A reliable source reported this week that Dan Liljenquist’s Senate Campaign is now using State Delegates as guinea pigs to test negative ad messaging in preparation for a now unlikely primary fight against Senator Orrin Hatch.
Last week a State Delegate in Cedar Hills was contacted by Lighthouse Research, a marketing firm retained by the Liljenquist campaign, about participating in a political study. They promised to pay him $100 for his participation in the study. Once he arrived at the location, he observed that there were around ten other state delegates present, all of whom received the same offer. The study was stages in a room with a one-way glass mirror on one wall behind which those who commissioned the study could watch audience participation and gauge reaction to the various messages they would be exposed to.
The “study” began with a poll asking which Senate candidates the delegates would support. After thi, deletates were made to watch a commercial by Orrin Hatch and to provide feedback. The delegate reporting said that the moderator acted surprised when he said he rated the Hatch a 9 out of 10 stars (Note: this is NOT a best practice for focus group moderators because it tends to lead participants in one direction or another). After explaining his reasoning for the high score (he said Hatch “nailed it”), the “study” continued.
Next delegates were made to watch two commercials for Dan Liljenquist. the first showed Orrin Hatch a few decades ago talking about the evils of the huge national debt. Next it cut to a clip of Hatch more recently saying the same thing only with a bigger number. the commercial ended with “it’s time for a change.” When asked their opinions, the reporting delegate said he pointed out the obvious; that the ad focused exclusively on Hatch and didn’t say anything about who Liljenquist was.
The next ad was then played and although less negative and focusing more on Liljenquist as a candidate, the delegate reporting said it STILL didn’t explain who Dan Liljenquist was. In fact, he said, the entire tag-line of the video was wrong because “It’s Time” is still a subtle reference to Hatch and did not focus enough on who Liljenquist was.
Finally participants were made to listen to 12 negative statements about Hatch and to report whether each statement made them more or less likely to vote for Hatch, or whether they had no effect. There were actually 13 statements to be evaluated, but the reporting delegate said that question #12 was scratched out for some reason.
After the focus group was completed, the moderator told the group they could collect their money and go…not reportedly nobody stood up to leave. When the moderator asked why, they replied that they wanted to know who had commissioned the focus group. The moderator reportedly replied “would you be angry if we didn’t tell you?” to which the participants unanimously replied “YES WE WOULD!!!” It was then revealed that the group commissioning the study was in fact the Dan Liljenquist campaign.
I don’t have a problem with focus group testing as a general rule because I’ve used it and recommended it so many times in my career as a marketing analyst, but this particular test bothers me.
- First of all, I don’t think it’s proper or ethical to use active State Delegates in a focus group of this sort (one that tests negative messaging about an opponent) only three weeks before convention.
- Second, I think it’s questionable whether it is proper to pay state delegates for this kind of testing so close to convention, whether negative messaging is being tested or not.
- Finally, I think it’s disingenuous of the Liljenquist campaign to commission this kind of study only days after a now infamous “push-poll” was executed by an unknown party throughout the delegate community which Dan Liljenquist himself denied responsibility for. Dan has assured me personally that his campaign was not engaging in negative campaigning and I find it astonishing that only a few hours after I received those assurances form the candidate, that his campaign was found to be testing precisely the sort of messaging that he denied to me they were using.
I’m glad to see that the Liljenquist campaign has decided to start ‘testing’ their negative ads before they release them to the public, but I wish they wouldn’t use active state delegates in such testing. I think it hurts the election process as well as Dan Liljenquist’s credibility.