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Three Takeaways From the RNC’s Autopsy Report for 2014

Priebus announced the details of the RNC's "autopsy" report of the 2012 elections. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Priebus announced the details of the RNC's "autopsy" report of the 2012 elections. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Republican National Committee rolled out a massive post-2012-elections report Monday that focused on crafting what RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called a “fresh beginning” for a party that was on the losing end of a number of electoral contests last cycle.

“We know we have problems,” Priebus said to a packed ballroom at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them.”

The report’s recommendations were mostly broad in nature — better messaging, more openness to those with differing views, earlier outreach and engagement to minority groups, a stronger data infrastructure and a more robust get-out-the-vote operation.

Many of the recommendations focused on national campaigns, for example condensing the presidential primary calendar and controlling the debate schedule. But there were specific recommendations that are likely to have a more immediate effect on 2014:

1. Polling

For many GOP campaigns in 2012, polling proved to be an Achilles’ heel, with late-cycle surveys not predictive of Nov. 6 results. The RNC report, authored by five GOP insiders, focused on a number of concerns GOP pollsters expressed, from turnout modeling to increasing Hispanic and youth respondents to figuring out how to contact more voters via cellphones.

The report recommended a re-examination of the way 2012 pollsters examined who would and would not be a likely voter, so that future surveys do not screen out people who cast ballots on Election Day.

Another recommendation was that “all Republican surveys include no less than 25 percent cellphone subsample.” Certain demographic groups are less likely to have landline phones, so calling more cellphones can result in a wider and more accurate sample.

The report also called for a “quarterly summit” of GOP pollsters by mid-April to discuss how to produce more accurate data.

2. Opposition Research and Tracking

The report hinted that it could be time for a GOP version of American Bridge 21st Century, the third-party group that gathered voluminous research on Republican candidates and captured video of many of them on the trail during the 2012 elections.

It called for an “allied group dedicated solely to research to establish a private archive and public website that does nothing but post inappropriate Democrat utterances.”

“Well-funded conservative groups should seek to hire activists to track Democrat incumbents and candidates with video cameras constantly recording their every movement, utterance, and action,” the report recommended.

Opposition research and tracker video are potent tools that serve as the building blocks of negative and contrast TV advertisements. Having publicly available repositories of research and video would allow all types of third-party groups to use the information in their paid efforts.

While the most influential clip of video from the 2012 campaigns for the House and Senate – Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s declaration on “legitimate rape” — came from a sit-down television interview, many campaigns have been sunk by an off-the-cuff candidate remark caught by a tracker.

3. Media Buying

The report also recommended stronger training for campaign managers on the evolving media landscape and stronger roles for the media buyers who spend the bulk of a campaign’s funds.

“Give media buyers a seat at the table with the manager, the pollster, and the ad producers in big budget campaigns,” the report said, adding that campaigns could be more data driven in how they spend their media budget if the people with the data had a seat at the table.

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