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Connecting with Gut Values in 'Applebee's America'

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Connecting with Gut Values in 'Applebee's America'

Connecting with Gut Values in 'Applebee's America'

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This morning we conclude our conversations on political parties - what they stand for and how they try to win - with Douglas Sosnik, who worked for President Bill Clinton; and Matthew Dowd, who advised President Bush in his last two campaigns.

Dowd and Sosnik, along with former Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, have dissected how and why their bosses won the White House in a new book called Applebee's America.

Each campaign reached potential voters by using many of the same strategies and tactics used by businesses like Applebee's Restaurant. But, they say, Clinton and Bush would never have been able to win, as Douglas Sosnik explains, unless voters felt a special bond.

Mr. DOUGLAS SOSNIK (Worked With Former President Bill Clinton): First and foremost, they're looking for a candidate who they can relate to, and who shares their values. And also a candidate who has a vision for the future and that can deal with the problems in their lives and make their lives better.

WERTHEIMER: You talk about a gut-values connection. Matt Dowd, could you explain what that is?

Mr. MATTHEW DOWD (Worked with President George W. Bush): Sure. It's the idea that voters ultimately don't make decisions in their head first, they make decisions in their gut or their heart first. And how they connect with the candidate at that gut value - whether it's a value of compassion, tolerance, strength - that, fundamentally, is what successful campaigns are all about.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you're not talking, here, about values, voters - as the Republican Party talks about them - are you, Matt?

Mr. DOWD: No, that's actually an interesting thing, because everybody says when they hear values they think of moral values, and then they go immediately to social issues. And in reality, the most important values aren't those social issue moral values. They're sort of basic values. Does this person care about me? Does this person understand me? Is this person tolerant? Sort of those basic values that they want in leaders. And that's really what's determinative of elections. It's the issues. Issues really become indicators for those broader, deeper, gut values.

WERTHEIMER: Are you suggesting that issues really don't matter? I mean, the war in Iraq doesn't matter, gay marriage doesn't matter - what matters is somehow this sort of much lower-level attachment to a politician?

Mr. DOWD: The values I'm talking about are actually a higher-level of connection that voters have. And the perfect example is the president in 2004. The most of the public was on the opposite side on many of the issues - whether it was concern about the economy, Iraq, healthcare, social security, many of those things - but basically they said, listen, at a time of great anxiety and great concern, whether it was terrorism or economic anxiety, I'm going to go with somebody that I - in spite of a disagreement on issues - at least I know where he stands and I know that he's going to stand in the door, and at least he knows where he's going.

WERTHEIMER: A gut value's connection sounds like a relatively simple concept: finding that you have some sort of deeply felt attraction to a candidate, that's something that connects you. But in fact, in your book, you lay out some very sophisticated ways in which candidates and parties can identify potentially sympathetic voters and then bring them on board. Can you talk about how that works?

Mr. DOWD: Sure. When we talk in the book about all the different devices and all the different ways - micro-targeting and all that - that really was, we're venturing into the tactical. You can't discover and build a gut values connection through the tactical means that we talk about.

Campaigns, fundamentally, are about two big things: establishing a connection between a politician and the electorate, and that connection being at a gut values level. And then, simultaneously, it's, how do you deliver information in a tactical level in order for people to see and hear it. And in our book we talk about how to do that in today's diverse, media environment, because of the tremendous changes happening in this country.

WERTHEIMER: One of the ways you talk about, Doug Sosnik, is something called life-targeting. What is that?

Mr. SOSNIK: What's happened in our society is, is that with more technology and with more information, people are - we think - are actually more dependent on other people, rather than less dependent on other people. And the way to understand a person, first and foremost, is through their lifestyle: how they spend their life, what's important to them, who are their friends, who are their family. But also, who's influential in their life. And it's those opinion-makers, those opinion-leaders, who, if you can arm them with information - as the Bush campaign did very effectively in 2004 - you're much more likely in this new modern age to be able to connect with those people.

WERTHEIMER: You talk in your book about keeping files on voters, and these files indicate not only voting patterns, but they also tell you what kind of car, where they live, how much they paid for their house -I mean, files like that exist with names attached?

Mr. SOSNIK: Well, and Matthew can talk more about what the Bush campaign did in 2004, but let's be clear. The business world has been doing this for years and years and years. And you know that any time you pull out your American Express card or VISA card, they have a complete dossier on every bit of activity that you've ever done with that card.

And what we've found is people are now are beginning in politics to apply this same strategies This has been going on for a generation in the business world. And the Bush campaign in 2004 was really the first campaign to begin the process of applying those techniques in a sophisticated way.

WERTHEIMER: Matt, could you just give us an example of that? I mean, a voter who did X, Y, and Z, would vote for who?

Mr. DOWD: Here, the example - the best example is: if you take a look at a voter in wherever, Oregon or Michigan, and found out that they subscribed to a certain magazine, Field and Stream, and they drove a pickup truck. Even though somebody lived in a Democratic precinct and had previously voted in a Democratic primary, because of their lifestyle characteristics, they may have been available to vote for President Bush in 2004.

If people are associating, primarily based on their lifestyle, then understanding all those various lifestyle characteristics will give you an indicator for how they may vote.

WERTHEIMER: The techniques in 2004 that worked so well for the Bush administration, as Matt has just described, many voters at that point recognized some sort of gut level connection with President Bush. And now, apparently, some voters are rethinking that connection. If you like - if you had a gut level connection with President Bush, I mean, what happened to that connection?

Mr. DOWD: What happens with politicians, it's interesting - just like what happens with a business - is that you establish - the successful ones establish a gut level, sort of a brand connection with people. That brand connection is not forever. Once you lose that and don't preserve that, it makes it very difficult to get it back, absent a major crisis or a major situation where you can reestablish that connection.

WERTHEIMER: Matt Dowd and Doug Sosnik, thank you both very much for joining us.

Mr. DOWD: Thank you, Linda.

Mr. SOSNIK: Thank you very much for having us.

WERTHEIMER: Their new book, which was written with journalist Ron Fournier, is called Applebee's America.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: You can read an excerpt from the book about gut values connections and take a quiz by the authors to see what your lifestyle says about your politics at NPR.org.

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