The Snowflake Issues

Snowflakes are a lot like fingerprints. No two are the same. Their uniqueness is part of the allure. One of my favorite activities in grade school was when the teacher gave us white construction paper and scissors, telling us to cut out little bits to make our own snowflakes. No student did theirs the exact same way, and it was cool to see so many different ones hanging up over our heads for the rest of December.

In politics, however, we’re told something different. There is “conventional wisdom,” facts that remain true no matter what, by virtue of trial and error. This wisdom is brought to us by the Establishment and Consultant classes in Washington D.C. And, more often than not, it’s the conservative ideas that are strangely told are losing ideas.

Take abortion for example. We’re told frequently it’s an unwinnable issue. “Leave our tunnels of love alone” and all that. But, I bet this is not something you’re going to read in the media anytime soon:

Evolving Strategies and the Middle Resolution PAC conducted experimental research that suggests an aggressive attack on McAuliffe for supporting ObamaCare was ineffective at best and counter-productive at worst. An attack on McAuliffe’s business record possibly helped, but was anemic.

What moved the voters most was an attack on McAuliffe’s positions on abortion; a single phone message emphasizing McAuliffe’s support for unrestricted, late-term, and taxpayer-funded abortions shifted support a net 13 to 15 points away from McAuliffe and toward Cuccinelli. The cost per vote here was a remarkably cheap $0.50 per additional vote, and even less expensive still when targeting the most persuadable segment of the electorate.

A topic declared radioactive by nearly everyone, locked away in secure storage behind a blazing Hazmat warning by the Cuccinelli campaign, appears to have been a powerful weapon for the Republican ticket that could have substantially closed the gap, and possibly even won Cuccinelli the election.

This particular article is one of interest to people who follow the strategies behind elections. Often times, we here can be so into the policy that we don’t give a lot of consideration to the actual tactics that go into winning elections. This article, in particular, is pretty damning of the Republican tactics and their lack of random data testing.

Here is the fundamental lesson: We do not know what works until we test it, repeatedly, using experiments. Randomized-controlled experiments allow us to block out all the other noise and pinpoint precisely how a message or tactic changes voter behavior.

The conventional wisdom of Washington D.C., and the Republican Establishment and Consultant classes are a pretty good source of background noise, and relying on them has gotten us into a lot of trouble. As RedState has pointed out before, had we listened to those groups and Ted Cruz and Mike Lee not dominated an otherwise quiet August, you would not have seen such a strong surge of support from the Republican base. Sure, this article casually mentions that the shutdown did affect polling for a while, but not nearly enough and the abortion issue seemed to have closed the gap even more tremendously than we would have expected given the “conventional wisdom.”

What we can learn from this, and what this particular piece goes on to say, is that the Republican political consultants should be testing some of the “radioactive” issues in the campaign, and do it more frequently, because political situations themselves can be very much like snowflakes. Each is different. Precincts can be different. Districts can be different. State can be different. A monotonous campaign is going to have difficulty reaching every possible voter combination it can, and if it fails to catch voter interest (see: 2012 presidential) then it will certainly produce the least possible chances of victory.