In the political campaign industry, victory and defeat are measured definitively, often cruelly, in a snap on one night. "You either win or you lose.
Unlike horse racing where you can bet to place show, in campaigns, there are no ribbons for second or third place. Only winning counts.
A spectacularly good or bad season can make or a political consulting career.
Last November 8th was one of the most important mid-term elections in American history. Political consultants, their clients, and their wins and losses are a very important part of the story of that historic milestone.
It's never easy evaluating political consultant wins and loses. Most people who've tried are now selling aluminum siding.
Even just presenting consultant client lists with wins and loses must be presented carefully - and read with caution, keeping in mind certain inherent limitations:
National trends. In a widespread partisan thrashing, it is often difficult to judge the performance of consultants who either rode the tidal wave of public sentiment or who were swallowed up by it. In 1994, this clearly worked to the benefit of Republicans. Poor Democrats! Many of them labored creatively and competently on behalf of their causes and candidates and have only battle scars and losses to show for it. Of course, similar twists of fate have helped Democrats in the past, too - such as in 1982, 1986, and 1992 - when some of them were able to claim far too much credit for wins that were born out of far bigger national trends.
Whodunit. Campaigners who play supporting roles in winning races bask in the same glory as do leading men and women. Unlike the Academy Awards, campaign won-loss records can't easily distinguish between the two because internal political decision-making doesn't occur on-screen. The level of credit or blame any consultant deserves for a win or loss is rarely measurable. So as read these records, remember: they do not tell the whole story.
Apples and oranges. Beating an entrenched U.S. Senator or big-name Governor in a nationally-watched, multi-million dollar shoot-out is not comparable to easily re-electing a county clerk over minor opposition. Even though all campaigns seem like epic struggles to those who are involved, strategic complexity and demographic difficulty, or lack thereof, are factors that cannot be ignored. That's why it's not always fair to compare one consultant's big, tough wins to another's small, easy ones.
Victory isn't always what it seems.Let's face it, a losing campaign that started off on the downside of a 10:1 polling deficit and ended up a mere point or two short of victory against a strong, better financed opponent, is arguably a superior effort than a winning campaign that was furl for an "unbeatable" incumbent who frittered a 40-point lead into an election day squeaker. One candidate may be a loser and the other a winner, and that's certainly the bottom line when it comes to taking the oath of office, but the campaigns - well, that's not so clearcut.
The pollster's lament. Some pollsters only crunch numbers for clients, and because of that, have little to do with a campaign's ultimate success. On the other hand, many pollsters play pivotal roles in the development of campaign messages and strategies, providing prescriptive recommendations. Unfortunately, you can't tell the difference by reading a client list.
Pinch-hitters. On occasion, consultants are fired because they haven't done a good job. Other times, they're fired because a moronic client doesn't appreciate quality work. Here and there, they may even quit, sometimes out of principle, sometimes out of a desire to scram before the bottom falls out. Who knows which side of the story to believe? Even when consultants and clients are on the outs, many still maintain mutual protective pacts of silence. This is a messy area.
When consultants didn't complete campaigns but played important roles long enough to properly place them on their records, we did so; when it was clear that consultants played major roles but not through to the end, we so noted.
The road not taken. Consultants win races, candidates lose them. That's what losing consultants say, anyway. (Their clients, mind you, see it somewhat differently.) Nevertheless, there may be some truth to that. More than once, a smart consultant has advised a campaign to do or not do something, the advice is not taken and, as a consequence, the race is lost. In all fairness, losses shouldn't necessarily connote consultant incompetence, nor should wins necessarily imply consultant brilliance.
Something else to remember: some races are just not winnable, no matter how good the campaign. Like an uncontested divorce, losing isn't always a matter of fault.
Finally, there's the Pinocchio syndrome. It is not uncommon for consultants to conveniently forget losses. Campaigns & Elections solicited information from thousands of sources. including the consultants themselves, and employed every reasonable and fair method possible to verify that information through an exhaustive series of double and triple checking. Even with that effort - which did, indeed, uncover dozens of examples of duplicity - it is difficult to catch every omission or questionable inclusion.
For all of these reasons, the following won-loss records better illustrate consultant success than skill. And even within that limited function, the notion of success is still a subjective matter not easily given to precise mathematical quantification - which is why we do not add up wins and losses into a neat and entertaining, but often unfair and deficient, boxscore.
So why do consultant won-loss records at all? The answer is simple. People have a right to know. Whether it's a candidate searching for a consultant or a student researching a dissertation or a reporter checking out somebody's background, this is extremely rich, practical information and a fertile field for serious analysis.
In this issue, we present won-loss records of general, media, and polling consultants. In the April issue of Campaigns & Elections, we will present the records of direct mail, telephone, and fundraising consultants. The latter group, which includes many firms that played critical roles in electing and defeating candidates and ballot issues, also encompasses many firms that provided only technical services that may have had little to do with ultimate victories or defeats. For these firms, we will differentiate between technical and strategic and creative services.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group