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Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Puppies, Or, Hillary’s Math

 I am constantly reminding everyone who will listen that the centrist leaning; non-Party affiliated voters who occupy the “gap” decide Presidential elections.

All evidence suggests this will again be true in 2008. To take it further, in many constituencies, gap voters will determine Congressional races as well.

Here’s why:

From a risk/reward perspective, changing the minds of the “hard” voters on either side of the electorate through persuasion is often not worth the challenge.

To illustrate the inherent difficulties in moving voters from either fringe, I humbly offer the “Puppy Theory of Political Persuasion”:

1) There is a percentage of the population who will not object if the President were to eat a live puppy on national television, as long as some explanation for the behavior can be provided (“The puppy was a threat to National Security!”).

2) Alternatively, there is a percentage of the population who would not give Mr. Bush credit if he personally ended the Iraq War and cured AIDS, both on the same day (“He’s still in the pocket of Big Oil!”).

Is Clinton also affected by this calculus?

Can we quantify the population at either fringe who find her objectionable beyond all persuasion, or will support her no matter what?

To put it another way, can we put a number to Hillary’s Puppy Factor?

While I don’t feel capable of providing such answers at this time, I do have ideas that could stimulate the analysis.

First, I think the measurement of “non-objectors” (point 1 above) is easier for Mr. Bush than it will be for Clinton. This is because Mr. Bush has seen the enormous drop in his approval ratings over the past 5 years, which have apparently stabilized since about the fall of 2005.

The principal issue driving these numbers, I think we all agree, is Iraq.

Since the news from Iraq has continued to become worse, but the approval rating is basically stable, I submit that we are fairly close to identifying Mr. Bush’s non-objector Puppy Factor as being somewhere around 35%.

Second, there is an additional Puppy Factor, the “non-creditors” (point 2 above), which I submit is more difficult to measure than the non-objectors, unless the candidate being measured can post an upward trend similar to Mr. Bush’s downward measurement.

Should Clinton, or Obama, or others find themselves moving dramatically upward, that measurement, for that candidate, may reveal itself.

Finally, why does all this matter?

If elections are won in the gap, then the larger the gap population, the more likely a centrist candidate can effectively harvest votes from that group. Conversely, a candidate facing a smaller gap will have to harvest from a smaller universe of available votes, a tougher proposition.

Of course, another option in either case is to attempt to attract prior non-voters.

Historically this tends to yield less efficient results than harvesting known voters, which means knowing the Puppy Factor, for these candidates, can provide an indication of how much additional effort they will need to win an election.

This means if the Puppy Factors for candidates are known, each can adjust their efforts in gap outreach for better results. It will also be easier for analysts to evaluate each candidate’s potential electoral success in 2008 and beyond.

The Puppy Factor ©.
America’s newest political metric.
Look for it in an election coming to you soon.

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