Character-Based Candidate Research

GSSR researchers have been conducting research in tough targeted races across the nation for more than two decades, and we bring that winning experience to the table in all of our candidate campaigns to help you develop messages that resonate strongly with voters.

Voters are focused on the character of today’s candidates in a new and intense fashion. Developing character-based message frameworks provides particular challenges to pollsters, who must use polling not only to test specific issue ideas but also to test different characterizations of the candidate’s life and experiences. Understanding this dynamic is critical for your pollster. We have experience developing these character-based messages and we design our surveys specifically for this purpose.

In key election cycles, we have helped Democrats win back control or hold onto control of the legislature in Washington, Oregon, and Illinois. In California, where our contested state legislative campaigns often cost millions of dollars, we have conducted polling in over 75 Assembly and Senate races, including conducting the polling for the Senate President Pro Tem in the top targeted Senate races, and splitting the polling with another polling firm for the Speaker for all the top targeted Assembly races. Thus the top leaders in both houses of the legislature, plus the state Democratic Party, trust GSSR to advise them on their top targeted races. We regularly speak before the legislative caucuses in their political and policy retreats, and conduct candidate assessment and independent expenditure campaign research for the state party on a regular basis.

Ballot Measure Campaigns

Traditionally, ballot measure research has focused on identifying “undecided” voters and the “top” poll tested messages that appeal to them. However, our experience on controversial ballot measure campaigns suggests that this approach has often underestimated the complex stew of attitudes and values driving voter behavior, led to targeting of voters who are not truly available to campaigns as a persuasion audience, and failed to identify and elevate messages that are most strongly correlated with voter decisions on Election Day.

Our winning record on hot-button ballot measure campaigns is the result of our cutting-edge approach to ballot measure research. Our qualitative and quantitative methodologies:

  • explore the way voters situate and make sense of the public debate on their own, outside of an engaged campaign environment;
  • help to accurately identify whether voters are highly likely to end up as supporters, even in the face of effective opposition messaging; or, so strongly entrenched in their opposition that they are not a realistic persuasion target; or, are in the middle and genuinely conflicted (rather than simply “undecided”), and therefore a genuine persuasion target for both sides;
  • identify the values, attitudes, and messages for different voting segments that are dominant in driving voter behavior one direction or the other;
  • and, when possible, uncover the nuances of how potential ballot title and summary language works for us and against us, which can make the difference not only in Election Day outcomes, but in whether a measure makes it to the ballot in the first place.

Furthermore, these research methodologies have value beyond an individual campaign effort. They can also be applied as part of a subsequent modeling and targeting program for clients who want to undertake a voter modeling program in future election cycles.

Changing Minds on Tough Issues

In addition to our winning expertise in campaigns for candidates, we conduct extensive public opinion research on different public policy issues for non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, and ballot measure campaigns. That experience has led us to develop a special expertise in voter attitudes towards a wide range of issues.

Over the last decade, we have developed a whole new approach to public opinion research, message development, and message delivery on these kinds of tough issues. We have perhaps the most experience of any firm in the nation at effectively unpacking emotional reactions and developing effective messaging around socially controversial issues. Our unique approach is based on the latest social science and neuroaffective research, which examines how human brains process emotions, logic, and primal or “gut reactions,” and how these processes influence people’s decision making. We employ cutting edge qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to unpack emotional reactions and develop effective message frameworks for target audiences.

Reshaping the way people think on socially and emotionally complex topics requires a research team whose experience is not limited to that of the typical political pollster. While there are many talented social scientists whose theories deeply inform our thinking and approach, and many talented pollsters with a successful record of winning campaigns, there are very few practitioners who have the experience that GSSR has in employing these theoretical frameworks in both a research and real-world campaign context to generate profound attitude change.