The Blog

Make Pro-Abortion Extremists Play Defense

10:01 AM, Jan 22, 2014 • By MARJORIE DANNENFELSER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

These results clearly showed that by going on offense on abortion and exposing his opponent as extreme, Cuccinelli could have not merely energized the base, but also turned suburban women, independents, and undecided voters against the Democratic candidate.

After commissioning this extensive survey, we dug deeper by conducting two focus groups in Loudoun County, a key swing area in northern Virginia. Our first focus group was with Republican-leaning independent women, and our second was with Democratic-leaning independent women.

With both groups, we outlined each candidate’s actual position on abortion, without bias, and asked each to identify who they believed was the abortion extremist. Republican-leaning women said it was McAuliffe; the Democratic-leaning women labeled both candidates extreme. The focus group exercise reinforced the findings of our poll and proved the abortion issue could have been a net-positive for Cuccinelli.

Following our polling and focus groups, we aggressively got the results into the hands of the Cuccinelli campaign, the Republican Governors Association, the Virginia Republican party, and outside groups interested in the race. What feedback did we receive on this solid data? None.

The SBA List charged forward, spending the bulk of our resources making direct contact with voters – reaching over a million by phone and nearly 70,000 at their front doors. Our message was to expose the extremes of McAuliffe’s support for abortion on demand, up until the moment of birth, including sex selection and taxpayer-funded abortions.

Weeks after Cuccinelli’s loss, a column published in Campaigns and Elections magazine confirmed the essentials of the SBA List’s strategy. The outcome of the election could have been different if those calling the shots in the GOP had worked with us to play offense on abortion and spent more of their own resources spreading the same message.

Experimental research by Evolving Strategies and the Middle Resolution PAC found that what most moved voters away from Terry McAuliffe was detailing his extreme pro-abortion position:

“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… 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.”

The authors emphasized the urgent need for the Republican party to aggressively cull and refine dynamic voter data through experiments. Data-driven campaigns, they argue, built out through a system of creative targeting and messaging tests, must replace the GOP’s preferred strategy of targeted silence the last several cycles. Blindly following the gut instinct of the consultant class to ignore social issues is failing miserably. More resources funneled towards an aggressive pro-life message could have made the race winnable.

The evidence suggests the other side had similar data that it didn’t ignore. Schaeffer and Smith pointed out that the narrowness of the race was a surprise for nearly everyone, save perhaps McAuliffe’s own data team. It makes sense now why, just as Cuccinelli was making a comeback in the polls prior to Election Day, the Democratic party of Virginia launched a deceitful robocall campaign. In an effort to suppress the GOP base vote, the call went out to conservative, pro-life voters alleging – of all things – that Cuccinelli was not truly pro-life.

The data-backed evidence is clear: Abortion can be a winning issue for pro-life candidates. Going into 2014, will the GOP’s consulting class finally take notice after two losing cycles, dominated by the war on women narrative?

As long as abortion continues in this country, so too will the restlessness in the hearts and minds of Americans. The issue will not go away until the injustice itself is ended.  The good news is that a huge opportunity awaits the candidates, consultants, and party prepared to fight.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers