Connecting with Voters in Presidential Campaigns

Led by IOP Fellow Maralee Schwartz

"Only connect."- E.M. Forester

Those two words appear on the title page of E.M. Forester's novel "Howard's End," and is the central theme of the book. As a political reporter and editor, "only connect" has served as a metaphor for how I frame the coverage of presidential campaigns.

We will explore the various techniques that campaigns use to create connections - personal, technological, strategic. And we will look at the obstacles they face.

Connecting is not just about winning. In the process of trying to connect with voters -creating enthusiasm and loyalty-candidates also reveal their core values and provide insight into how they would govern and lead.


September 27: Study Group Overview

Character and biography are central to presidential politics. While it is important the candidates have plans for health care, the economy and war,- it is at least as important that they wear well with the public--that they are perceived as authentic. Do I want this person in my living room for the next four years? Voters have to be comfortable, but also have confidence in the candidate.

In other words they have to like and to trust. We will explore how candidates make that connection.

October 4: Connecting through Biography

Speakers: Lois Romano, veteran Washington Post political writer whose specialty has been candidate biography, including a major biography of George W. Bush in 1999. Melanne Veveer, Hillary Clinton's chief of staff in the Clinton second term and current campaign adviser.

Examine how a candidate's biography and his or her presentation of it is critical to connecting with voters. The more a candidate bases his or her primary message on biography the more vulnerable that candidate is to any aspect of that bio being attacked. You can describe yourself the way you wish, but so can the other side.

October 11: Figuring out the Voters

Speakers: Anna Bennett, Democratic polling firm Bennett, Petts & Normington, a key pollster in the 2006 campaign for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Chairman Rahm Emanuel; the firm was responsible in helping elect two dozen Democrats last year to the House and Senate. She also was part of the polling team for Clinton/Gore.

A closer look at how polling and media are used to determine the most compelling and effective way a candidate and campaign can connect with the voters needed for victory. We will look at how campaigns develop message, how they determine which voters should be targeted, and through what medium the connection can best be made.

October 18: The Press: facilitator and under-miner of connection

Speakers: Adam Nagourney, NYT chief political correspondent
Dan Balz, Washington Post Chief Political correspondent

A candidate's ability to connect with voters is dependent on the press-that means the ability of a candidate to control his or her image. Once the narrative is locked in, it is very hard to get it moved.

October 25: The WEB: Creating Connections

Speakers: Liz Spayd, Editor,, and former Washington Post assistant managing editor National News 2000-2006
Steven Smith, Web coordinator for the Romney campaign

To what extent has Web revolutionized the way candidates connect with voters? Hillary Clinton, for example, announced on the web. We will look at how much the web creates the ability to make direct connections, manipulate a candidate's image and to organize and build social networks.

November 1: Reaching voters through Surrogates and Advisers

Speaker: Mary Matalin, Long time Republican campaign adviser to the Bush (father and son) campaigns. Senior adviser to Vice President Cheney in the first term. Currently, advising the Fred Thompson campaign

Can a surrogate --be it your spouse or your preacher--connect with voters if you can't go there yourself? Whether calling on family member, a lawmaker, a preacher, candidates employ surrogates to rally constituencies, to draw their portrait, to get out the message that the candidate cares about blacks, women, cancer -- and to discredit charges that the candidate doesn't.

November 8: Youth Vote: The biggest challenge

Speaker: Tom Freston, founder of MTV Networks, and creator of Rock the Vote and Choose or Lose campaigns; most recently CEO of Viacom

In many ways, younger voters have the most at stake: long-term financial and personal security. But they often are the toughest to get to the polls. How do older candidates connect with younger voters, and then get them to vote.

November 15: Connecting Through Images: From the Photograph to YouTube

Speakers: Prof. Kiku Adatto, lecturer on American culture and scholar in residence at Harvard Humanities Center. She is author of ´Picture Perfect: The Art and Artifice of Public Image Making,.” Her new book Picture Perfect: Life in the Age of the Photo Op will be published by Princeton University Press this spring.

Political image making past and present with special attention to the rise of photo op politics and how it is expressed in the new media, and its impact on voters –and the candidates. Often it is the image that is most remembered: photos of Michael Dukakis in a tank and Youtube video of John Edwards combing his hair.


Speaker: Maralee Schwartz