According to MSNBC.com, thirty minutes after the debate last night the Obama campaign released a statement that contained a transcript of the CNN comments that Obama was the winner among the focus group in New Hampshire. Here is the transcript:Â
Wolf Blitzer: Mary Snow is out in Manchester, New Hampshire, the state with the first primary watching this with some voters who are undecided, Mary, and what kind of sense did you get from those voters?
Mary Snow: Well, Wolf, there’s a surprise here tonight. We’re here with 24 Democrats, independents, who thought that Senator Hillary Clinton would be the best performer here tonight, but the results that we just got in, this is a focus group; show that Barack Obama got the most favorable in terms of the best performance from the 24 people who are here tonight. Of course, it’s unscientific and coming in second senator Joe Biden and third John Edwards. Again, this is all unscientific results from this focus group, but clearly throughout this debate Senator Barack Obama was showing some favorable responses to his answers. Some of the things that he got favorable responses were when he talked about fighting lobbyists, particularly on health care. Wolf.
I would caution people not to read too much into these focus groups. They are not meant to provide a gauge of overall candidate strength, just the popularity of certain phrases. Focus groups are perhaps the second most unscientific way of measuring a candidate. They really donâ€™t go any deeper than like or dislike, because when a candidate says something a group member likes, they turn their knob higher, but if something is said that they donâ€™t like, they turn the knob lower. Campaigns use focus groups to test out phrases and sound bytes, and it is no surprise that candidates like Obama and Edwards would do well on this test.
The focus group is really nothing more than a measure of gut reaction. Sen. Hillary Clinton isnâ€™t personally liked as much as Obama and Edwards so it makes perfect sense that she would not do as well. The Obama campaign really shouldnâ€™t be touting their popularity among a focus group. Obama is running as the political outsider who is going to bring change. However, touting your success among focus groups lends to the impression that he is just another slick politician courting public opinion and telling voters what they want to hear.
The Obama campaign went down this path because they were making the points that their candidate is the most popular and he won the debate. In many ways, the campaign is still looking for credibility among voters. They want to translate their fundraising success to votes, but this kind of thing makes him look like a pandering liberal, and if he wins the nomination that is exactly how his Republican opponent will portray him. Obama doesnâ€™t need to prove that people like him. He needs to prove that he can win primaries. Picking winners and losers in these debates is a purely subjective exercise, but a campaign can undermine their own image while trying claim victory if they arenâ€™t careful. To me, the Obama campaign, which has already made mistakes in the past, needs to be more careful.
Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com. Â His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics
Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse