"Dispatches from the War Room - In the Trenches with Five Extraordinary Leaders"
3:00 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Washington Press Center. We’re very pleased today to welcome Stanley Greenberg back to our podium. Mr. Greenberg is the CEO of Greenberg Quinlan and Roser and the author of several books. Today, Mr. Greenberg will discuss his latest book, Dispatches from the War Room – In the Trenches with Five Extraordinary Leaders. He’ll start with some opening comments and then he’ll be happy to take your questions.
MR. GREENBERG: Thank you very much. And thank you for the Foreign Press Center for arranging things. But one of the most important is that it’s the only place that has, in effect, a stool for – to help me rise above the podium. I’m sure this is done for the New York group, but I’m delighted to be here.
I’ve been – I’ve come here on a number of occasions to talk, usually about elections and elections in the U.S., which you obviously have a great interest in. The Foreign Press Center was very gracious to be – to respond to the idea of discussing my book, Dispatches from the War Room, which is about five leaders that you’re familiar with, bold leaders who were elected in times of change. You know, it’s a book about their struggle to bring people with them in a difficult period.
I’ll talk – I’ll highlight a few things that cut across this, but try to keep fairly short. I should just note that the book was launched in mid-February. I’ve been on a book tour for a couple of months. My hair was short at the outset of this and has grown unruly. I wasn’t tanned. It’s the consequence of not of – we’ve – in addition to the U.S. part of the tour, we’ve also done a week in Britain, and leading up to this moment, a week in Israel and a week in South Africa, which is – bears responsibility for my tan. Neither the U.S. or Britain has any – I would have come here with a much fairer complexion.
But also seasoned. One of the things I discovered in this process that I’ve managed without design to bring the book out at a time, not just when Barack Obama was elected President, assumed the presidency, but we actually timed the book to his joint session address, when Bill Clinton gave his joint session on his economic plan, and so there was a – there was some purpose in what we were doing. But it was not – we did not realize that when we went to Britain we’d find ourselves in a storm over how Gordon Brown compares to Tony Blair, or find ourselves in the middle of the process of negotiation in Israel and forming a government, and found myself on their “meet the press” answering questions on why he made the decision to join Netanyahu in forming a coalition government, and then nor did I realize that South Africa would call its elections and have its campaign, which is finishing tomorrow.
But I was – found myself, in all of those cases, discussing the current elections, making the connection between what I was finding in this work, in my work for these leaders, to the current campaigns. And I’m happy in the questions to talk not just about these leaders, but obviously things that are happening in those countries, to the extent to which I can do that with any authority.
I wrote this book – I should note that this book has also gotten, you know, two important reviews, the Tom Friedman review of the book on the op-ed page of the Times where he talked about lessons for bold leaders drawn from the book, and then the New York Times book review this Sunday, which was not so friendly but did raise issues that are important about whether campaigns and the kind of campaigns that get constructed create a basis for governance that actually creates a problem for these leaders. And I’m happy to talk about that – you know, that issue.
And also the question on whether the – you know, on whether the – whether consultants who are involved in these international campaigns are bringing ideas that they’re transferring from other countries or whether – one – whether it’s an Americanization of the campaigns or whether they’re simply in kind of mindless fashion bringing over ideas from campaign to campaign to campaign. And again, I’m happy to discuss that.
But I do think – and this – the – this book is, you know, is a narrative. I wrote these as stories with drama. I wrote them to capture the kinds of choices these leaders made in facing the pressures that they did, both that revealed things about them or revealed things about their campaigns, revealed things about what I do. And I wrote it not with – I’m not sure whether the New York Times review knew what to do with this – I did not write this to try to make people like myself heroes in the story. Indeed, I was both critical not just of other consultants, which I mentioned. I was also quite critical of myself and my own role, both in – and so I spent a fair amount of time rethinking, reflecting on decisions that I’ve made, which I’m happy to go into this, but also thinking through more broadly some of the consequences, of what I do.
Israel is an important example of it, you know, so in the Syria negotiations or in the Camp David negotiations, if you were to literally get a leader that was timid and was literal about those polls, you would never have been bold in responding to those peace opportunities if you responded in a non-dynamic way to the numbers. I talked very – I talk in the – I think with great explicitness about Jerusalem. Two-thirds of the country said they would oppose a peace agreement with the Palestinians if it included a divided Jerusalem. When the negotiations were over, a majority supported it. So in a very short period of time, people shifted their views on Jerusalem. And I said in the book, if I can’t believe my polls on Jerusalem, on what subject, you know, do I believe my polls?
So the book is, you know, fairly self-critical, but also critical in general of consulting. But I came away with this more respectful of voters, which was not necessarily where I thought I’d end up. And at point after point, you’ll see in here how – I think how – you know, how difficult it is to spin them on things that matter to them, the notion that political leaders or consultants, on things that matter, can create words or stories that, you know, product a reality, an unreal reality that doesn't affect what’s happening in their lives. It just doesn't stand up. They’re very demanding of politicians, and I think very discriminating. And you can look at the examples.
I came away more respectful of the leaders that I came to know them better through this process than in the campaigns. And you realize – I accentuate this point. The New York Times review focuses on this point. I focused on the fact that I got to know these leaders at this – in a critical election, time of change, where their political project comes to a head. For various reasons, they emerge above the pack, ahead of other leaders, ahead of other parties, and to get the chance to lead. But I get to know them through their political project. And what I discover in their – in working for them, not just in the election but over time – I worked for Tony Blair, you know, through three elections. What you learn through – over time is that there’s personal projects, which sometimes intersects with the political project, but it’s not necessarily the same, and that they’re actually much more complicated on what matters to them, what they focus on. The New York Times critique focuses on the fact that governance is more complicated than campaigning. That’s true. But I don’t think that explains the complexity of these leaders.
The third thing I discovered that surprised me was that these leaders were solicitous of public opinion. And in fact, I respected them more for being solicitous of public opinion, that rather – that their strength did not come from defying public opinion, their strength came from being respectful of it. When I began, you know, I was ready to write about all of the ways these leaders ignored the polls, and I had a list for each of them on areas – big issues that they did not do polling. But that’s actually not where their strength is. That’s not where they’re interested. That’s not where they emerge ahead of – away from other leaders. What’s interesting is how much of Bill Clinton – his passion for engaging with people, understanding, his empathy, the energy he builds from his interaction, you know, with people, how much he wants to read those postcards from people that – from our focus groups, you know, that we would get whenever we did focus groups that – and hand to him, and watch as he read them and, you know, respond to them. And I’ve watched the news stories on Barack Obama on the ten letters they put in his briefing book each day. Very similar to that. There’s a poignancy, as people want to communicate directly with the President. And you discover that a – if you look back historically, you know, at Calvin, Calvin Coolidge or you look at the presidents before Franklin Roosevelt came in, they barely had anybody there to answer a letter. Okay. When Franklin Roosevelt arrived, I think it was 500,000 letters were there for Franklin Roosevelt when he became president. But the whole concept of how do you answer – how do you respond, you know, to this? There are some leaders that have a special bond. It’s part of their – it’s part of their leadership. And they take – all of these leaders had complicated relationships with people. That is, they engaged, they tried to educate, they tried to move people to be with them. It mattered to them whether people respected what they were doing. Sometimes they were educative and hectoring, like Mandela would be - would lecture people on their responsibilities. But they all – but they – their relationship with people mattered to them. It’s different for all of the leaders, but it is a central part of their leadership.
And if we look back to our presidency, if you look at Abraham Lincoln and how much he immersed himself in public opinion, or Franklin Roosevelt, you look at the leaders who have done some of the boldest things, tried to bring people with them. And we’ve just been through a George Bush presidency in which their defiance of public opinion they view as their character as leaders defines them. George Bush and Dick Cheney repeatedly say, we don’t find our vision in a focus group or in a poll. We don’t find our direction in a poll. It doesn’t matter when people don’t support our policy, they said. And I believe they felt that. They did not feel an obligation as leaders, once they lost support, to find a way to bring people back, to bring people with them, to engage in ways that they brought – instead, they dug in. And I think that affected their leadership and the policies they chose.
And we look at Barack Obama, I think we’re looking at someone who understands that his bond with people is central to his leadership.
And the last thing I’ll say, and I’ll stop and go to questions, all these leaders crash. All these leaders, no matter how popular they are. I was just in South Africa. Probably Nelson Mandela more than any of them had the stand – had the legitimacy, the high standing, the high popularity rating, but he crashed. Ordinary voters were very angry, angry at the lack of delivery, the broken promises, the failure to change people’s lives. And he had to win them back. And he succeeded, and he was able to build a narrative, engage, and bring people back. But they all lose people. And usually, it’s on the economy.
I look at – we’re going to move to 100 days on Barack Obama’s presidency. He’s going to have approval ratings over 60 percent, probably personal favorability ratings in the high 60’s. I – he will crash. There will be a point where this will falter and the issue – and then the question will be, can he bring it back? Can he build a narrative with people that engages them and explains why things have not changed as much as he wanted, that there’s a way forward? I have confidence in him, but I’m sure that he will crash, like the others.
All of these leaders – let me close with this. All of these leaders are more popular outside their countries than in. That includes Mandela, it includes all of them. All of them are more popular outside – includes Tony Blair, includes Ehud Barak. And I – one of the things I had to try to deal with in this book tour, and I’ll go to Argentina in June as – you know, as a further part of this, of the unfolding of the book. All of them are more popular outside. And part of what was interesting was the openness of people in all of these countries to revisiting these leaders and learning about them. They were all going through various kinds of tumult and change and peril, and all of them are trying to understand what kind of leaders succeed, what kind of leaders can make it, because there is a sense that there – that people’s lives are caught up with the success of the leaders in these countries.
Particularly now, we have a politicization produced by this financial crisis as markets have failed and leaders, political leaders, have had to step forward both individually within countries and collectively across country, and so there is – politics matters more because of what – what is happening.
Actually, what I’ll close with is also is that Barack Obama matters a lot in this process. We’ve been through, in the U.S., a very cynical period. And it’s not obvious that when you have a change election, when the economy is in trouble, that you’ll also have a hopeful election. Frequently, people have angry elections that are change elections, which we’ve seen in many places in the world. It depends on the leaders, the choices they pose. And Barack Obama is obviously able to create a sense of hope and change that he brings to the presidency and reduce, in some sense, the level of cynicism about leaders.
I don’t think this book would have gotten the reception that it’s gotten, I don’t think people would have revisited the discussion of these leaders, unless there was a generalized kind of reduction in cynicism, and a willingness to see whether leaders can make the right choices that could help the country.
I also found in South Africa that when I talk to the – all of the activists that I talked to involved with both the ANC campaign and the Cook campaign and Democratic Alliance, they all thought turnout was going to be increased tomorrow. Now, from the outside as I looked at and from my reading of the election, I said, I can’t imagine that’s true, given how – given everything, the corruption, given everything that’s going on, that’s hard for me to believe, but they all thought it. And what they pointed to was the increase in registration that’s taken place.
And the – and the other thing that’s happened with the increase in registration when asked – when people were asked why they were registering: Barack Obama. DA, Democracy Alliance, said that the most frequent reason that people gave for when asked, well, why they were registering, was because of Obama. They felt like they had to be part of it, that they had to be engaged. It’s crazy, but there is an effect of his assuming office here. It reverberates out through the world, it impacts the reception and the issues being raised on the book and the treatment of his leaders. And I have no doubt that as we watched the hundred days, but as we watched the unfolding of what happened with this presidency and what’s going on in the financial crisis in the world, we’ll see an evolution of politics and we’ll see an evolution of how people view leadership. Thank you very much. I’m happy to do questions on anything. (Applause.) MODERATOR:
Okay. We’ll open it up for questions. Please wait for the microphones on either side of the room and state your name. QUESTION:
My name is Francisco. I’m from Brazil. I have two questions here. Should I address only one and then wait for --MR. GREENBERG:
Okay. First question concerns to Bolivia. I watched the movie: Our Brand is Crisis. And in countries that have little information there available to conduct a survey or actually to cross (ph.) results after the survey is done, I’d like to know, how is the working countries, such as Bolivia, where information is very poor – how do you conduct a survey, a successful survey in a country like that?
And the second question, you talked about every leader crashes. I was just – I was going to bring here the case of Brazil, that President Lula has 70 percent approval, even though the country is facing a big recession. And it doesn’t seem that his popularity is going down. So I would just like to know if every leader does crash or if it depends really on the economy or what matters? Thank you. MR. GREENBERG:
Yeah. By the way, every leader crashes, but not every leader comes back. That is, some do. That is some have various scandals or other things that happen or – and there were moments and where there was some question on whether – how he would respond to it, how he – whether he would be caught up in the issues that emerged. And he’s obviously been able to maintain the bond with people. It comes out of his history and how then – how he, I think, forged that bond in his election. I don’t – I wasn’t involved, so I shouldn’t, you know, I shouldn’t go too far with this. But I watched fairly closely. And he obviously had a deep populous support that came out of this history and unique position assuming the presidency.
And they’ve given him a lot of slack. When Bill Clinton, when he built a bond with people, he then went through the impeachment and became more popular during the impeachment. And one of the things I write about is that was one of the consequences of that bond. He was able to become – be a strong leader through it. They were holding him up. They were cheering for him. They were upset about what – his personal behavior, but they saw how the country – the economy had grown in the late 1990s. Incomes were going up for the first time. They thought they were – he was for them. And they cut him space and they held him up. The elites in the press were all, -- were trying to bring him down, but they thought they had obligation to hold him up. And so sometimes these relations – you build these relationships that enable you to finish. He finished his presidency with, you know, great popularity, even though he crashed in many ways during his presidency, but he finished with very high standings. Some of it economy, but some of it the bond he had with people.
The – Bolivia – I was going to mention that Bolivia’s (inaudible) issue, in which I’ve – the only issue in which I had protests at many of the presentations, whether it was in San Francisco or whether in Washington, and I think, on one occasion, in London. So it’s the issue that has caused some stir, because I’m – for those who’ve seen the movie, Our Brand is Crisis, I actually take the – that movie as a point of departure and feel more self-confident of having done the work for Goni in Bolivia. But obviously, it’s complicated. I’m happy to go through it. But I don’t want to concede the point that doing polling is more difficult or less reliable in poor, less literate countries.
The – so what becomes clear in the Bolivian case, but it’s also true in the South African case, when Goni would pass, you know, his prenatal, you know, healthcare, people would know about it. I do focus groups. His job approval rating would go up almost immediately upon its passage. I’m talking about in the poor, illiterate areas. When he would make – increase the gas connections, the perception of it would be very clear, but there would be no change in their support for exporting gas through Chile. And so people were very discerning in seeing some aspects of energy policy that they wanted and other parts which they didn’t, and they saw the progress and they saw – and the other area, where they didn’t want to see progress. They were very discerning of the – what -- of the governmental performance.
And the same thing is true in South Africa. And I went in the most illiterate areas of the country, they knew that they delivered electricity and water, but they knew they weren’t delivering housing and jobs. And when they started to do housing, like month-by-month, you can see shifts in opinion in South Africa as the houses began to be built. So – and I – when I do focus groups at the end of the South Africa election (inaudible) I specifically went to illiterate, you know, rural women, with a group that were holding back from the ANC in the first election. And they had a very well developed set of reasons on whether they could trust him to restrain the violence of the young people. And it was a very kind of focused doubt about the ANC. It was not a lack of information. It was something they wanted reassurance on.
So – and also just – and statistically, the worst polls in the world are the polls in America where, you probably have to do 30 calls before you get a person who agrees to do an interview, combined with the change to cell phones and others. When you work in poor countries, you’re not using phone samples. You’re going to do face-to-face interviews. You get 95 percent or more cooperation rates, people were contact -- it’s expensive. It’s more expense to do. But it is more reliable than the surveys here. So the problems, the issues -- I mean, the issues in Bolivia were the fact that the elections were not necessarily legitimate. That is, there was – you know, there was a small majority that kind of accepted the legitimacy of the democratic process and it was a very large minority that didn’t and fractured into anti-systemic parties. And so that was the problem, not the methodology.
Sorry to take so long. MODERATOR:
Why don’t we go to – we’ll go to New York. New York, go ahead with your question, please.QUESTION:
Hi. I’m Indira Kannan from CNN-IBN India. As you know, India is currently holding its general elections. It’s the biggest democratic exercise anywhere in the world – more than 700 million voters and more than 5,000 candidates from various parties. And India holds periodic state elections at the local level as well. I’m just curious as to why you or any other political consultants from the U.S. have ever explored working in India. And also do you believe that the Indian electoral system would be receptive to U.S. style of political consulting as well as polling? MR. GREENBERG:
It’s a very good – it’s a very good question. I’m in awe of the Indian democracy and how vibrant that it is and how long – and longstanding. And I have – we have a lot to learn from India.
Even though Our Brand Is Crisis focuses on – makes the argument that we were trying to sell an American brand of, you know, democracy, I don’t remotely believe that that’s what I’m involved in. And nor do I view the American brand of democracy as one I want to sell. But I say that with apologies to my sponsors.
In terms of the amount of money that’s spent and the amount of the – and the frequency of elections, but above all, the amount of money, is corrupting. And so a lot of – so that some of the methods, the class of pollsters, media people, very much come out of a system that has a lot of money being devoted to campaign. So that’s why, you know, these institutions have developed.
When I work in other countries -- I’ve not worked in India. I mean, we do have – we did have someone with us, so it was – it was from India, at one point. And we entertained it and would welcome it. And we work in, at any one time, in probably 20 different countries, working on elections. But, when we work in a country, we always work in partnership. We don’t create – I don’t create little companies around the world. We always work in partnership, usually with a party. Usually, we’re working with a party and not just a leader.
There’s usually a set of advisors that we work with. I usually – sometimes, there’s a – the campaign makes a decision that they want to put a spotlight on the American advisors. That happened in South Africa because the National Party had brought in Saatchi and Saatchi from Britain. The ANC wanted to show that they were ready to govern and so they wanted to put the spotlight on the consultants who helped elect Bill Clinton -- were working for the ANC. It happened in Israel where the Labor Party won and the same thing in Italy, where we worked for the center-left, you know, block, where they wanted to show that they were a serious campaign and so they decided to (inaudible). But usually, that’s not what we do. Usually, we’re in background, we work in collaboration.
And I think our message – the most important contribution usually is that we’re an outsider, that we’re not party to all the debates. There’s so much of – and I’m sure this is true for journalists, you know, as well, as you look at trying to develop a storyline. If you have a point of view, a well-developed point of view before you start, it filters information. What you hear in a focus group, what you hear from a voter is affected by – and so, so many people have been – and when we go – come in, we have -- we try to be as open-ended as possible. And so a lot of –we have new learning. And we’re not the only -- rarely are we the only advisors. Usually, there’s multiple advisors. So I think, yes, we’ve been employed in many, many countries, which each case views themselves as unique, though, India is quite extraordinary in it’s uniqueness and the diversity of its democracy. But we can almost always find a way to make a contribution wherever we were. MODERATOR:
Let’s go to the gentleman in the back. MR. GREENBERG:
I think she wants to ask a follow-up. I think she wants to ask a follow-up. MODERATOR:
Go ahead. QUESTION:
Yeah, do you believe that –because that there are so many elections that are held in India, both at the central and state level and especially in the coming years, if India opens up its economy even further, that there could be a (inaudible) for U.S. political consultants to work with the candidates and political parties there? Or do you believe that the system is just completely different to what you are used to doing? MR. GREENBERG:
I mean, we work in so many – I mean, every place we worked, South Africa, where we had to translate into nine languages; Israel believes that their elections are like no place, you know, else; obviously, the – you know, the U.S., but we work in France and Germany,as well; Britain, with a parliamentary system very, very different than the U.S. system, but we are also – have been involved in – heavily involved in Ukraine and Georgia and so heavily involved in Eastern Europe. Very involved in Central America; we were just at the elections in El Salvador. So we’re in very, you know, different, you know, parts of the – you know, of the world with very different systems. So there’s a contribution to be made, some of it in – you know, in the methods, you know, that we use. But it’s usually – they have also the freshness and also, the concept of developing a narrative.
I mean, one of the most important things I think you’ll see in the book is that deciding what the fight’s about is usually the most important thing for trying to impact not just the election you’re involved in, but all the elections down through society. And getting a campaign to focus on defining the election with clarity, you know, so the – I think the South African discussion on Mandela, on shifting from an election about now is the time to an election that – a better life for all was an enormous change in the meaning of the election, what the fight was about, and how that would affect governance. I’m not obviously proposing carrying slogans or ideas, but the idea of focusing on clarity, on the choice and impacting of the elections at all – then take place at all levels I think is an important contribution.MODERATOR:
The gentleman there.QUESTION:
Hi, Toby Harnden from the Daily Telegraph, UK. Why do you think --MR. GREENBERG:
I just spoke to the Telegraph right before coming into this. (Laughter.)QUESTION:
So sorry. Why do you think Gordon Brown is doing so badly in the polls in the UK at the moment? And is there a route back for him?MR. GREENBERG:
That’s – a loaded question. (Laughter.)QUESTION:
And the second question is: Do you see parallels between the conservative party post the ’97 general election in Britain and the Republican Party now? And are there things perhaps that the Republican Party could learn from the conservative experience over the last 10 years or so?MR. GREENBERG:
Right. Good questions, and the – just on the – and I won’t respond to how popular or unpopular Gordon Brown is. It’s not an envious position to govern, either – given the economic crisis and also given the period post Tony Blair, and given how many years they’ve been in office. So it’s obviously a difficult time.
What I did say, and I didn’t talk about it in the introduction but I did – I do write about it in the book. All these leaders that fail – that crash – fail is not the right word, it’s crash – critical to their comeback is an ability to show learning. That is, acknowledge mistakes. I mean, it’s one of the things that’s so striking about Mandela, that when, you know, the – when it clicked on what was happening, on why – that they weren’t bringing the amount of changes that they were bringing, the problems of corruption and crime – and once he was willing to say, we got it wrong – I mean, above all (inaudible) – okay, when he was willing to say, we’ve gotten it wrong, we’ve made – we made a very bad mistake, we have to do this very differently – when people, humble people, see leaders that show learning, they are willing to give them – they give them extraordinary space to – you know, to see whether they can move to a new place.
We try – one of the reasons why I ended up not remaining with Tony Blair beyond the last election was over Iraq and George Bush. You know, I argued in that election that he had to show learning on Iraq or Bush, and there had to be some – that people were not going to listen. They ended up with only 36 percent of the vote and matched their lowest – virtually lowest turnout in history in that election, in part, because I thought they could not – they would not revisit those issues. Now he didn’t do it – he wouldn’t revisit them on principle, you know. It wasn’t because he was lug-headed or stubborn. He didn’t think Britain could have a separation between Britain and the United States, and particularly with George Bush. For his own reasons, he thought that, you know.
But politically, in Britain, they needed to hear some learning, that he learned something from the Iraq experience, that it was some area – I suggested climate change – where he willing to divide from. So showing learning, admitting – either directly or indirectly admitting mistakes is central to getting heard again. I am sure that will be true with Gordon Brown. I’m sorry for the long answer. I don’t – you know, I don’t know when that happens and I’m not even sure this is the moment for it to happen. But as he begins the process for trying to regain support with voters as he moves toward an election, he’s going to have to show learning that allows people to say, “Give him another chance.”QUESTION:
I’m sorry, (inaudible)?MR. GREENBERG:
I think the Republicans are – and I’ll focus on the Republicans because I think they’re doing the opposite of anything I would imagine is the right course for going forward. I mean, the Republicans have done two things. One is they have – they’ve doubled down on their strategy, as opposed to looking like they’re in search of a new strategy, so that they are repeating the same, you know, arguments, messages, policies that they advanced in the election that was rejected by the country.
They – second, they’ve doubled down on their base. That is, you know, they ran a base in a strategy for the presidential election, which they continually try – they chose Sarah Palin in order to try to get their base to be engaged in support of that. And they seem to be believing that’s still what they need to do. And indeed because of the primary process – both, you know, presidential but also for every elected position – because of the primary process, you know, the narrower and narrower base of the Republican Party means that they are continually, you know, rearticulating and in the most doctrinaire way the, you know, positions that were rejected by the country.
And the third is the – that you have the Bush Administration becoming part of the story, which to me is very unique. That is, the – that Cheney in the first hundred days, that Vice President Cheney has come out, become a voice, you know, of the opposition to Obama is like carrying the election, you know, forward, you know, into the administration. And it’s happened on issue after issue. Karl Rove is very prominent as a spokesperson. So you – I think this a sui generis
strategy for recovery. It’s not going to come through these – and there’s nothing new. I mean, the – and if you look at the poll ratings of the Republicans, you know, they are at the bottom of any list. There’s been no recovery for the Republicans since the election because they’re – they have a strategy essentially of, you know, doubling down on the strategy that lost them the election.MODERATOR:
We’ll go right here and then here.QUESTION:
Hi, I’m Hiroki Sugita with Kyodo News, Japanese newswire service. I’m interested in the technology or techniques of the polling. Would you speak a little bit about the development and the technology, actually who did first the polling at first, polling technology? And what kind of development you’ve seen in the history of the U.S. politics? And are there any fields left which should be improved in the polling technology? MR. GREENBERG:
For sure, and in some – the polling has actually gotten better. It’s interesting. Polling has gotten better in the States because of greater accountability. Because as you watch this latest election, and you should compare it with the 2004 – what happened during the 2004 election. You have blogs that are evaluating polls. You have some that are academic blogs that are looking at the real quality of these polls. You have pollster.com. You have – you know, you have a whole series of websites that have debates, that whenever there are polls out there, and if it’s an outlier, an usual – a poll that’s, you know, not following the lines of most of the other polls, there’s an analysis of the methodology.
And transparency, I think, has had – greatly impacted the polling. And so if you look at the polling in this election, it’s quite accurate nationally and -- and by state, and more accurate than 2004. The polling organizations were forced to reveal much more of their methodology, you know, their demographics, their weighting formulas. You couldn’t – you couldn’t put out a poll, and you become under attack and say, I’m not sharing this information. You had to reveal, if everybody else in the country has ten percent African-American in their polls, and you do a poll that has five percent, which is probably the reason why your poll is showing the Democrats not doing so well. You’re now forced to show, you know, what it is – you know, what was the framework for your sample that created that? So the polling is much more closely monitored.
The biggest single problem we have is cell phones, is the shift to mobile phones, cell phones. And we have moved to, you know, cell phone samples. Our national goals all have – now have a – have a cell phone sample in conjunction with the regular sample. But it’s very expensive, you know, to do, and you also – it’s harder to poll over a shorter period of time, you know. So in campaigns, when you need polls for a short period of time, cell phone sample polling is best done over the weekend. But regular polling is best done during the week. And so, if you actually try to bring those together, it’s very hard to match that with the campaign.
But there – there is clearly shifts in methodology taking place. There’s also shifts to database. I mean, this may be – people are not interested in these things, but more and more – there are more and more databases which have both consumer databases -- combining political and consumer databases so the samples are done off of those databases, which means that they are – you have richer information. It’s not where I thought it would go. I thought – if you told me two years ago, I thought I would say, polling’s going to crash. You can’t – we can’t – our methodology – we can’t – people aren’t – taking their phones or they’re screening their calls, that we’re not – that we’re going to reach a point where we can’t – in America, not going to be able to do our polls.
But we’re finding that, you know, with the IVR, the voice recognition and these other automated methods, which I’m very skeptical of. But I can’t – but they are – the accuracy of those, it’s not clear. The – it’s not clear that those aren’t as accurate as regular polls. It’s being monitored and being evaluated, but there’s – but there’s lots of different methodologies that are now being used to try to break through the difficulty of – you know, of getting through answering machines, and other methods.
So polling is evolving. And for the most part, we had more accurate polls in this election than the previous, but with diverse – with blended methodologies is what you – but more costly methodology. MODERATOR:
Okay. We’ll go right here.QUESTION:
My name is Gaston Araoz. I’m a grad student at GW. I had the pleasure to read your book. I really enjoy it, especially the chapter that you talk about Goni – Goni’s campaign. What really fascinates me is the time that you reached – almost one month before election date that you completely changed strategy. You started focusing on jobs, jobs, and you said that it was a counter-intuitive thing to do, the surprising thing, even though the polls were not showing that. Was that a last resource or it was a gut feeling, and how, at that time of moments you – how do you make that decision? And I would like to know, what would you recommend to students like me that would like to go back to Bolivia to apply these tools and become a campaign manager, for instance? What are the things that we should avoid when we go back to our countries in order to apply these tools that have been developed in the U.S.? Thank you. MR. GREENBERG:
Thank you. Good question. I appreciate your reading the book.
I actually am glad you mentioned that example, because I would have – I should have been using that example more in terms of second-guessing my methods, because we try to have surveys that are dynamic; that is, we – we’re not just measuring level of support. We’re testing strategies. We’re testing, if these events happen, if we offer these kinds of plans, these changes happen, if we show this validation, if these people you trust say that these plans are real and we trust that they’re going to happen. Can we move people? So we will ask at various points in the survey, maybe three – maybe two times, maybe three times, we’ll ask, how they’re going to vote in the survey to see if we’ve been able to move the vote with these exercises.
We sometimes see whether we move, attributes, not so much the vote – who do you trust to deal with the crisis, who can fix the crisis in Bolivia? You know, not just who they’re going to vote for.
What we found with Goni was while his – and he – the reason why he had been, why he was able to be elected president in the first place was what he had done as finance minister. He did, I think, extraordinary reforms as part of his first presidency. The – and – which was centered on the economy. And he promised 500,000 jobs.
Now, after he left office, the economy weakened. People thought he betrayed them. They privatized Bolivia’s industry. Foreign – the perception was that foreigners had, you know, come and taken those positions. Now, Goni was an economist, and he firmly believed, and he had studies to show it, that he had created 500,000 jobs. He believed he kept his promise. And it was – but you could not convince him of that. He wanted to convince voters that he created these jobs. But he actually hadn’t -- his lowest credibility was on jobs. We had the candidate they trusted the least on jobs.
What you trusted on was on social welfare. He had created the bonus-all, which would had linked a pension – a – state pension for older people to the privatized industries. And so he – and it was associated with maternal health, infant and maternal health. And so he had – but on jobs, that was the one thing. No. And every time we tested a jobs message, we lost. There was no time we could do it, could create a jobs message. But they were in the middle of an economic crisis. And what voters wanted was jobs. That was the thing they were most interested. And on the merits, we believed in our candidate. I mean, he was the person that had the most economic experience. You had policies that were – that created jobs. And we basically just said, we can’t win. We can’t – under our current strategy, we can’t win.
There’s nothing – we can’t point a direction to winning. And we basically said, just do it. Just, you know, campaign on what you believe in. You know, tell them about the 500,000 jobs. Tell them you’re going to focus on jobs, that we created a whole campaign around jobs. And it moved – it moved it. Our polls, you know – way beyond what our polls would have said was possible. It was out of desperation. But it was – polling was not – obviously, polling is not enough. And even though all our polling said, we won’t listen to you on jobs, when he finally did it, they did listen to him. That’s why we moved up in the polls, because of the focus on jobs.
And so again, it leads to, one, respect the leaders who, you know, have convictions, have a history, have a personal history. Authenticity is critical, and I think that’s what came through – his authenticity on those economic issues. And in the end, they were fearful of the crisis and decided to give him the edge.
I believe in voters. I spent a lot of time listening to voters. It’s not to manipulate them. I spent a lot of time listening to voters. I mean, I’d stand behind a glass in focus groups. I did in Bolivia. I think it’s actually pictured in the book, and I think in the movie. But I spent a lot of time listening to voters and trying to understand where they are, away from the elites, to get them their voice heard.
I resented Evo Morales, because I thought he was undermining a democratic electoral process. Ultimately, he was able to merge. It’s a long history. But the key is, I think, to respect the ordinary citizen and build from there. If you begin there, then you’re able – and, you know, the techniques – if you have leaders that have – the techniques – or, manipulation, if they stand on their own. These techniques have purpose. If you begin with respecting the ordinary voter and one leader – make leaders more accountable to them. And if you work for leaders who have a sense of direction. All of these leaders that I wrote about, had a purpose, had a very well developed world view on what they wanted to do. And to me, the problem is not in our technique; the problem is in leaders who don’t have a sense of direction. So work for people who have a vision or for leaders who know where they – know where they want to take, you know, their countries.MODERATOR:
We have time for one more question, and we’ll go right here.QUESTION:
My name is Kyun Mi Kim and I’m from the Korean Press, Seoul Shinmun. And from this bio I have, you – most of your clients seems to be with western countries, and also, of course, there is from the South Africa and also some Latin America countries. But isn’t there any clients in the Asian countries, for instance, like South Korea or Japan? There is cultural differences or there are political differences that why you are not consulting these Asian countries?
And the second one is about – how about – how would – what’s your position on the criticism about the Americanization of the election campaigns of the other countries? And the last question, which is not about Korea, but is, if you’re – if you had the chance to consult Japanese Prime Minister Aso, who’s now suffering, what would you be or – (laughter) – if you are to?MR. GREENBERG:
Well, just as I – I did try to help out Gordon Brown, though I didn’t comment on his – state of his – his current state. I wouldn’t dare comment on the current prime minister and where he is, though I have read the stories on his standing and the state of his party, so I’m vaguely aware.
We are involved with corporate clients in Asia, in a number of countries. And we – you know, and we have been involved in Asia with a number of clients that I can’t talk about. (Laughter.) But not in – not in Korea, and not in Japan. But we’ve – but we have been involved and are involved in a number of places in Asia.
As you can understand for the reasons you probably – that lie behind your question about Americanization of campaigns, that not everyone wants to talk about the – our role in their campaign. The – I think there – and I don’t think there is a – again, every country – every country is unique. And I don’t think it’s – I don’t think it’s a western – I mean, I’ve done corporate business, research, particularly in China and Japan. And I don’t think there’s a -- I don’t think there’s a western methodology problem that would lead one to not work in these countries. This is – again, this has been corporate research rather than political. People are part of a--are both as consumers and they live in society and they relate to public space in various times. Now, they have different kinds of institutions, different kinds of values. But it doesn’t mean a process of listening to them and trying to mediate between them and leaders isn’t important and valuable and helpful and more – effective in those countries. I don’t see – I don’t see a reason for not being involved there, based on there being a non-western, you know, bias.MODERATOR:
Thank you, Mr. Greenberg. Thank you for joining us today. (Applause.)
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