With any election year, pre-election polling plays the greatest role in helping us to understand ‘why’ a candidate won or lost.  As we look further into the data, this year is no different.

Yes, there is a strong argument that can be made of the Republican tsunami fueled by anti-Obama and Obamacare sentiment, but still some Democratic candidates won, such as incumbent Senator Harry Reid in Nevada and newly-elected Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia.  Both candidates survived the Republican wave, but Jari Askins did not.

So, why did Askins lose in a state where Democrats still outnumber Republicans?

  • Fallin won because she used good polling and research. Fallin’s messaging mirrored the political climate, but it also mirrored the Oklahoma electorate itself.  Yes, she ideologically fits the current tastes of the Oklahoma voter, but she also communicated her political views and values better than her opponent.  Candidates who are able to define their opponent better than their opponent defines themselves always win.
  • Askins lost because she didn’t. Askins has been able to win elections in the past by gaining the support of women voters.  This 2010 general election pitted two women against each other, but how women would vote became much less important than how the men would vote.  Askins, even in early polling, was losing 2 to 1 among male voters, yet her campaign messaging “Oklahoma heart and soul” did not seem to be a message designed to appeal to men.
  • Fallin ran a general election campaign. An effective general election campaign must juggle the opposite tasks of energizing and mobilizing your base, plus building a campaign and message that appeals to those of the opposite party.  It could be argued that Fallin benefited from a current Republican enthusiasm already boiling over, but the Fallin campaign understood very well this year’s “Democrat depression,” probably again from polling and research, and capitalized on it.
  • Askin was still running a primary election campaign. Quoted at one point as saying that she was going to run a “high touch” campaign and mobilize different constituencies, like young voters, for her campaign.  The Askins campaign was simply out of touch with the electorate and how to run a general election campaign.
  • Fallin crafted a campaign to attract undecided voters. Although we always had Fallin above 50 percent in every pre-election poll against Askins since the primary, it could be argued that those pushing her over the top, beyond her base, share similarities to those still undecided.  In our last Tulsa World poll released about a week before election, 65% of those still undecided disapproved of Obama.  It’s no wonder that of the 6% undecided in poll, 4 points broke for Fallin ( or 66%) and 2 points for Askins.
  • Askins didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. Of those same undecideds mentioned above, 63% were conservative Democrats.  Askins, who is both a Democrat and conservative, was willing to say she was conservative, but she never strongly separated herself from Obama and the national Democrat agenda. Conservative Democrats in Oklahoma wanted to hear her distance herself from Washington, a key strategy that the Askins campaign could have learned from good polling and research.  Manchin in West Virginia was in a similar situation and took a hard stance against Obama and won.  The “I’m conservative too” campaign just simply wasn’t strong enough.

Bill Shapard is the CEO of SoonerPoll

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