RNC Survey: Dole Suffered From Communication Gap
By Gene Randall/CNN
WASHINGTON (Nov. 20) -- Each election provides lessons for the major political parties, lessons often derived from what went wrong. The day after President Bill Clinton was re-elected, the Republican National Committee had a polling firm calling 1,200 voters nationwide asking how they had voted and why.
A major goal was to find lessons in Bob Dole's defeat. Topping the list, according to RNC pollster Wes Anderson, was a breakdown in communication.
"I think that there was a real failure of message from day one," Anderson said. "There is a real lesson to be learned about the need to, early on, determine exactly what it is that you have to communicate to the voters and never deviate from that."
Anderson said the Dole camp allowed itself to be painted with the label extremist and that, he said, was a big part of Dole's gender gap. Clinton had a 16-point edge among women voters.
Said Anderson: "As long as Bill Clinton was the common-sense, right-of-center, moderate-to-conservative, we had to be somewhat extreme and that perception more than anything else is what hurt us with women."
Dole's campaign centerpiece was his economic plan, studded with tax cuts. Anderson says the symbolism when Dole announced the plan was all wrong. It was a roll-out weighted down by academics, while the Clinton team surrounded itself with working moms, warning the Dole plan would blow a hole in the deficit.
Besides, said Anderson, in a generally good economy, Dole should have stressed values, a view shared by prominent religious conservatives.
"I think it's pretty clear that the Republican presidential campaign suffered from a lack of emphasis on values," said Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council. "All the research shows that's what the American people had on their mind."
The RNC survey also shows a primary election process that is often hazardous to a candidate's political health.
Said Anderson: "Dole came out of the primary process not mortally wounded, but certainly wounded, [and] never recovered."
But, again, the key finding of the RNC survey, he said, is focused on the failure to communicate, which Anderson argues began well before Dole wrapped up the nomination.
"A government shutdown, those things were able to produce the symbolism that said unwilling to cooperate, not willing to meet us halfway, not willing to take... a common-sense road," he said.
The first party sounding board for the RNC report is next weekend's Republican governors' meeting in Michigan. With a number of potential presidential candidates in that group, the findings could be instructive.
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