Mississippians for Healthy Families employed this fundamental strategy by framing Initiative 26 as not in line with Mississippi values, a threat to the health of Mississippi families and a costly expansion of government involvement in our personal lives.
Cornell Belcher and Dan Martin of Brilliant Corners conducted the baseline poll that laid out the path to victory. There were no silver bullets, but we framed our case against Initiative 26 as “government going too far” with serious “unintended consequences.” Arguments about a threat to women’s health and potential economic costs in a poor economy softened support for personhood and moved voters away from a “yes” vote.
Not surprisingly, a solid majority of Mississippi voters call themselves conservative, including 50 percent of African-American voters. Further, 66 percent of all voters attend church at least once a week, and only 22 percent are truly pro-choice. A full 84 percent of African-American voters call themselves pro-life.
The initial ballot test showed opposition to Initiative 26 at 37 percent, with 26 percent strongly opposed. The encouraging news was that support for the amendment was below 50 percent, and another 16 percent were undecided. After hearing arguments for and against the measure, we were able to increase opposition to 46 percent in the informed ballot question. We were pleasantly surprised to find a softening of support for Initiative 26 across all demographic categories. It showed us that voters were concerned enough about the consequences of passing 26 that they’d consider rejecting the amendment.
Our strategy was basic: give voters pause, use language that takes them into their own experience, recruit locals to deliver our message and focus squarely on the health of Mississippi families.
Embracing a Conservative Message
We had to find a way to move the conversation away from abortion to have any chance of defeating Initiative 26. By framing the argument against 26 as “government going too far,” then focusing on the unintended consequences, we believed enough voters could be convinced to reject the initiative. The tricky part was striking a chord that would essentially allow conservative voters to oppose 26 without feeling as though they were abandoning their value set.
To that end, we focused on four key constituencies:
White Women: White women were the primary battleground for both campaigns. Women were much more entrenched in their support or opposition than other targets, but splitting the vote of white women was critical to holding support for the initiative below 50 percent.
African-Americans: Black voters were the biggest movers in our polling, and a winning margin of two-to-one here was essential to defeating 26.
Chronic Democratic Primary Voters: Preventing drop off from this small but important group was a primary goal. We had to bank every pro-choice voter and chronic Democrat to meet our vote goal.
Moderate White Males: Polling showed huge movement among white males from support to undecided, suggesting a potential for drop-off. Messages about government intrusion and health risk for women also tested well enough to target as a wedge universe.
Once we identified our targets, we zeroed in on message. If we were going to succeed in convincing voters to oppose personhood, discipline would be critical. The only way we could keep control of the message would be to make no mistakes, particularly given the national media attention on the initiative. Sparking a national debate on “choice” would bring the conversation somewhere we did not want it to be.