The presidential election ballots have been cast and political pundits, many of whom were shaped initially by those in the PR profession, has digested everything that has occurred in the past four years (and perhaps further) leading up to this moment. We now know that Kerry is expected to concede this afternoon.
But PR professionals are paid to know and anticipate what will happen before it does. In a campaign of constant communication, information, and disinformation, certain talking points weighed more heavily than others and it is the political strategists who are held responsible for that.
We asked PR professionals two questions before voting: Who would win, and what did the predicted victor do right, and the predicted loser do wrong, in terms of their communications. Responses are grouped according to whether the outcome will be a Kerry victory, a Bush victory, or undecided as of election night. The respondents emailed PRWeek.com their answers.
Frank Mankiewicz, vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton Washington, DC
"John F. Kerry, will win, probably to be settled Tuesday night. The winning strategy relates to the debates, clearly the turning point of the campaign. The Bush people had been portraying Kerry as wishy-washy, unable to make up his mind or stick to a point of view, and he showed the country just the opposite."
George W. Bush victory
Ben Silverman, columnist, PR Fuel
"George W. Bush will win. Bush was more effective in turning around comments made by Kerry, who had poor wordsmiths, coming up with headlines like "Global Test." Bush had a better campaign PR strategy based on ignoring the past and attacking the potential future. Kerry's team dropped a ball that was rather easy to catch."
"George W. Bush will win. He communicated consistently the strength of his convictions and who he is as a leader."
Ned Barnett, Barnett Marketing Communications
"George W. Bush will win via a clear popular vote and electoral college victory. Bush has maintained a clear and consistent message. Like him or hate him, he's not deviated from his basic stance on the key issues of the day: terrorism, Iraq, and taxes. This means that people concerned for their security in a terror-filled world will have a sense that they can rely on him, even if they don't like him. Kerry, though he won the debates, has been on too many sides of too many issues. Polls show that even his supporters don't really trust him."
Steve Turner, principal of Solomon/Turner
"George W. Bush will win. Bush [became] the lesser of two evils because Kerry's "plans and promises" approach failed to communicate specifically and realistically how he'd move the country forward. He should have talked more about people's pocketbooks, jobs, $2/gallon gas and a bad economy. He never successfully addressed his flip-flopping image and Senate accomplishments. His message never resonated with enough undecideds to win."
"George W. Bush will win. Bush embraced a public that was disenfranchised by the Democratic Party. The WASPs and Irish-Catholics still believe wholeheartedly in more traditional family values, and respect a bolder, more brazen personality. A key characteristic in someone who provides safety is self-confidence and self-assuredness; someone who knows they are doing the right thing and won't over-think an issue before reacting. This "alpha-male" trait has and will always bring security to the insecure, assuredness to the unsure, and safety to those with even an inkling of danger. It is worth noting that this issue alone has brought him so far."
Marc Ferris, VP of account services at Co-Communications
"George W. Bush will win the popular vote, but the electoral vote is squishy and lawsuits are inevitable. Kerry's 'Dukakis moments' include the awkward windsurfing photo-op -- it's an elitist sport - and the ridiculous goose-hunting excursion, which was too obviously contrived. The Bush team did a great job derailing the matter of the missing explosives in Iraq by suggesting that the Kerry team's assertions impugned the work and integrity of the soldiers on the ground, whom we all know just follow orders."
Wayne Schaffel, account supervisor at Euro RSCG Magnet
"George W. Bush will win. There was only one theme: 9/11. Poor economy? Unemployment? War in Iraq? All 9/11. Bush didn't exploit 9/11 as much as being enshrouded in it. Americans are patriotic. They [may] protest, but, at heart, it's about defending the American way of life. Kerry, by attacking Bush, distanced himself from 9/11 and lost by more than polls suggested."
Marc Jampole, president of Jampole Communications
"George W. Bush will win in court, as in 2000. Bush has been caught in many lies and his record on the economy, healthcare, civil rights, and terrorism has been execrable. His negative campaigning, however, has succeeded in equating the truth content of his statements and Kerry's. He has played to single-issue voters. And many Americans support a president during wartime, no matter what."
Tim O'Brien, principal of O'Brien Communications
"George W. Bush will win and Kerry will be forced to concede within 24 hours of the polls closing. From start to finish, Bush was consistent and on message. In the final days, he still maintained a slight lead in the polls, which is like maintaining market share in the face of a full-year of largely negative publicity. This reveals that his base was strong enough to give him a clear victory."
Carolyn Tieger, partner and public affairs practice director, Porter Novelli
"George W. Bush will win. [He was] totally focused: Bush was on message, on offense, a constant drumbeat, plain talk vs. rambling rhetoric. He delivered targets: the secured base, security moms, NASCAR dads, and minority crossovers; perfect positioning: tough vs. tenuous, old shoe vs. flip flop, tested leader vs. unknown quantity, and protector vs. placater. The final analysis: better campaigner and masterful spin machine."
Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick
"With 24 hours to go, this could still go either way, but I think the President's people have real reason for concern. The prospect of a record turnout is not good news for them, despite all the talk about the new Republican GOTV machine. And the fact that in these closing weeks the President's re-elect numbers have never gotten above 50% -- that's never good news for an incumbent. It is safe to say that we'll coin some new phrases in this election. Last time around, it was "hanging chads." This time, look for it to be about "the margin of litigation." Legions of lawyers have descended on the battleground states ready for combat, and during election day, I expect lots of coverage of chaos at the ballot box with long lines and challenges. Our only hope is that most of the battleground states break the same way. Then reason and respect for the Constitution will prevail. When any President runs for re-election, it's all about his record. If Kerry wins, it will be an acknowledgement of President Bush's failures in Iraq and with the economy. If Bush wins, it will be because swing voters had greater trust in him to wage the war on terrorism. In the final weeks of the campaign, these were the messages of the candidates. Kerry sought to highlight the President's failures. Bush sought to create doubt about Kerry's ability to lead in the time of war. In the end, both candidates did a pretty good job - and the checkmate has led to razor-thin margins."
Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council
"We won't know the official outcome by Wednesday (or by Thursday for that matter). In simple terms, if Bush eventually wins, it will be because his resoluteness on national security issues made the public more confident that he was the right guy for the job. If Kerry eventually wins, it will be because Bush's resoluteness on national security issues turned off the voters. Both candidates missed major communications opportunities. The President's unwillingness to admit that he had ever made a mistake made him sound like he couldn't deal with failure and that he didn't want to listen to opposing views. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, had a difficult time sounding genuine. His speeches and interviews were too programmed and rehearsed. He often slipped into "stump speech lingo" when asked questions about the nation's priorities and the president's track record."
Lloyd Trufelman, president of Trylon Communications
"I don't think a clear winner will be known by the morning of November 3. Bush ran the better technical campaign, which was more organized with clear and simple messages. However, many of the messages - regarding the war, economy, health, and the environment - were inaccurate. Kerry's campaign was less well orchestrated and did not seem to find its footing until the former Clinton team joined. However, for Kerry, the reality of Iraq, the economy, and the Bush administration's other shortcomings were a matter of public record."