Memo from Robert Teeter and Stu Spencer to Richard Cheney, 11/12/75, on the Perception of the President, Presidential Style and Campaign Themes


To: Richard Cheney

From: Robert Teeter and Stu Spencer

Re Analysis of Early Research

Date: November 12, 1975


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 channels.

Many citizens see all the leadership of these large institutions together in a conspiracy against them rather than in any adversary relationship with each other.

Another cause 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 them.

Perception of the President

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.

His personal 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.

The President 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 few months.

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.

5. Talking 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 President, 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.

The President 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 society.

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.

In addition 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 possible.

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.