The Complete “Barack Obama, John McCain, Politics, Presidential Election 2008 and Political Websites 19 Aug 08 (080829)” Arc

Note: This was originally a two part arc, now all is here so enjoy and tell your friends.

Barack Obama, John McCain, Politics, Presidential Election 2008 and Political Websites 19 Aug 08 (080829)

This post continues my analysis of 2008 US Presidential election campaign websites. You can find a complete list at Politics. I’m going to start with a historical analysis of the campaign sites and bring things up to date. It’s going to cover several posts, so enjoy the ride. I know I have so far and I’ve only written this one in this particular series.

One of the things I’m always intrigued by is how messaging changes (if indeed it does) as campaigns move on through time, get their rhythm, find their stride, etc. For example, has the messaging changed since our first peek at campaign websites in this election cycle?

It’s not what they say, it’s how they say it
Perhaps you’ve known someone whose positions you agree with even though you don’t like the person, or you like what they have to say and wish they’d use a little more tact in saying it? Politicians (more correctly, political speech writers) spend a great deal of time saying things just the way (they think) you want to hear it.

Given that a politician changing his or her stance in the middle of an election cycle would definitely make things interesting, I doubt it’ll be done. Intentionally.

What they can do is change how they say it. This happened rarely if ever during the 2004 campaign season…except when the national conventions were being televised. The change in President Bush’s campaign site changed (literally) overnight and didn’t change back until the convention was over. The major change? Everything was geared to getting eyeballs from the computer to the TV.

So let’s take a look at how messaging has changed over time this campaign cycle thus far…

Saturday, 10 Feb 07

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Senator McCain’s homepage on Saturday, 10 Feb 07 was a study in shades of gray. It was communicating using what we recognize as a V16 style (These people need to have information presented to them in pictures, charts or graphs, they finalize their decisions by using internal dialog, they need information framed in a positive manner before they can accept it and they have no sense of time or process). For those of you following along with Myers-Briggs concepts, NextStage’s V16 covers ISTJ and ISFP personality types.

At that point in time the number of people in the US who would respond positively to V16 messaging was 0.

[[(sorry, we didn’t keep an image)]]

What else was the homepage saying about candidate John McCain?

Depending on who contributed most directly to the look and feel of this page, the strongest message of these was that Senator McCain had a vision for the country, followed by a belief that he was Presidential material and could lead us to a better place.

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Who was the homepage appealing to gender-wise? It was designed to favor a male audience by a 69/31 ratio.

Tuesday, 6 Mar 07

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We next visited Senator McCain’s site on Tuesday, 6 Mar 07. A few more colors are being used.

I don’t remember if what he was saying changed. I do know how he was saying it shifted considerably. In one month the messaging went from v16 to K9 (These people prefer to experience something firsthand before making any decisions about it, they are hesitant to attempt anything new, they are convinced by arguments which end with a warning about what might happen, they make decisions which favor avoidance of future problems rather than acceptance of future rewards). Do remember this describes the type of person who’ll be most receptive to what’s on the homepage. There is no attempt here to indicate a candidate’s personal or political beliefs or ideology.

Again, for those keeping track via Myers-Briggs, the site is designed to appeal to ISFP and ESFJ personality types.

[[(sorry, we didn’t keep an image)]]

What about messaging?

Here is an interesting thing. I don’t remember if Senator McCain’s platform changed, his politics changed, his “what he was saying when he said it” changed. What I do know is that his messaging (at least on his website) changed greatly. Before whoever had control of the homepage’s look and feel believed Senator McCain could lead us to a better place, but was he Presidential material? Was he electable?

In one month’s time someone (with their “hands at the wheel” so to speak) decided he definitely was.

And here it’s important to recognize that changes in percentages tell only a part of the story because it’s not only how you say it, it’s how “loudly” you say it.

There is (in the concepts at work here) something equivalent to a very bright light shining in someone’s eyes, shouting in someone’s ears, tapping them repeatedly to get their attention. This bright light/shouting/tapping is very specific to western culture and shows up often in marketing and advertising directed to the western trained mind; confidence is demonstrated by brightness, loudness, action. These things signify boldness, a sense of having nothing to hide.

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So was the new homepage shining a light, shouting and tapping vigorously? Compared to the 10 Feb 07 site it certainly was. In most cases the intensity of the message doubled or tripled with some messages being fairly “shouted from the rooftops”.

One thing to note is the change in the “I Have a Vision for This Country” message. It’s intensity decreased by more than half. Perhaps those in charge of the website, Senator McCain or his advisors lost their focus or decided having a vision for the country wasn’t as important this time around?

[[(sorry, we didn’t keep an image)]]

Gender-wise, the site changed little if at all; it was 69/31. Now it was 68/32.

Thursday, 22 Mar 07

Just over two weeks later and another major change to the look and feel of the site, yes? Senator McCain is back to being front and center and now he’s in color. He is “in the flesh” as it were, a real person with real possibilities, perhaps?

Gender-wise the numbers had not changed in the two week interval. They remained at M/F 68/32.

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Messaging-wise, we see a return to the relative values and style (a return to the V16 messaging style) of Saturday, 10 Feb 07. Things like this cause me to wonder, “Wha’ happened?” What caused the change over such a relatively short period of time and what brought things back? Did a new web team come on board and then get released? Did a new marketing or advisory group take the helm only to be cast out a few days later? And why?

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These types of questions can often be answered when you look at messaging intensity. Here we learn that messaging values have returned to near 10 Feb 07 numbers but that intensities are now weaker than they were before.

Again, I don’t remember what was happening about this point in time. Seeing changes like this my thoughts tend to be

  • Some kind of push was made, some distinct effort, and that the results weren’t those wanted, hence a return to what was working before
  • An announcement was made — think of a new or upgraded product release — and once made things went back to the way they were
  • Somebody did something and got caught

That aside, the brain perceives gestalts non-consciously, determines if anything requires attention and if so promotes it to consciousness so we can focus on it. The gestalt here — whether intentional or otherwise — is that Senator McCain is a quiet, humble sort of fellow, likeable and honest, a “speak softly and carry a big stick” kind of guy.

Barack Obama, John McCain, Politics, Presidential Election 2008 and Political Websites, part 2

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Starting with Senator Obama’s homepage on Saturday, 10 Feb 07…

Saturday, 10 Feb 07

Senator Obama’s campaign website homepage was communicating using a V15 style (Myers-Briggs equivalent is ISFJ). Senator McCain’s site was using a V16 style. What’s the difference?

V15 V16
  • These people make decisions based on what they see, picture and charts are strong influencers
  • They have a poor sense of time or involvement
  • They are more apt to believe and accept negative statements
  • They tend to become confused when time-factors are demonstrated as important to a decision
  • These people need to have information presented to them in pictures, charts or graphs
  • They finalize their decisions by using internal dialog
  • They need information framed in a positive manner before they can accept it
  • They have no sense of time or process

First, there’s several dozen more elements to each communication style, what I’m sharing here are just the tip of the iceberg. That offered, we often tell web clients that all they need concern themselves with is the tip of the iceberg.

What are the substantive differences? Recognizing that they share similarities, the Obama site was going after people who needed some finger-pointing before they were willing to get involved, almost a “Come on, people. Wake up! This isn’t your fault unless you’re not willing to do something about it” whereas the McCain site was communicating “Think about it. Here are some ideas on how to change things”.

Presidential Messaging

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At this point in time Senator Obama’s strongest messages were that he had a vision for this country and that he could lead us to a better place.

Hmmm… you know, it never occurred to me to look for a “My god we’re in one heck of a hole and I don’t know anybody who could get us out of this one” message. Might be a fun exercise in my copious free time to work out the math…I wondered about that because, looking at the strongest messages in this particular homepage, I thought “well, yeah. Of course those will be strong messages. Duh!

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Remember my writing previously that messages are one thing, the strength of the messages is another? Let’s compare the relative intensities with which Senators McCain and Obama were broadcasting their presidential messages.

What we see here is that Senator Obama was (depending on how you want to spin it) either working much harder at getting his message out or he was shouting much louder.

What’s most interesting to me, however, is that both candidates (at this point in time) are pretty much not listening and definitely not listening to “you”, the voting public (or anybody else, evidently). This is interesting to me because not listening to voters’ concerns was one of the most distinct downfalls of the candidates in the 2004 campaign season (as documented in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History).

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What about gender?

The Republicans have been calling Senator Obama a celebrity and rock star for quite a while now although I don’t know if they were making their claim at this point in time. Based on what the Republican and McCain sponsored ads are demonstrating, I believe part of the “rock star/celebrity” claim is Senator Obama’s appeal to a female audience.

Though not appealing to a predominantly female audience, back in Feb 07 Senator Obama’s website’s gender appeal numbers were excellent in the sense that he was appealing fairly equally to both men and women. Difficult to do and nicely done.

Tuesday, 6 Mar 07

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A little less than a month later and the Obama site is still reaching out to a V15 audience. The relative messaging (percentages of total message) didn’t change all that much. He’s still broadcasting the same messages at about the same strengths relative to each other. Nor, for that matter, did his gender appeal change that much. It went all the way from 53/47 to 52/48 M/F, not enough to be concerned about at this level of inspection.

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The fact that the gender appeal has remained relatively stable for about a month does indicate that there’s more intention (if not method). It’s very impressive if intended and still impressive if it wasn’t as that close a gender appeal is usually difficult to do without lots of work (and training).

Who’s Shouting the Loudest?

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According to [[(sorry, it’s as gone as the original blog)]] WindKiller’s comment on my previous post, Senator McCain’s homepage at this point in time coincided with his announcement that he was officially running for US President. That is borne out by the numbers in this chart. He’s fairly “shouting at the top of his lungs” (not a judgement, just a comparison) compared to Senator Obama’s homepage, especially the “I Have a Vision for This Country” message.

Again (and I think noteworthy), note that neither candidate is neither listening nor listening to “you”. In fact, it appears their both not listening at about the same level. This is interesting to me from a marketing perspective and especially as I tend to view comparisons like these to analyzing competitive marketing campaigns.

At this point in time it seems that listening to the general public wasn’t something anybody thought worth doing, or at least not worth emphasizing.

So much for “your opinion counts”, huh?

Thursday, 22 Mar 07

A little over two weeks later and so little has changed communications and messaging wise on Senator Obama’s homepage that I am strongly reminded of the 2004 campaign; so little changed day to day that its monotony became mind-numbing (to me, anyway).

The homepage still communicates best to a V15 audience, the gender appeal is still 52/48 and the Presidential Messages numbers have changed so little as to be inconsequential.

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However, the Obama homepage’s consistency can be a good thing for audiences that like consistency (note that V15‘s aren’t necessarily motivated by consistency. The Obama homepage was being “out shouted” by the McCain homepage briefly and when compared to the McCain homepage for Thursday, 22 Mar 07, the Obama homepage is definitely stating its purposes more clearly to the largest possible audience.

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NextStage’s Token Republican Calls McCain a Raging Duopolist!

First, the original title for this post was “Barack Obama, John McCain, Politics, Presidential Election 2008 and Political Websites 13 Aug 08 (080813)” and I welcome comments on my thought processes based on that title. Even as I wrote it I was amazed at what it was revealing about me and my decision making processes.

What’s amusing is that most people aren’t aware of what’s influencing their decision making processes, political or otherwise. For example, the word choices and order above demonstrate that I prefer place more than time and that I like to push myself through difficult situations if I know there’s safety, solace and surety on the other side (ie, I’ll tolerate storms if I know smooth sailing follows). Want to know how you think? Add a comment and I’ll let you know.

But enough of that. What’s this post really about?

I’ve been thinking it’s time to put up some posts about the 2008 Presidential campaign sites. We correctly predicted political outcomes months in advance in 2004 and during the 2008 primaries (see links below). One of NextStage’s developers, Stonewall, sent me an article that turned into Stonewall’s Findings: The Genetics of Politics and today I read Voting: In Your Genes? in the 25 July 08 issue of Science so I guess it might be time.

What follows is a brief, high level analysis of the John McCain and Barack Obama campaign sites for 13 Aug 08. More analyses may follow. Depends on the response I get to this one. And how the mood strikes me.

[[sorry, we didn’t catalog an image for this]]

We used our TargetTrack [[Note: The results here are now in NextStage’s Political Analyzer Tool, which is available to NextStage Members]] on three webpages. One was Senator McCain’s homepage [[not]] shown above.

There was a big of discussion when it came to Senator Obama’s homepage. Was the actual homepage a “splash” page or an “index” page?

This was something that came up during the last Presidential campaign cycle. I don’t remember which candidate(s) had a page before the official site homepage, only that we had some very intense internal discussions on what constitutes a “homepage”.

For NextStage’s purposes — we deal with human perception and how people interact with information in their environment, remember? — we decided (okay, I decided) that the first page a visitor comes to is de facto the homepage of the site.

[[didn’t keep a copy of this one, either]]

Thus, the first page a visitor to Senator Obama’s site will encounter as of this writing is [[not]] shown above. A probable second page is [[not]] shown below. Careful readers might think I got things a little mixed up on a quick read. The largest visual element in the image above — a screenshot of Senator McCain’s homepage — is Senator Obama.

This caused confusion in more than one of us and before we performed any analytics. I actually called Senator McCain’s headquarters to ask them a) was that intentional and if not b) someone had hacked into their site. Not only is the largest visual element Senator Obama, the framing text in the visual field is “FAN CLUB” and “The Obama FAN CLUB”. That text is so large in contrast with the rest of the text that it’s doubtful the rest of the text will be seen.

[[don’t got this one, neither]]

And I’m not here to tell the candidates’ web design team how to improve their sites. What I am here to do is document some high level aspects of what our TargetTrack tool determined about each of these pages.

I’ve documented elsewhere the ten messages we look for in Presidential material (see links). How each page breaks out is given below:

Page Messaging as Percentages
Message McCain Obama Splash Obama Index
I’m Presidential Material 14 12 7
I’m Electable 13 13 16
I Have a Vision 9 10 9
I Have a Vision for this Country 30 24 24
I’m Listening 3 6 5
I’m Listening to You 3 6 5
I Can Lead Us to a Better Place 16 14 21
I Can Get Us Out of this Problem/Trouble/Mess 5 8 6
I’m a Good Person 4 6 5
They’re Not Good People 2 1 1

Understanding the Chart

The numbers above are an indication of how strongly a given message comes through on a given page. These messages are delivered mostly non-consciously via colors, images, font size, so on and so forth. What’s most important is that people’s responses to these messages are the basis for the conscious decisions they’ll make. Do the candidates or their site designers know they’re placing these non-conscious messages into their sites?

It’s not likely and that’s where the real danger comes in. For example, I doubt that either Senator Obama or his site designer wants “I’m Presidential Material” to be one of the weaker messages on that site’s “homepage” especially when the McCain site broadcasts that message almost twice as strong.

Similarly, all three pages devote a about a quarter of their energy to conveying the message “I Have a Vision for this Country”. Good thing, yes, and no page conveys that the candidates care very much about you, the voters’, opinion (the “I’m Listening” and “I’m Listening to You”) messages.

Clearly, Senator Obama’s index page conveys “I Can Lead Us to a Better Place” more than any other.

What else is of interest? Senator Obama’s index page coveys a lower value for “I’m Presidential Material” than it does for “I’m Electable” by better than a 2:1 margin. A possible interpretation is that whoever had input to the site design thinks Senator Obama is electable, yes, but doesn’t believe he’s Presidential material. At least at this point in time.

The McCain effort re Obama doesn’t come off as such until cognitive processes kick in (the 2 for “They’re not good people”. This is an indication that the negative message isn’t working at a non-conscious, “priming the mind to agree” level.

What are the real issues for the people having a say in these pages? That’s demonstrated where the numbers vary greatly; “I’m Presidential Material”, “I Have a Vision for this Country” and “I Can Lead Us to a Better Place”.

Aside from that, the McCain homepage is going to cause a lot of initial confusion. Consider the following exchange I had with NextStage’s token Republican.

I don’t think this is going to work for McCain.The tv ad is the same way. McCain is making this election a referendum on Obama rather than a contest between too candidates. The tv ad calls Obama the biggest celebrity around with photos of Paris Hilton and someone else followed by a shot of Obama and a cheering audience. Basically, it seems McCain is campaigning on the basis you can vote for Obama or against Obama. Apparently you check off “McCain” if you are voting against Obama. Maybe it is the evolution of politics. How many times have we heard we are voting for the candidate we hate the least? It has seemed to me that candidates that make a big push in the fall get elected.

The fall push thing probably as to do with what’s called “working memory”.

Remember when Nader and Perot gained a push by announcing candidacy late in the summer/early fall? Maybe McCain has decided not to put himself out there until the fall instead of letting the public stew on him over the course of the summer. When you have a wealth of options for marketing and a fully functioning duopoly, so that the worst you can finish is second, nothing seems like a bad idea.

What a quote! “NextStage’s Token Republican Calls McCain a Raging Duopolist!”

Crap, that’ll get me arrested

Oh, you know that’s going to be the post header! Crap, I’m laughing just thinking about it.

I think it is a moral imperative to make that the post header.

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