Grossman’s free media miscalculation

Steve Grossman had a plan. The plan was to spend the pre-convention period building the best campaign infrastructure and volunteer army. The post-convention summer period was supposed to be when the political media’s horse race coverage of the treasurer’s post-convention bump and the backs and forths between the Coakley and Grossman camps would provide the one-on-one media narrative necessary to move the poll numbers and soften the ground for Grossman’s late summer “air campaign.” By primary Election Day, with Grossman’s viability having been established by free and paid media exposure, the superiority of the treasurer’s ground operation would get him over the finish line ahead of the AG. Unfortunately for Grossman, the media has not fulfilled its part of the plan.

Since his convention victory, Grossman has had a great deal of difficulty exploiting horse race coverage of the Democratic primary race because the Boston media has largely decided that there is no Democratic horse race to cover. The media pollsters have de-emphasized the Democratic fight and shifted the focus to the general election against Charlie Baker. Reports on and analysis of the Globe’s hotly anticipated weekly polls have basically ignored the battle between Coakley and Grossman, emphasizing instead how each of the three Democrats still in the race would fare against Baker. Issues such as the casino referendum and the Supreme Court’s buffer zone and Hobby Hobby rulings, and to some extend Don Berwick’s insurgent effort, have also sucked up some of the media oxygen this summer. This shift to general election and high profile issue coverage has deprived Grossman of the kind of free media coverage that would have established him as Coakley’s primary competition for the nomination.

The media used its own early polling to decide that a shift to the general election was warranted and since summer polls are largely driven by the candidates’ media visibility, the polls have increasingly reflected that editorial decision. How many folks reading this post realize that Coakley’s pre-convention 40-plus point lead over Grossman had been cut in half by late June? Did the media report this “bump?” Grossman was forced to release an internal poll in early July showing that he had closed the 40-plus point gap to 23 points even though the Boston Globe’s June 26th poll, released barely a week earlier, had registered the very same 23 point spread. The Globe’s coverage of that poll included no discussion of the smaller Coakley lead over Grossman. Media attention had already shifted to the general election. In fact, several newspaper stories about Grossman’s internal poll said that his numbers weren’t backed up by “independent polling,” even though they were. The Boston Globe’s coverage of elections drives the rest of the state’s media coverage and since the Globe had ignored the change in the Democratic contest, so did everybody else. The Grossman campaign couldn’t even get anybody in the media to focus on the fact that he and Baker were in a dead heat in the June 26th Globe poll.

In its latest poll, the Boston Globe finds Coakley and Baker in a virtual dead heat, with Grossman now losing to Baker by 8 points. Has Baker “gained ground” because of something he did or said, or because the AG has been on the hot seat lately? Probably not. Has Grossman lost grown because of his or the AGs performance on the campaign trail? Probably not. The simple fact is that Coakley and Baker are getting all the horse race coverage. The virtual tie may very well reflect the fact that respondents are still operating on name recognition, rather than more substantive issues reflected in the campaigns’ latest statements or positions. Since the present media narrative is focused on Coakley versus Baker, it should not be at all surprising that an electorate not yet focused on the fall elections would see a close race between the two candidates getting all the media attention.

The bottom line for Steve Grossman is that getting cut out of the post-convention horse race media coverage has put a serious crimp in an otherwise solid game plan. He will now have to go to his paid media campaign earlier and will have to spend quite a bit more to insure that his “progressive job creator” campaign isn’t neutralized by Coakley’s (and Berwick’s) own paid media.

Thanks to 20/20 hindsight, we can now say with relative confidence that Grossman should have put a week or so of heavy paid ads up right after the convention in order to insure both an actual bump in the polls (which he did get) and some media attention to his battle with the AG. Just one hard hitting paid ad could have made it more difficult for the political media to ignore him in late June, early July. On the bright side for Grossman, his decision to forego public financing now looks quite sage.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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5 Responses to Grossman’s free media miscalculation

  1. Jim Walsh says:

    If I had some grad students working for me here is what I would ask them to confirm.

    1. Berwicks creditable performance at the convention was a result of a game plan that depended on support from towns rather than cities. Good idea for the convention but a very limited one for the primary.

    2. Grossman’s support at the convention depended on a cross section of Democratic voters, urban, suburban and town-based, thus making his prospects brighter in the primary.

    3. Coakley’s support was truly “machine based,” those Dems who have old-school, institutional connections to the Party Establishment (as we used to call them in the 60s) and from women who continue to see her as a feminist leader. How that will play out in the primary is anyone’s guess but, at least in my experience, there seems to be little enthusiasm for Coakley and measurable antipathy, given her performance against Scott Brown.

    Your insights concerning the media are good ones.

    • Dr. Ed says:

      Five words: Fells’ Acres Day Care Center — or two: Amarealt Case. She was involved in that mess, and I think the real question is if any of the men dare bring that up and if so, whom & when.

      As I understand it, “Tooky” Ameralt was convicted on the presumption that he had sodomized small children with the blade end of a butcher knife — something which would inherently be fatal but for the immediate intervention of a quite skillful (and lucky) surgical team — something which would have left surgical scars on the child, extensive medical bills (paid or unpaid, there’d still be record of the bills, and a blizzard of “51As” from everyone including the police, ambulance crews, medical folks and the rest — if you are any way involved with a small child with a knife wound to the rectum, your’e gonna file a 51A, trust me…

      And fecal matter contacting the blood is inherently fatal — it’s not just the children bleeding to death that would have killed them, had this really been done to them. QED……

      But will this be raised?

  2. Ed Lyons says:

    Professor Duquette,

    Well said! I do think Mr. Grossman’s lack of charisma or a defining issue has also made it difficult to get people to stop and notice his campaign. Also, I think that once Charlie Baker’s steady rise gets him even one point ahead of Attorney General Coakley in any poll, the Democratic primary changes. She will be seen as “blowing” a huge lead, and, as the presumptive favorite for so long, the attention will turn to Grossman, who’s numbers have been only going up. He can say he has momentum, and that Coakley can no longer be trusted to win.

  3. Jay Gold says:

    I continue to be stunned at how little coverage the media (starting with the Globe) are giving to the primary. TV ads by Grossman might change that, particularly if they contain hard-hitting attacks on Coakley. Then it would become the sort of personalized feud the press loves. This also could create an opening for Berwick, who then runs as the adult in the room.

  4. DB Reiff says:

    You write, “The media used its own early polling to decide that a shift to the general election was warranted and since summer polls are largely driven by the candidates’ media visibility, the polls have increasingly reflected that editorial decision.”
    So by using its own early polling to decide to ignore the primary race, the media now has polls that show that the candidates’ have low media visibility? If I got that right, shame on the media for not doing its job to help voters understand the candidates’ background, positions, and visions for the state so we can make informed decisions.
    Instead, we will be voting based on name recognition and the media’s decision not to do the very thing we need it to do. Candidates with connections to the Mass power structures must be very grateful to the media to not be reading, hearing or seeing more about Don Berwick, the candidate who whose idea, courage and honesty are a breathe of fresh air.

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