Robert Teeter and Stu Spencer to Richard Cheney, 11/12/75, on the
Perception of the President, Presidential Style and Campaign Themes
Teeter and Stu Spencer
of Early Research
We have for
the past year and undoubtedly will be for the next year, dealing
with an electorate that is more alienated and more cynical than
at any point in modern time. These feelings of alienation and cynicism
are directed at all major institutions - the government, businesses,
unions, school systems, media, churches, and even stores where people
shop, While these attitudes are more visible when direct- ed at
government, there is ample evidence that many working people dis
trust their own union as much as they do the corporation they work
for. This has resulted in more and more people becoming inner-directed
and having as their only goal, getting as much as they can get out
of the system and putting as little into it as possible.
The common evil
most people see in our institutions is their size. Bigness is again
and again mentioned as what is wrong. As the society has gotten
larger and more complex, individuals have lost their ability to
influence any of the institutions that affect their lives. This
is against a background of having been taught our system works best
when made up of individuals who all act as responsible individuals.
This is one of the reasons that there has been a large increase
in the number of ad hoc pressure groups formed over the last several
years on behalf of all kinds of different courses. People could
not find any way to influence these large institutions through established
see all the leadership of these large institutions together in a
conspiracy against them rather than in any adversary relationship
with each other.
for the increase in alienation and cynicism is a feeling that too
many policy decisions that affect individuals have been taken out
of any system that has accountability or that they can influence.
Major policy decisions that affect them are now made by the courts,
the bureaucracy and "The Headquarters" of various organizations.
Again, these attitudes are directed at most major institutions,
not just the government. People feel that decisions about their
jobs, the way their children are educated, how their church functions,
and products they buy are made by someone and some place so distant
that they can't find anybody to talk to that has any influence over
While the President
leads his potential adversaries in almost every state. His support
is soft. He is seen as honest, sincere, just, and friendly but gets
mediocre or relatively poor ratings being competent strong, intelligent,
and a forceful leader. He is seen as someone who is concerned for
the average citizen, is trying to do the right thing but not getting
results. While people like him and want him to succeed, the single
biggest negative is a lack of forceful leadership.
appearance and the family are both significant pluses. He is seen
as being handsome, athletic, vigorous and friendly. Large majorities
approve of Mrs. Ford's performance as the First-Lady and of her
speaking out on controversial subject. Significant numbers of people
also mention Ford Children in a positive light.
has not created any Ford constituency, unique from that of any Republican
President. The one exception to this is that he does show unique
strength with young voters for a Republican. In fact, the age groups
that support him at the highest level are those under 35 and over
55. The basis for this support with young voters is his honesty,
friendliness, candor and the family. He has, however, some problems
with those in the middle age group (35-55) which are the largest
voting groups. This weakness is caused by the recession. These are
the age groups that are made up largely working people who are feeling
squeezed and threatened by inflation and unemployment. Almost the
entire dip the President experienced in the national polls in the
last 60-90 days has been confined to the eastern regional countries.
While only about
half of the voters feel they know very much about Reagan or what
he stands for, the Republicans who do have a very positive perception
of him. He is perceived bold, decisive, strong, intelligent and
competent and this perception is held with almost no negatives.
Moreover when Reagan and the President were compared on the handling
of a series of issues of foreign affairs and dealing with Congress.
Reagan is close to or ahead of the President in being seen as able
to handle inflation, unemployment, government spending, and crime.
Obviously it is important that we don't get into the position of
having to fight Reagan or any Democrat issue by issue.
The key to reenforcing
and improving the President's perception over the next few months
is the style in which he handles the job of being President. We
should remember the campaign advertising will be only a smaller
portion of the President's total exposure. Research has shown that
the perceived style of leadership is by far the most important thing
to most voters in evaluating officeholders and candidates. This
does not necessarily mean the way they dress or their manner of
speech, but the style with which they evaluate issues and make decisions.
Several elements of style ought to be emphasized during the next
1. He needs
to appear more presidential. While his warm friendly manner has
served him well, he does not have any of the aura of being President.
Also, appearing more presidential should help to improve his perception
as being knowledgeable and competent. The various arrangements
for his foreign travels should be thought through with this domestic
consumption in mind. We need a little more "Hail to the Chief."
2. His warm,
friendly, honest, and candid manner has served him well and he
ought not to do the things that undermine this. He shouldn't sound
strident and certainly should not say things that most people
don't think are true. For example, in the press conference Monday
night, the President said he was pleased with the political situation
in the country now because we had peace and prosperity. The fact
is a majority of people think things are worse now than they were
two or three years ago, that we don't have prosperity.
3. We badly
need to find some positions and issues where the President can
violate his stereotype as a classic Republican. The problem is
every position or statement he has made recently has been something
that would have been expected from a Republican President, even
though a majority of the voters may agree with him, e.g. budget
cuts, food stamps, vetoes of spending programs. There is research
that indicates that indicates when an individual violates his
stereotype, many of the aspects of that stereotype which might
have been previously perceived to be negative are then seen as
positive, i.e. - Nixon going to China, and. Jerry Brown talking
about cutting out government programs and spending in California,
etc. We need to find issues and positions the President can take
in the next few months that he or any Republican President would
not be expected to advocate.
4. He ought
to stay away from all the traditional Republican cliches, particularly
those about the budget, government spending, and a strong national
defense. Many of his- ideas in these areas are shared by the majority
voters but the old time Republican political rhetoric makes them
sound political and doesn't communicate the positives of the idea.
about his proposals and programs, he is failing to communicate
with a large share of the voters. They simply can't relate $28
billion or even a few million of dollars to their personal situation.
We need to use as many simple expressions as possible and every
time the President talks about or proposes something new, his
statement or speech has got to be interpreted very simply how
it's going to affect the citizens he needs to help. Every speech
and statement needs to be a bottom line. It is impossible to oversimplify
or repeat too often the positive aspects of the President's program.
When the President talks about his programs or proposals, he should
always interpret in terms of benefiting people and not talk about
them in terms of how they affect institutions. Everyone in the
Administration seems prone to talk about business, labor, government,
education, Capital, etc., and not people.
6. Even though,
he is a candidate and will be engaged in a political campaign
all next year, he ought to remain as non-political and as far
from the battle as possible. Every time he gives a hard strident
political speech he hurts his strongest point, and that is his
perception as being honest, candid and fair.
the Administration and the campaign need a theme. I am concerned
that the President is seen as a tactician without an overall strategy
of his plan for the country. This lets voters and his opponents
interpret many of his perceptions and programs as those done for
political expedience or to appease special inter- est groups rat
her than as part of an overall plan to move the country toward a
perceived set of goals or objectives.
We need an umbrella
under which we can put all of the President's programs and end up
with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
needs to set forth in a major speech sometime soon his idea for
what the destiny of the country is and how his programs relates
to it. I think the backbone of this theme ought to be anti- bigness.
He ought to be against big government, big unions, big businesses,
big school systems and the concentration of power in general.
At the same
time he needs to be for individuals. Everything he advocates ought
to be seen as helping the individual live his life as independently
as possible and help him relate to the institution in a large complex
There are several
advantages to this type of theme. First of all, it fits his style
and ideas. Secondly, it can be very presidential and puts him on
the high road for the campaign. Also it keeps him away from having
to fight the election on a series of individual issues which, as
an incumbent with a pessimistic public, would be difficult to win.
Lastly, it would appeal to the Press, to Republicans and to Independents.
to the anti-bigness or concentration of power idea, the theme ought
to have a strong moral tone and one of hope. One of the problems
with the issues now, and over the last several years, is that there
is no element of hope which has been the underlying theme of successful
politicians for many years.
Given the relatively
short period of time, we have to set perceptions, it would be useful
if the theme of the President's program were given a name soon.
We have to set the perceptions. The hope element was implicit in
the name "New Deal," "Fair Deal," "New
Frontier"'and "Great Society." While it is important
not to over- promise and to be responsible, we have to communicate
that things can and will get better over the next few years With
Gerald Ford as President.
While we want
as wide as coverage as possible to such a speech, it would be most
effective if given somewhere other than a joint session of Congress
which epitomizes the establishment and the concentration of power
in Washington. A youthful audience somewhere outside of Washington
would probably be best.
Detente is a
particularly unpopular idea with most Republican primary voters
and the word is worse. We ought to stop using the word whenever
There are not
enough people out talking about the President positively. We particularly
need more people from the Ad- ministration and Congress out, not
only defending the President but boosting him. Probably the most
single successful part of the '72 campaign was the surrogate program
and some- thing like it needs to be established.
The key perception
between Reagan and Ford with the primary voters is not ideology
as much as degrees of Republicanism. There are three groups of Republican
primary voters, the hard- core Republican, the more moderate-liberal
independent ticket- splitting group, and the this group made up
of the hard core right (only about 5%) and of independent and new
Republicans who tend to be lower socioeconomic than others. The
President is doing well with the first two groups while most of
Reagan s support comes from the third. It is very important in the
primary that the President be perceived as a regular Republican
candidate as Reagan is seen as the dissident. This is why the endorsement
of respected conservative Republican officeholders and politicians
is particularly important at this time as to destroy Reagan's credibility
as a loyal Republican.