were never out of style- Republicans were.

    Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters nationwide agreed that “the Republican party has not as strongly fought for less government as they used to,” while just 25% said the party had “remained true to its core principle of less government.” (Tarrance poll for GOPAC, November 2008)

    At the same time, 68% considered government a part of the problem, and when read a series of options for policymakers moving forward into 2009, voters consistently came down on the side of conservatism.

    -82% want “to reduce government spending, and spend what they have more wisely,” while 14% want “to spend more on government projects and programs.”

    -70% want “to grow the economy without more government intervention,” while 23% want “government to take over and control more of our economy.”

    -69% want “government to cut taxes that will help grow the economy,” while 24% want “government to cut taxes only for lower income citizens.”

    -69% want “government to lower health care costs without government control,” while 24% want “government in charge of health care.”

  • Currently, the improving political environment is not yet a Republican ‘comeback,’ but an ongoing rejection of Democrat proposals.

    Our national Battleground polling showed an 8-point Democratic generic advantage in September of 2006. As of our April Battleground poll, Republicans have a 2-point edge (within the margin of error.) The real story, however, is that the change is almost entirely due to the Democratic generic score, which has dropped from 49% to 40%. Meanwhile, the generic Republican score is essentially unchanged at 42% (up 1-point from September 2006).

    While only 36% of voters approve of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, Republican approval is marginally lower at 32%. Even among Republican voters, only 55% approve of Republicans, while 91% disapprove of Democrats.

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Acknowledge voter frustration, and share it. Do not be seen as interested in [re]taking power, but focusing on the issues. Where Democrats are in control, they must be responsible for what has gone wrong. Let them own it.

  • Voters are focused on economic concerns, specifically the issue of job creation. These views tend to lock in over the summer, so barring some major event, jobs will continue to be the primary issue of the Fall.

    Thirty-nine percent (39%) of voters nationwide name the economy and jobs as the most important issue to work on (April Battleground National poll). No other single issue is higher than 13%. The issue climbs in importance with key Democrats and Independents.

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Every issue you talk about must come back to jobs. “Will it create or destroy jobs?” has to be guiding principle by which you evaluate any proposal.

  • Concerns over spending are now greater than concerns about taxes. The concern is strongly top of mind among base Republicans, but reaches out across the electorate.

    In the same issue question where jobs was at 39%, 13% name government spending as most important, and just 4% taxes. When asked about their level of concern about federal spending and debt, 72% of voters are either extremely or very concerned.

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: It is not “tax and spend” anymore, it is “spend and tax.” The issue becomes especially relevant to swing voters when tied to jobs. Conservative solutions with a purpose: jobs.

  • Incumbents and institutions are more likely to be viewed as out of touch.

    Only 24% of voters approve of the job that Congress is doing, in our last Battleground poll. This number had held in the 30s, and took a turn in December of 2009.

    In April, President Obama’s job approval was at 49%. Some public polling has it as low as 41% currently.

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Demonstrate that you are listening to voters’ concerns. Contrast with Democrats as out of touch, not listening, and focused only on increasing spending. Their priorities are out of line with those of voters.

  • While Republicans have regained voters’ trust over Democrats on issues of spending and taxes, we still lag on the issue of jobs and the economy.

    Asked who would better handle each issue, voters nationwide give Republicans a 12-point advantage on “controlling wasteful spending,” an 11-point lead on “controlling the deficit,” and a 28-point advantage on “holding down taxes.” However, the same April Battleground poll has Democrats up 6-points on “turning the economy around,” and an 8-point lead on “creating jobs.”

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Republicans must make clear that we are for less spending and lower taxes because they will create jobs. Link the issues on which Republicans have already established credibility with the issue most cared about.

  • When the fundamental contrast returns to fiscal responsibility as it pertains to jobs, Republicans win. Voters reject Democrat arguments that more spending is necessary, when Republicans push back about the true costs.

    Fifty-eight percent (58%) of voters agree that “the current level of government spending is already unsustainable and irresponsible. This increased government spending has not created jobs, will double the national debt, and will lead to increased taxes on the middle class.” At the same time, 39% agree that “the current level of government spending is a necessary response to save and create jobs, ensure national security, and fight two wars. Once the economy recovers, we will be able to pay down the deficit and the national debt.”

    In polling completed for GOPAC in Wisconsin, for example, Republicans are pushing back against a Democrat tax increase on multi-state businesses. While Democrats used the so-called “loophole” against Republicans in previous cycles, the state is now losing jobs to other states with a better tax and regulatory climate for job creation. When Republicans define those taxes as “job killers,” they regain the advantage with voters. (May 2010 public polling in Wisconsin for GOPAC).

    Also in Wisconsin, the argument that Democrats have raided transportation and health care funding to spend more on education (instead of cutting waste and bureaucracy to put more dollars in the classroom), is also a winning message. The same is true, perhaps more so, when the spending is not focused on job creation.

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Democrats have supported more spending at any cost: a cost to jobs (driven to other states), a cost to taxpayers, even a cost to other spending priorities.

  • While job loss numbers are bad, some voters will blame much of the job losses to national forces. As a result, they may give some state incumbents some benefit of the doubt, thinking that there was little their state leaders could have done.

    In the Wisconsin GOPAC polling, when giving specific examples of jobs and businesses that have left because of a Democrat anti-job environment, the messages scored higher than simply stating that jobs have left the state while Democrats have been in charge.

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Government regulations and taxes that drove businesses to take jobs to other states (local and specific examples) can be more powerful than the overall numbers, and it can overcome the assumption that job losses in the state were only the result of national factors.

  • Even in the face of anti-big business sentiments, voters still hold very favorable views of small businesses and entrepreneurs, who are seen as the real job creators. On the other hand, a majority of voters feel negatively towards union bosses and bureaucrats.

    In a March survey for the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Free Enterprise Alliance (N=1,000 likely voters nationwide, +/- 3.1% margin of error), we asked the voters’ views of several groups. Small businesses were far and away the group that elicited the most positive reaction.

    Positive/Negative Image Scores
    Positive Negative NET
    Small Businesses 91% 2% +89
    Entrepreneurs 70% 7% +63
    Worker Unions 42% 39% +3
    Big Businesses 37% 49% -12
    Union Bosses 22% 52% -30
    Federal Bureaucrats 11% 60% -49

    In the same survey, 90% of voters favored a proposal to “provide a 20% tax deduction for small business income, giving small businesses the ability to grow and create jobs.”

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: Get government (spending, bureaucrats, and taxes) out of the way to let small businesses create jobs. The small businessperson trying to create jobs is the hero. No bailouts for union bosses, and no money for special interests not tied to real job creation.

  • If asked, Republicans can answer questions about health care and education… by talking about jobs.

    In the GOPAC Wisconsin poll, fully 72% of voters statewide said they would be more likely to vote for Republicans who support “reforming our public education system to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math, so graduates will be able to compete in the global economy.”

    In the same poll, 64% were more likely to vote for Republicans who support “reforming the state’s legal system to allow businesses to grow and create jobs without spending millions of dollars on frivolous lawsuits.”

    MESSAGE TO COMMUNICATE: When talking about health care, Republicans are opposed to regulations that prevent small businesses from buying health care for their employees, and make it more expensive to hire new employees. Republicans will stop frivolous lawsuits that make health care more expensive and kill jobs. When asked about education, Republicans will reform education to focus on job skills workers need to compete in a global economy.