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Mellman on Word of Mouth in IA/NH

Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race

In an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times, Democratic pollsters Mark Mellman and Michael Bloomfield presented survey data they collected in Iowa recently showing that "what people say to one another can be as potent as what TV advertisements try to make them think." They found, in particular, that voters who transform themselves "from mere 'talkers' into advocates" were particularly important to the Iowa candidacies of Mike Huckabee and John Edwards:

Whether by chance or design, such citizen advocates created the explosive growth in support for Mike Huckabee and sustained John Edwards, even as both were vastly outspent by their opponents.

Our polling found 23 percent of Republicans were advocates for Mike Huckabee as against 16 percent for Mr. Romney. At 30 percent, Mr. Edwards had the most word-of-mouth advocates among Democrats by a narrow margin, which explains how he was able to remain competitive in Iowa despite his financial disadvantage.

Tonight, a special bonus. Mellman sends along a PDF release with results from two new, just completed surveys of likely Democratic and Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. Some highlights:

Now, in New Hampshire, it is Obama being further buoyed by the greatest net positive talk—23 points more than Clinton and 11 points more than Edwards. Clinton continues to generate significant negative comment. Indeed, almost 70% more Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire are speaking ill of Clinton than of Obama or Edwards. [...]

The only Republican generating truly positive buzz in New Hampshire is John McCain, whose net positive talk score (+38) more than doubles Mitt Romney’s (+15). Rudy Giuliani is at just +6. Interestingly, while Mike Huckabee has generated substantial discussion in New Hampshire as a result of his Iowa victory, much of it is negative, so his score is just +2, with nearly as many GOPers speaking negatively about him as positively.

Mellman informs the survey has no sponsor other than his company.

 

Comments
Jeff Winchell:

Interesting survey method.

But kind of stupid to include Thompson and Giuliani and not include Paul (who will trounce Thompson today, and perhaps even get Giuliani once again).

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Jack:

Mark,

This survey has a serious latent variable problem. Isn't what people talk to each other influenced by what they hear on media (not paid media)? We know that Obama has gotten excellent positive coverage in the media and Hillary negative coverage. How do you control for that effect in a survey like this? I think that the effects the survey is reporting is just an instrumental variable for the positive media buzz. If for instance, a candidate, received negative media coverage, due to some kind of scandal, then the buzz would be negative. A bunch of people reading or hearing the negative stories would pass them on to their neighbors and friends. That is why I don't think this survey has much independent information.

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Shawn:

Jack:

You have a point, however, the purpose of this type of research is to show the degree of effect of personal talk versus the effect of information simply presented on the news or in paid media.

The parallel in your comment would be do people "listen" more attentively to negative (or positive) information presented by an individual "talker" or to a news or media source.

This study suggests that it is VERY important in people's decision-making what they hear from fellows in their own world, as opposed to third party, media or news sources.

/shawn

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DTM:

Just to toss in my two cents, I am sure the media does play a profound role in influencing what people say to each other. But I am not convinced it is an entirely determinative role, meaning I think people may well sometimes filter the media and generate their own narratives when talking to each other.

This may be a crude analogy, but this reminds me of the effect of word-of-mouth on movie box office. From what I understand, sometimes bad or good reviews can in fact generate bad or good word-of-mouth. But sometimes the critics pan a movie and it nonetheless gets good word-of-mouth and becomes a box office success anyway.

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Many people are just sociable, and want to have something to say. They tend to pick what goes with the worldview they already have, but are likely to fasten on to whatever shiny, attractive objects are put in their path. Both media and word-of-mouth can metaphorically polish those objects or obscure them, making them more likely to be picked up, or less.

If we view it as a purely social behavior - admitedly an oversimplification - we can see that people want to take both things into account: both the acceptable opinions of their own circle and the acceptable opinions of the society at large. They want to influence others, but seldom at the cost of social isolation.

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markg8:

If the word of mouth in NH is Hillary comparing herself to LBJ and Obama to JFK/MLK then I know who the people of NH are gonna pick and it's not gonna be Lyndon.

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