Friday, December 11, 2009

The Best Campaign Documentaries

Part 3 of our 5-part series: "Hollywood Does Politics"

On Tuesday, we’ll be showing you cases in which Hollywood fiction yields error on the subject of political campaigns. But what kinds of movies are going to show campaigning most accurately? Documentaries, of course.

Here are five of our favorite political campaign documentaries…

“The War Room” (1993)

“The War Room” takes an in depth and insightful look at the 1992 Clinton for President campaign and how it transformed how political campaigns are managed.

Although this movie does not give away any of the campaign secrets, it does dive into the inner workings of the campaign from the lowly days before the New Hampshire primary, the bus tours across the country, into the spin rooms of debate night, and all the way to the successful night of November 3, 1992.

James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, and the rest of the senior staff produce an exhilarating journey that every politico has to see. This movie primarily focuses on Carville and the yin to Carville's yang: Stephanopoulos. No other campaign before hand was willing to have cameras follow them around 24 hours a day taping their every move.

This act of transparency showed how the campaign rebutted the attacks of George H. W. Bush, Gennifer Flowers, and the media's perceptions of Clinton's character flaws. This movie captures how much enthusiasm and pain staffers go through during the long hours seen on the campaign trail without the usual spin doctors that are seen through our television screens every election cycle.

We see how “The War Room” was managed with kitchy signs on the wall, and the infamous, “it's the economy, stupid” saying on a white board. This movie is a home run, and should be in the queue of your NetFlix account.

“Street Fight” (2005)

A chronicle of Cory Booker’s first mayoral campaign in the city of Newark, NJ, “Street Fight” documents just how tough urban politics can be.

Booker - a freshman City Council member at the time - was challenging 16-year incumbent Sharpe James, who Booker argued was sitting on top of decades of failed promises. James argued that Booker - who was from the suburbs originally - was a carpetbagger.

The race got dirty fast. James didn’t exactly have a sense of choosing his words carefully and frequently said that Booker was white, Jewish, and Republican - none of which were true. He also suggested that Booker took money from the Ku Klux Klan, and was being propped up by a Jewish media conspiracy. He said these things so much, in fact, that people started to believe the outlandish claims. Booker, meanwhile, went with conventional political wisdom in his message, arguing that these attacks were meant to distract voters from the failings of James policies.

James also frequently misused his powers as mayor for the campaign, instructing police to illegally tear down Booker signs and directed other city departments to go after Booker supporters for several frivolous ordinance violations.

The film also documents the importance of race in urban politics. Booker received endorsements from race-interested author Cornell West and director Spike Lee, while James got help from civil rights leaders Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In the end, James won the 2002 race with a 53% - 47% margin. Booker announced his 2006 candidacy a year later.

This is, simply put, a must-see for any campaign worker who wants to get a feel for just how intense urban campaigns can be.

“Please Vote for Me” (2007)

Chinese democracy? Sounds like a paradox, but in “Please Vote for Me” a Chinese micro-democracy shows us just how natural campaigning can be.

The film focuses on a primary-school election for Class Monitor. Meant to be part of a civics lesson about different political systems, one Chinese teacher decides not to appoint a Class Monitor herself, but rather nominate three candidates for the students to choose from.

They do not even understand what democracy is, but acting it out gives them a crash course. The 8-year-old students begin plotting amongst each other to disrupt their opponents’ candidacies. Almost immediately the campaigning becomes vicious. Taunting begins and the candidates are often reduced to tears.

What’s really surprising, however, is how the parents treat the election. They effectively act as campaign consultants, teaching their kids oratory skills, to stay on message, use effective smears, and even count their votes like we do with Voter ID.

In a great and memorable scene, one candidate attacks the incumbent Class Monitor (I’m not making this up) during a debate for being so strict that it makes him a dictator. The other aruges that he - like a parent - must be strict for the sake of obedience.

This film is perfect for anyone interested in political science. It both demonstrates how all campaigns work similarly regardless of how advanced a democracy may be, and how politics in general look on a micro-level. We highly recommend seeing it.

“Our Brand is Crisis” (2005)

Just because campaign politics works similarly from democracy to democracy, one cannot expect all political systems to work the same way.

That’s the lesson to be learned in “Our Brand is Crisis”, where James Carville’s consulting firm - Greenville Carville Shrum (GCS) - works for moderate Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (or “Goni”).

Goni is behind in the polls when he hires GCS. The consultants immediately begin message tests, focus groups, and other tactics to see where they can steer him right. In strategy meetings, Carville and the others determine that they must portray his main opponent as a threat to Bolivia because of his wealth and military background.

It’s a tough and dynamic race in which public opinion is constantly shifting. In the end, Goni secures a narrow victory with about 22%.

However, 22% is hardly a consensus, as GCS finds out later. Goni faces insurmountable criticism, especially during a subsequent gas conflict in which populists create an uproar over plans to export natural gas - Bolivia’s most abundant resource - rather than use it at home. Protesters, led by current President Evo Morales, eventually convince Goni to resign. Today Goni lives in exile in the U.S.

This film teaches an important lesson about the errors of looking at third world campaign politics through an American lens. We recommend it to anyone interested in international politics.

“Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?” (2006)

When longtime Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) announced his retirement in 2004, a large field of candidates came in to secure the Democratic nomination and become the new Congressperson. One of those candidates was Jeff Smith.

The film focuses on Smith’s candidacy and the young, inexperienced staff he hires. Smith is young himself, has a very high voice, and is very, very progressive. He has very little political experience while his opponents are well funded with plenty of name recognition. Everyone - including Smith’s parents and some of his staff - think he’s crazy to run.

However, Smith gains traction and attention - even securing an endorsement from future DNC Chairman Howard Dean. In the end, Smith comes in second in the primary, narrowly losing to the most well-known candidate.

The tactics the campaign uses are well-documented. They primarily focus on field operations and tracking the support of voters in the district. The film also explores press work and fundraising. “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?” is so in-depth regarding the campaign tactics that it might not even make sense to the average person - much of the film is really only relevant to those who have worked on campaigns.

But this is a great film for the average person if they want to learn about the nature of campaign politics - it’s exhausting, stressful, and often enough it’s unrewarding. We highly recommend watching it to get a sense of that unlike anywhere else - except for actually working on a campaign.

Coming Tuesday: “When Hollywood Gets It Wrong”

WAYLA would like to thank Brad Wojciechowski for his contributions to this blog post. Brad is the founder of Forward Solutions Group, a political consulting firm in Madison, WI. He specializes in fundraising and political development and has extensive experience on the frontlines of the most successful political campaigns. His particular interests are local campaigns and issues, because they have the most effect on the day to day lives of Americans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on Climate Change and Jobs

Summary: Job creation motivates Americans to support renewable energy policy by large margins.

Too bad we missed this for our post yesterday. A new McClatchy-Ipsos poll released yesterday finds that Americans are much more willing to pay to avert climate change if it creates new green jobs.

One sample of respondents was asked if they would support cap-and-trade legislation if it raised their utility bills $10 per month but also created new jobs. Of that sample, 69% said “yes” while only 29% said “no.” Even at an additional $25 per month, respondents said they would support cap-and-trade by a 60% - 36% margin if it created new jobs.

Another sample was not reminded of potential job creation associated with cap-and-trade. When that sample was asked if they’d support the legislation if it raised their utility bills $10 per month, only 50% said they would while 48% said they would not. At an increase of $25 per month, respondents opposed cap-and-trade by a 55% - 43% margin.

This would certainly suggest our conclusion yesterday was correct - Americans are more motivated to support new energy policies that curb global warming if they see the economic benefits associated with such policies. Environmentalism, while certainly important for some Americans, is not as important to the voting population in general as is the economy.

Democrats need to recognize the importance of this when constructing their message going into 2010.

Another interesting find of this survey was that 70% of respondents said they think global warming is real. 61% of those individuals believed it was due to the burning of fossil fuels.

What makes that finding somewhat surprising is that the Copenhagen Conference had not been convened yet when the survey was taking place - and thus, less was being said in defense of largely-accepted climate science - but “Climate-Gate” had already gone viral. But despite the new attention towards climate change this month, these findings are fairly consistent with other polls this year.

Among the other findings:

On Climate Change:

• Hispanics (69%), adults under 35 (54%), African-Americans (52%), parents of children under 18 (50%), and college graduates (49%) are among those most likely to say humans are to blame for the increasing temperatures.

• Those who are more likely to believe global warming is part of natural environmental patterns include retirees (31%) and Republicans (30%).

• Views on global warming vary drastically across party lines. While a majority of Democrats accept that global warming is happening and hold humans accountable for it (58%), a plurality of Republicans (43%) do not believe that the world’s temperatures have been rising slowly over the past 100 years.

On Cap-and-Trade:

• Younger adults, particularly those under 35 (68%), are more like than adults aged 55 and older (38%) to favor a Cap and Trade system.

• Hispanics (73%), African-Americans (64%), and parents (61%) are also more likely offer their support.

• Across partisan lines, two thirds of Democrats (67%) are supportive of such a system, while a majority of Republicans are opposed (59%). Independents are divided on this measure, as they are roughly as likely to be in favor (45%) as they are to be in opposition (41%).

Tomorrow we continue our series “Hollywood Does Politics!”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Palin, Climate Change and Copenhagen: It’s Really About Jobs

Summary: "Palin might complain that global warming believers are killing the economy, but in fact it’s far from the truth."

In an op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin criticized the climate change conference in Copenhagen as a political event.

From her op-ed:

In his inaugural address, President Obama President Obama declared his intention to "restore science to its rightful place." But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante. He plans to fly in at the climax of the conference in hopes of sealing a "deal." Whatever deal he gets, it will be no deal for the American people. What Obama really hopes to bring home from Copenhagen is more pressure to pass the Democrats' cap-and-tax proposal. This is a political move. The last thing America needs is misguided legislation that will raise taxes and cost jobs -- particularly when the push for such legislation rests on agenda-driven science.

Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference. The president should boycott Copenhagen.

The “agenda-driven science” she refers to all has to do with a few leaked emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK - a scandal now known as “Climate-gate”.

According to Palin, Climate-gate “exposes a highly politicized scientific circle -- the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won't change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.”

Of course, the Huffington Post did a great job documenting just how overblown Climate-gate really is - a small handful of thousands of emails that have been obscenely misinterpreted. Many pro-reformers on the climate change issue are now criticizing the Washington Post for publishing Palin’s op-ed in the first place.

However, Palin does play into current opinions on global warming. The majority of Americans do not believe that climate change is a man-made phenomenon, if it’s even happening at all.

So it should be no surprise that Americans will view the conference in Copenhagen with skepticism.

Even before Palin wrote her op-ed, conservative pundits including Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck were saying that any political deals reached in Copenhagen would lead to a loss of American sovereignty.

What most people - including the conservative pundits - don’t realize is the Copenhagen Conference is part business forum. In a post this morning, Nate Silver - who is blogging from Copenhagen right now - told readers “the conference, at this point, feels more like a trade show than a political event”.

This was confirmed to us this morning by Jacob Davis, a managing partner with the firm Algae Systems - a company that converts carbon dioxide into renewable energy - who is traveling as part of a delegation to Copenhagen this week.

Davis told us that the conference is “much more than just a political event” and business leaders like himself were going there for the purpose of “showcasing American enterprise” to financial groups and other companies as well as foreign political leaders.

Sure, world leaders will be meeting at this Copenhagen conference to discuss a replacement to the Kyoto Treaty, but it’s also a meeting place for entrepreneurial, free market, business leaders who work in the green technology sector. Their work at Copenhagen will be about making money and, more importantly perhaps, creating jobs.

Palin might complain that global warming believers are killing the economy, but in fact it’s far from the truth.

And that’s what needs to be pointed out more. Sure, a lot of Americans deny global warming, so they need to know that green technology can mean economic growth. This is why White House economist Christina Romer has pushed so hard for a home weatherization component to Obama’s new jobs plan.

It’s a winning argument politically too.

According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, 68% of Americans have taken steps to increase energy efficiency in their homes. Whether that means buying energy efficient appliances, weatherizing with energy saving windows, or even switching to fluorescent light bulbs - 2 out of 3 of your neighbors have probably made an effort to save the environment.

At least inadvertently. Of the respondents that have taken such steps, 71% of them said they were motivated by the prospects of saving money rather than by saving the global climate. Only 26% say it was for environmental reasons.

In tough economic times, global warming has taken a back seat to more immediate issues. With concerns about paying higher utility prices and losing jobs, Americans have become adverse to the climate change issue even to the point of denying its man-made nature.

In order for Democrats to win on the climate change issue these days, energy efficiency and renewable energy must be framed in terms of economic incentives, not a moral paradigm of environmentalism.

In other words, environmentalists need to make this their primary argument: “going green means saving green.” Or better yet - as lawmakers contemplate job creation (and we all know that we need to create jobs here at home) - “going green means making green.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Do Political Movies Lean Right or Left?

Part 2 of our 5-part series: Hollywood Does Politics

Before we tell you our Top 5 Political Campaign Movies next week, we want to ask an important question that could influence our list: what are the agendas?

Are their even any agendas to these movies? If so, are they conservative or liberal?

Everyone knows that Hollywood is pretty liberal. Movie stars like Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Robert De Niro make no secret of their support for the Democratic Party. But do the films they star in have an ideological bent?

To find out, we’ll examine a sample list of campaign movies that our helpful intern Regan compiled, as well as a few non-campaign movies that still deal with politics.

They are…

• Recount (2008)
• Man of the Year (2006)
• Bulworth (1998)
• Silver City (2004)
• Black Sheep (1996)
• Malibu’s Most Wanted (2003)
• Primary Colors (1998)
• Head of State (2003)
• Poster Boy (2004)
• The Best Man (1964)
• The Candidate (1972)
• Bob Roberts (1992)
• Linda Lovelace for President (1975)
• Dave (1993)
• Wag the Dog (1997)
• The American President (1995)
• American Dreamz (2006)
• State of Play (2009)

We’ll then use the following tags for each movie: “liberal”, “leaning-liberal”, “neutral”, “leaning-conservative”, “conservative”, and “[insert ideology here] with a twist”.*

So what kind of breakdown do we see?

Of the 18 movies listed above, 7 can be considered “neutral”, 4 are “leaning-liberal”, 3 are “liberal, and 3 are “liberal with a twist” - and then there’s Wag the Dog, which is just twisted in general (although some readily compare it to the Clinton Administration).

None of these movies, however, are “conservative” or even “leaning-conservative”, and that’s fairly interesting.

Another interesting thing about the breakdown are which movies lean which way (we have the list again at the bottom of this post). Most of the comedies (Black Sheep, Malibu’s Most Wanted, Head of State, etc.) are neutral - they go for more of a “feel good” message than an ideological one. It makes sense too - just try creating a “feel good” atmosphere with your family over a holiday dinner this month while talking politics.

Similarly, all of the TV shows we examined on Friday were pretty neutral as well.

What’s more interesting is that almost every movie of the 18 listed portrays politics at least somewhat negatively - especially the “twist” ones. Sometimes the candidate in the movie rises above the manure of politics, sometimes they fulfill the tragic archetype and fall into it entirely.

Of course, this was not exactly a scientifically-sound examination. Our list was not a random sample of films, and there may be some conservative ones out there that we don’t know about, for instance.

But it does at least suggest that political movies (as a whole) lean further left than right.

Now we come to another serious question: as Democrats ourselves, are we simply going to pick the movies we ideologically agree with most when we select our Top 5 next week?

It’s something for us to think about.

The list with tags:

• Recount: “leaning-liberal”
• Man of the Year: “neutral”
• Bulworth: “liberal”
• Silver City: “leaning-liberal”
• Black Sheep: “neutral”
• Malibu’s Most Wanted: “neutral”
• Primary Colors: “liberal with a twist”
• Head of State: “neutral”
• Poster Boy: “liberal”
• The Best Man: “neutral”
• The Candidate: “liberal with a twist”
• Bob Roberts: “leaning-liberal”
• Linda Lovelace for President: “neutral”
• Dave: “neutral”
• Wag the Dog: “twisted”
• The American President: “liberal”
• American Dreamz: “leaning-liberal”
• State of Play: “liberal with a twist”

*To be clear about what we mean by “with a twist”, take Primary Colors as an example. Everyone knows the movie is about Bill Clinton’s primary battles in 1992, and - for the most part - it puts the candidate in a fairly positive light for much of the movie. Sure, he’s a womanizer, but that can be forgiven by his inspirational message and the passion he has for leading the country in a better direction.

As the films progresses, however, it exposes the dirty tactics he must wage in order to win his race. The protagonist says he hates the game, not the player, but for the audience it’s tough to love the player after you see how he has to play.

So the movie would appear to agree with the left, but there’s a twist.

Coming Friday: The Best Campaign Documentaries!

Monday, December 7, 2009

An eBay Tool Politicos Could Use

Summary: Using business tools for campaigning - how interactive maps can increase momentum.

Advancements in political technology can come from just about anywhere. Every once in a while a new development from private enterprises can prove to be valuable resources for campaigns and political consultants.

On Black Friday, eBay tracked their sales by location across the country and developed a very cool map showing where people were making purchases on their website by the hour.

Spot-On, a campaign technology firm, picked up on this tool and sent out an email about its relevance for 2010.

From the email:

"It's a handy resource for those of you thinking about 2010 (and, really, who isn't?) and how online fits into your campaign…

…If we here at Spot-On needed a nifty way to illustrate of the power of the web and its place in the lives of "average" Americans - young, old, urban, rural, suburban, Southern, Midwestern or Western - we could not have asked for a better one."

How could campaigns use a similar tool? For starters, this could be a great resource for fundraising. Whenever a campaign needs to send their fundraising into over-dive - usually during the last few days of a reporting quarter - they could create a map like this one for their website and show supporters how well they’re raising money.

In many cases, a campaign must make itself look like a movement in order to tap into the psyches of its supporters - which in turn helps generate more money - and such a map would do just that.

Of course, there is always the risk of appearing beholden to people outside your district, and not all campaigns would want to use such a tool. It may be a better resource for partisan organizations like ActBlue or ideological interest groups like the Tea Party Patriots or

No matter who uses it though, it is an interesting technology development that could be useful for political fundraising.