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One Week to Go: Game Plan for McCain

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(Danville, California)

One of my favorite endeavors this year has been to write columns on what I would do if I were in charge of each campaign. Today I will analyze what John McCain can do in the waning days; tomorrow I will focus on Barack Obama. Despite some big poll numbers for Obama, McCain can still win.

1n 1996, Bob Dole had a great final strategy. He essentially campaigned 72 hours nonstop. He barnstormed every state he could, did a one-hour rally, got back on the plane and hit the next state. Now Dole didn’t win, but it was brilliant. Why? Because it showed his strength and endurance in his 70's, which is what John McCain also needs to do. It was exciting, too, with “live” TV coverage at every stop by some of the cable networks and the locals as well.

Speaking of TV, McCain and Palin really need to forget the networks and to concentrate on local TV. More people get their news from local TV than from any other source. To that end, McCain and Palin first need to split up, then follow one another to battleground states. Campaigning together is a waste of resources in a tight race. You can cover more ground by splitting up, and then having some redundancy.

For example, have McCain campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday; and have Palin visit Raleigh on Wednesday. Have McCain in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday, followed by Palin in Tampa on Thursday. Statewide TV networks share footage, and the closer the candidates are, the more coverage they get. By my strategy, you double your coverage. I would add Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico to this list. Each candidate makes two stops a day, and your entire battleground is covered twice!

Again, the focus has to be on local TV interviews first, the networks second. I know that seems illogical, but more people watch their local news stations. That’s where you want to be.

McCain and Palin need to keep saying “We’re the underdogs!” People love underdogs. I was at a Super Bowl party last year, and everyone was cheering for the upstart New York Giants and Quarterback Eli Manning. No one was cheering for the three-time Super Bowl champ New England Patriots. Being an underdog is a great motivator to undecided and wavering voters, too. Be David, up against Goliath! McCain and Palin really need to sell this! Just look what it did for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She was at her best as a fighting, scrapping underdog! She nearly won!

McCain’s biggest asset is his Congressional experience and his life story as a Navy pilot and POW. He has to really stress these things in the coming days. Attacking Obama over Bill Ayers has run its course. There are no “legs” there! McCain needs to say “I’m a tested, experienced leader, who made tough decisions all my life.” Repeat it over and over and over.

Palin, who is way short on experience (as is Obama), needs to sell herself personally. “I’m a working mom, just like you! I get the kids to school, I buy the groceries, I balance the checkbook; and, oh - by the way - I have the state of Alaska to run as well.” Her appeal has to be more personal than professional, with her short resume. Talk to people on their level. It can work for Palin, as it has worked for Obama.

Speaking of the Illinois Senator, we will strategize his final week in this blog tomorrow! We’ve had a HUGE spike in readership the past few days. Keep passing the word to friends about www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Explaining the Volatility of Polling

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(Danville, California)

An Associated Press-GfK poll this week raised a lot of eyebrows when it showed the Presidential race at Obama 44 percent to 43 percent McCain. “How can that be?” many pondered, since so many other polls had Obama with a much bigger lead, upwards of ten points or more.

As some of my readers know, I am currently working on my Doctorate in Education Leadership at St. Mary’s College of California. A big focus has been on learning how to conduct quantitative and qualitative research, including surveys and polling.

One thing I’ve learned is that no two polls are alike. A lot depends on what questions you ask and on how you ask them. Other factors include how the sample of respondents is chosen.

I raise these issues because of polling discrepancies in the Presidential race, as well as some others. The Minnesota Senate race is a good case in point. With longtime “Saturday Night Live” comedian Al Franken running as a Democrat, it is probably the most talked about statewide race since Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California. Celebrity attracts attention, and attention drives polling. In Minnesota, it’s been all over the map. Complicating matters is independent candidate Dean Barkley, who is consistently polling 15 to 19 percent.

A poll out today from St. Cloud State University has Republican incumbent Senator Norm Coleman up by nine points. But a “Big Ten Battleground” poll taken this past Friday has Franken leading by six points. A Rasmussen poll on Thursday has Franken ahead by four points, but a Survey USA poll from Monday has Coleman ahead by two points.

As I said, the polling is all over the place. Why? Let’s examine a few answers.

“Margin of error” – Look for this in any poll. It’s usually plus or minus 3 to 5 points. Let’s say a poll shows Franken 46 percent to Coleman 42 percent, with a margin of error of 4 points. At its widest, that means Franken could be ahead 50 to 38 percent or, at its closest, that Coleman is actually ahead 46 to 42 percent, given the four-point margin of error.

What questions are asked? – This is crucial. Some polls simply ask: “If the election was held today, for whom would you vote, Al Franken or Norm Coleman.” But if you add information such as “Democrat Al Franken or Republican Norm Coleman,” now you have introduced a potential bias based on political party. The better polls focus on what they call “likely” voters. For example, a person might be asked qualifying questions such as “Are you registered to vote?” and “Did you vote in the last Presidential race?” The idea is to narrow the poll to people who are actually planning to vote, rather than just having people express their candidate preference. With traditionally low voter turnout in the United States, this “narrowing” technique is crucial.

Who gets asked? - I’ve often heard people lament, “No one ever calls to poll me!” It’s a valid point. National surveys might make their prediction based on 1,000 responses in a country with 200 million eligible voters; but if you choose a representative cross section of the public, you can be very accurate. The problems with this are built-in biases. Polling companies often “over poll" in urban areas, leaving rural areas unrepresented. This is why Al Gore was at first declared the winner in Florida back in 2000. Exit polls were heavily skewed to urban areas. When the very rural and heavily Republican panhandle was counted, George Bush pulled ahead. Another big problem nowadays is that many homes have cell phones, but no land-line telephones. Most cell phone numbers are not listed in phone directories, so many of these people never have a chance to get polled.

So when you see a poll talked about on TV or in the newspaper, be a skeptical consumer. The three most important questions are: What is the margin or error? Who was polled? And what were people asked? Most reputable media and polling organizations will report those very issues up front. If they don’t, then doubt their results and call them to complain!

A new poll I conducted shows that 97 percent of Americans simply love the website www.MarkCurtisMedia.com. Just kidding, but check in often!

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