New PSS Research Finds Both Candidates Drowning in a Sea of Negativity/Highlights Risks of Personal Attacks in Debate
Washington, D.C. – Park Street Strategies (PSS) released a pre-debate memo based on a focus group of undecided voters in Tampa, Florida. During the focus group, 29 respondents were asked about their feelings on the state of the race, and what they expect and want to hear in the first presidential debate. The message from this critical bloc of voters was loud and clear: We’ve heard why we shouldn’t vote for the other candidate, so tell us why we should vote for you.
The following highlights five of the eight key insights of what these undecided voters want to see in this first and critical presidential debate:
- Personal & Negative Attacks Will Turn Voters Off: While these voters expect a circus, they also expect and are demanding better. Who does it hurt more in the debate if they both go negative? The group was split nearly evenly between Trump and Clinton, but the majority made clear that it would hurt both equally.
- Tell Me Why to Vote for You: In this first debate, there will be no place to hide, and voters want and expect to hear specifics about why they should vote for each candidate – and not against the other. As one respondent commented, “Don’t tell me what he’s done or she’s done. Tell me what you’ve done.”
- Clinton’s Debate Challenges to Overcome: While these voters clearly see Clinton as the more experienced and knowledgeable candidate already, this is not a résumé contest – if it were, this election would have been over before it started. For Clinton, the focus must be on the voters and on the future, not on reciting a résumé of past accomplishments they already know about. If Clinton can outline her vision in the debate – while still speaking to voters’ frustrations in an impassioned and humble tone – she will move undecided voters.
- Trump’s Debate Challenges to Overcome: Trump must not only remain composed, but he must also provide specific and credible details of what he will do, and how he will do it. For many of these undecided voters, the days of providing empty answers by citing his unrelated business experience, or avoiding the questions entirely, are over. As one voter said, “It comes down to experience,” and others “could care less” about the businesses he built when he discusses this in lieu of policy.
- Who Will Own Their Mistakes and Accept Responsibility: Clinton has an opportunity to effectively address the trust issue, especially if she addresses it head-on. Almost three-quarters of the group agreed as one respondent noted, “I don’t need an explanation of what she did, I just want her to own it and apologize.” Trump’s challenge is arguably far greater, since he seems incapable or unwilling to admit his mistakes. If Trump is incapable of apologizing for such offensive statements, it will speak volumes to such undecided voters about what kind of person he is, and what kind of president he would be.
“If this debate becomes a circus, it will please each base, but it will alienate undecided voters who are sick and tired of the negativity. They want to hear substance, specifics, and a positive message about where Clinton or Trump will lead this country,” said Chris Kofinis, CEO of Park Street Strategies. “Will Hillary seize this moment to highlight her substantive vision, or will Trump try to present a different face to his candidacy? The challenge for Trump is arguably greater given his offensive statements, but both risk alienating this key block of voters if this becomes a 90-minute attack-a-thon.”
The full memo is attached or can be downloaded at here.
Please note: This research was not paid for by any campaign, party, or candidate.
Media Contact: Jennifer Levinton, 202.794.0276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Park Street Strategies is a Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in communications and messaging strategy for a variety of political, labor, and corporate clients.