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The Hill : The Hillary Clinton of 2000 would have beaten Donald Trump

Published November 13, 2016

It was a sunny day on Daniel Moynihan’s farm in July 1999 when Hillary Clinton first launched her own political career and months later she would officially announce her candidacy for the U.S. Senate as a New Democrat. She extolled the values of “opportunity, community, responsibility and enterprise.”

In her announcement, Hillary backed a balanced budget, investments in education, welfare reform, tougher child support measures, more police and even teacher testing. She stressed the need for new jobs for New York and for continued economic progress.

She launched a campaign that was aimed at the largely Republican working class voters of upstate New York. It’s central promise was that no child should have to leave their hometown to find a good job.
She explained that the way to overcome the march of technology and globalization was to modernize the region for the 21st century. It was the kind of optimistic view of the future and the economy that got Bill Clinton elected in 1992.

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Voices of Mark Penn : Global CVE Perceptions Survey

Shannon N. Green speaks with Mark J. Penn, President and Managing Director of the Stagwell Group and member of the CSIS Commission on Countering Violent Extremism. Mark discusses the findings of CSIS’s Global Perceptions of Violent Extremism Survey, which was conducted in eight key countries. During this conversation, Mark talks about how diverging perceptions of violent extremism’s causes and manifestations have shaped the conversation surrounding CVE today.

Listen to the podcast

MSNBC: How Can Clinton Overcome Criticism?

Pollster Mark Penn discusses Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, the points she made, and the effect it could have on poll numbers.

MSNBC: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell

Mark Penn, a democratic pollster and veteran of the Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton war rooms, discusses the latest campaign polls with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC’s The Last Word.

Fox Business: Tax reform the top issue for the next president?

Former Hillary Clinton Campaign Senior Strategist Mark Penn on Hillary Clinton’s scandals, her tax plan and the Republican field in the presidential race.

The Atlantic: Americans Are No Longer Optimists

Published July 1, 2014

A survey reveals deep uncertainty the country’s future—but also growing consensus on issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana.

Historically, Americans have been optimistic about the future and confident about our leadership in the world, while at the same time being deeply divided on so-called social issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana use. That trend appears to be reversing, giving way to what might be called an age of impossibility, where Americans are deeply uncertain about our country’s future, according to a special survey commissioned for The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute for the tenth Aspen Ideas Festival. The survey, an online poll of more than 2,000 Americans, was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, working with Burson-Marsteller, from May 28 to 31, 2014.

The poll is a jarring wake-up call to anyone who still believes America is a country of optimists. Nearly two-thirds of Americans—65 percent—question whether America will be on the right track in 10 years. They are also split on whether the country will be a “land of opportunity” (33 percent say yes, 42 percent say no, and 24 percent say they don’t know). In their view, the American Dream itself seems to be fading. Seven in 10 Americans have real doubts about whether working hard and playing by the rules will bring success in the future. They are also concerned about their children’s futures. Despite falling unemployment in many states, 64 percent of parents believe it will be difficult for their children to find good jobs in 10 years.

Read Full Article at The Atlantic

Time Ideas: Who Should Romney Pick For Vice-President?

Who Should Romney Pick For Vice-President?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012

Penn: Obama’s pick of Biden in 2008 was based on filling a void in foreign policy experience, not to win the state of Delaware. Foreign policy was a major topic of the election, and Biden’s experience serving for several years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee perfectly complemented Obama and made up for what he lacked.

Romney will also try to use his Vice Presidential pick to make up for the voids in his biography rather than in electoral votes.  So far, his greatest weakness has been his inability to connect with middle and working class voters. In a recent CNN poll, Romney wins only 43% of Americans who make under $50,000, 11 points lower than Obama.

Romney will likely pick a running mate who can combat his image of a super-wealthy CEO, and for that, my guess is he will look to Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty grew up as the son of a truck driver in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He worked his way through school and was the only child in his family to graduate from college. His story would win Romney greater support among middle and working class Americans.

But while Pawlenty is the smart biographical choice, that is not necessarily the best strategic play. A game-changing candidate such as Marco Rubio or Condoleezza Rice would help re-energize Romney’s tepid campaign. Neither would be a Sarah Palin-like destructive force, and both would help him where he is hurts most — Rubio would help Romney win back some of the Hispanic vote and ultimately even the state of Florida. Dr. Rice, on the other hand, would help him with women and perhaps even improve his image in the African American community. A game-changer could work this time around.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

Time Ideas: What Are American Values These Days?

What Are American Values These Days?

The Republican strategist and the Democratic pollster reflect on which core beliefs are still central to our lives.

Penn: My hope this July 4th is that we focus as Americans on reviving our sport values — values that have made us great and can rekindle our optimism for the future as they have done many times before. From Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid in 1980, great athletic events have crystalized our faith in the country.

These days, sports are marred by scandals that go far beyond cheating, and it seems that every feel-good sports moment has its nefarious counterpart. Sports have always represented American values of fair competition, community, hard work, and the American Dream. But Americans believe our values are in decline, and while this is most clearly attributed to a lack of faith in political and economic institutions, perhaps our athletic institutions best demonstrate why we as a nation have become pessimistic about our values.

To take one example, in the same study, Americans found the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes to be the least morally acceptable behavior in a list that included prostitution, underage drinking, human cloning, and illegal drug use. Every time a scandal hits the sports world, it shakes our trust in our athletic institutions and people who are seen as role models, especially by the Millennial generation. According to the values poll, 45% of Americans age 18–29 say that celebrities and professional athletes have a fair amount or a great deal of influence on developing their beliefs of right and wrong. This is higher than the 42% of the same group who say the same of political leaders, and only slightly lower than the 51% who say that religious leaders have the same amount of influence on their values. We need to hold athletes (as well as other public figures) to a higher moral standard if we are to reverse the pessimism and restore faith in values that American sports have in the past, and can once again, embody. The Olympics will provide our athletes a new opportunity to shine and rise above it all in our best tradition.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

NPR News: Poll Shows A New Definition Of Optimism In America

Two-thirds of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland. On NPR News Talk of the Nation, Mark Penn explains that though Americans are losing confidence in the nation, they have retained a sense of personal optimism.

Listen to the Story at NPR News


DONVAN: So what we’re seeing here, is it kind of a redesign of the American dream or at least the way that people are describing it to themselves?

PENN: Well, I think that Americans, you have to bear in mind, are always a little pessimistic. I mean, it’s really quite common for Americans to rag on current conditions at the same time that half of them also think in an optimistic way because people often think the external world has significant problems that can’t be surmounted, but they usually see their internal world as a world of promise of hope. And they still mostly see that in America, though we’ll have to say we’ve gone through perhaps the longest period of pessimism, in what I always joke as recorded polling history in the last decade.

DONVAN: And what is it that people are losing faith in? Is it institutions?

PENN: Well, they are losing a lot of faith in their politicians. Wall Street came out miserably in this survey. I think less than 20 percent believe the people on Wall Street share common American values, which shows what a hill they have to climb. I think there’s some dispirit with the overall capitalist system. They think the economy is going in the wrong direction. What haven’t people lost faith in, in terms of outside institutions? Virtually every one.

DONVAN: And, you know, I know we always have a tendency to look in the rearview mirror only about 10 yards down the road, so it’s almost hard to believe that there was a time when people had more confidence in institutions. But is there a recent – is it recent that we – that a majority of Americans had a kind of faith in the institutions that represent them, by Wall Street and by their churches and by the electoral process? Was there…

PENN: I think the second Clinton administration was probably as close to the last heyday as we really had. I think probably the period from probably Clinton’s second election through – until 9/11 occurred was probably a very optimistic period. People thought that America was on top again, preparing for the 21st century. Two-thirds of the public thought things were going in the right direction. We really haven’t seen that in a long time.

DONVAN: Interesting trends you find in generational differences. Let’s talk about a couple of those. One is the open-mindedness of the younger generation. On what topics in particular are younger Americans coming out as more open minded?

PENN: Well, I think younger Americans here are expressing themselves as considerably more socially liberal than the older generation, and it’s interesting because the older generation now is the generation that voted for Kennedy. So whether it’s living together without marriage, whether it’s homosexuality, all of these various topics that have been difficult topics of discussion the older generation still finds morally unacceptable, the younger generation finds quite acceptable. And so there is a big split on social values between the two. Now, you don’t really know what happens to the younger generation when they get older.

Read the full transcript at NPR News

The Atlantic: Americans Are Losing Confidence in the Nation but Still Believe in Themselves

Published June 27, 2012

A new poll on values shows that there’s less faith in Washington, Wall Street, and even God. But Americans still think they can get anything they want through sheer hard work.

America’s values are in upheaval, triggered by the advance of technology, prolonged pessimism, and a loss of confidence in major social, political, economic, and religious institutions, according to a poll of more than 2,000 Americans commissioned by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute for the Aspen Ideas Festival. The poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland between May 25 and June 6, 2012.

While Americans have become far more socially tolerant of different lifestyles, they have become far more cynical about Wall Street, the ability to succeed on one’s own merits, the future of their children, and even the existence of God, according to the poll.

Full results here

America is in many ways unhappy with itself and the pop-culture it has become.

More than two thirds (69 percent) believe that American values have declined, and they point to political corruption, increased materialism, declining family values, and a celebrity-obsessed culture as the culprits.

Religious freedom is named as a core value, and yet fewer Americans are embracing any religion. Overall, 89 percent of Americans now say that they believe in God, down from 98 percent in a 1967 Gallup poll. The youngest generation shows an even sharper decline to 81 percent, though people often become more religious after they have children or start a family. By all measures ­- from basic belief to weekly attendance ­– religion and religious life are trending down in importance in American life.

Read Full Article at The Atlantic

Time Magazine: In Search of the Changing American Voter

Published June 21, 2012

The 137 million voters registered to go to the polls this November will not look like the 131 million who voted for President in 2008. And they are vastly different from the 96 million who voted the year Bill Clinton was re-elected. The U.S. has been changed by circumstance, economics, demographics and the simple passage of time. We are a youth-obsessed country that has never been older. We think of ourselves as politically polarized, but the edges are shrinking as the political center expands. The two campaigns are focusing on the ethnically static industrial Midwest while Latino voters in the South and West boom. We talk of ourselves as a nation of struggling workers, but the votes that matter most may be the swelling ranks of high-earning, college-educated professionals.

In this complex landscape, battlegrounds appear to be everywhere. Barack Obama must match or improve on his remarkable 2008 showing among Latino voters. That seems likely but is not guaranteed. Mitt Romney enjoys a striking advantage among America’s fast-growing senior-citizen set, which is worried about the economy. Independents are almost evenly split, with Romney enjoying a slight advantage. Which means the election will be decided by a hard-to-typecast kind of voter, one likely drawn from the growing ranks of new professions that have emerged from the U.S.’s high-tech and services-based economy. Neither candidate has captured the hearts, heads or wallets of these voters, many of whom earn six figures. Quite the contrary: it defies political logic that Obama has made higher taxes on upper-income voters such a critical part of his campaign when those same voters are in a position to determine the outcome. Romney risks losing them with even the slightest appeal to voters on conservative social issues. These voters are pro-technology and internationalist in outlook and are, as a group, at the core of the U.S.’s competitive advantage. Like three other voter groups, they are up for grabs in 2012.

Read More at Time Magazine (Subscriber Only Access)

Time Ideas: Was Obama’s Immigration Announcement Good Politics?

Was Obama’s Immigration Announcement Good Politics?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012

Penn: Obama’s announcement that the administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants is a win for the president on all levels. This order functionally enacts parts of the DREAM Act and fulfills one of Obama’s most scrutinized campaign promises. It distances the president from a Congress that is gridlocked on the issue and widely unpopular. And it represents a decisive bite-size government action that is meaningful among others to a growing and important subset of the electorate — Latinos. It’s a smart political move with tangible political consequences in this election season.

Obama’s action directly targets Latinos who are playing an increasingly important role in presidential elections. Latinos constituted 9% of the electorate in 2008 and 67% voted for Obama. They will likely break 10% for the first time in 2012 and, in addition to helping carry Democratic bastions such as California and New York, Latinos are the key to Obama’s chances in several swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

Obama is presently beating Romney among Latinos 61% to 27% and his announcement will only further help to consolidate the Latino vote behind him. This order is the closest he can come right now to enacting the DREAM Act, the components of which a sweeping 90% of Latinos support.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: The Case for Negative Campaign Ads

The Case for Negative Campaign Ads

Negative advertising can raise legitimate questions about candidates and are actually good for democracy

It’s quite popular to condemn negative advertising. It’s a great applause line on the stump.

Newark Mayor Corey Booker recently got front-page headlines by condemning Obama’s ads about Romney and Bain Capital — until he had to take his comments back because, I would guess, the Republicans were using them as attack lines against the President. President Obama defended his negative ads, saying they are about Romney’s character and fair game. Romney started his own negative ads, though he quickly repudiated a proposed negative campaign against Obama that would have focused on the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And everyone condemned it, though it appears it was never even made and certainly never ran. That’s the first time I’ve seen just thinking about running negative ads condemned.

It was Johnson who ran the Daisy ad against Goldwater in 1964, but it’s the Republicans who popularized negative ads by using them broadly under Lee Atwater. To be fair, both sides use them now, but usually Republicans take the hit for being more negative. In 1996, we ran mostly negative or comparative ads for President Clinton while Bob Dole ran mostly positive ads, but 2-to-1 voters thought we were positive and the Republicans negative. We began all our negative ads with the phrase “Another negative ad from the Republicans…”

So I’ll say something unpopular. Negative ads are by and large good for our democracy. And when they are not — when they overreach unfairly, they boomerang and the people who ran them take a well-deserved hit. But when they focus us on something important — like who would make a better commander in chief, who would fix the economy or when they bring up past events that need a real vetting — they do a service. They don’t let politicians off the hook and hold them accountable for their past actions.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

The New York Times: Soccer Dads: The Most Likely White, Male Backers

President Obama faces his single toughest electoral challenge with white men – and his support for gay marriage, while favored by most voters, probably will make it an even tougher slog with this key group in Midwestern swing states.

According to Gallup’s most recent tracking poll, only 40 percent of white voters approve of how the president has done his job. With white men it’s only about one in three. And just 23 percent of men believe the economy is starting to recover.

Older, rural, white men, especially in the South, are probably out of reach for the president because race is likely a factor with them. So he has to focus on better educated, more tolerant, moderately upscale suburban men – Soccer Dads. Both men and women find Obama equally likeable but they dramatically split on whether he shares their values, according to a recent CNN/ORC International poll.

Read the full article at The New York Times

TIME Ideas: Will Events in China Have Any Lasting Impact on Obama?

Will Events in China Have Any Lasting Impact on Obama?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Going after the Obama administration over its handling of the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, as the Romney campaign recently did, was a mistake. The far more sensible path when a sensitive diplomatic maneuver is underway is to sit tight and root for America to succeed. As a rule, you never step into an ongoing matter involving the security and prestige of the United States and potentially also give aid and comfort to the other side in the process.

The president and his team have made major progress on the image of the United States abroad, in finding and killing Osama Bin Laden and winding down the Iraq war. A Democrat’s typical weakness has become a strength, and Romney only took himself off message last week — and looked small.

Recent polls show that only 7% of Americans view foreign policy and related issues as the most important problem facing the country today, with some polls registering the importance of foreign policy as low as 1%. These same polls show that 72% of Americans named an economic issue as the most important for the country to focus on.

Romney needs an election on the economy. An anemic jobs report gave him a potential opportunity. But instead, Romney spent days trying to trigger national security criticisms of the Obama administration and, even if he succeeded, which I doubt, he will not have won any new votes anyway.

In this case, you have to wonder what the Romney team was thinking.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: Obama v. Romney: Who Will Win the Economy and How?

Obama v. Romney: Who Will Win the Economy and How?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: It’s déjà vu all over again. Just about every election since 1932 has been about the economy, and the 2012 race is no exception.

According to a recent Gallup poll, when asked to name off the top of their minds the most important problem facing this country today, 72% of Americans named an economic issue.

Right now no one is winning the economy as an issue with critical swing voters. According to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, only 13% of independent voters are very confident in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy. Only 12% are very confident in Romney.

But Obama can, as he did in 2008, definitely win the economic issue. He did it then because in the face of an economic collapse, Obama presented himself as the steady hand with a plan. People are still looking for that kind of leadership. So far Obama has focused on the Buffett rule, problems with Wall Street and the issue of inequality.

The key to winning the economy is broadening his economic message from income inequality to the larger problems that are engulfing the country and much of the world. He has to focus more on how we can use America’s know-how to succeed in this new global innovation economy; comprehensive tax reform; and a budget deal that will give business the confidence to hire.

Over on the other side, Romney is still in the infancy stage when it comes to an economic message — and the once-moderate Massachusetts governor moved to the right during a primary in which he tried to appease the Republican base. His quick turn to embrace tax cuts and conservative policies like those of the Ryan budget plan has left him off-message and off-center. Ryan is a ticket to electoral oblivion.

Obama’s message may need some broadening but while Romney has experience in business, his shift to the right on the economy has created an opening that Obama can once again fill.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: What Are the Best Next Steps for Romney and Obama?

What Are the Best Next Steps for Romney and Obama?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: President Barack Obama has some key advantages that he should press in the battle against Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee. First, a gender gap is emerging with Obama leading by as many as 19 points on women’s issues in some polls and holding on to this advantage may be the key to victory. The Republican party has backed itself into a corner when it comes to women’s rights. Therefore Obama should be looking to revive the Violence Against Women Act that needs a constitutional fix, raise equal pay for equal work (even men favor that!) and in general revisit the safeguards that moms need to protect their kids in an increasingly turbulent online world. In 1996, no TV would be manufactured without a v-chip. Today it’s the cell phones and computers that need a v-chip so that parents can let their younger kids use these new technologies without fear about how they can be misused.

Second, Obama has now pulled ahead even among independents and that means that continuing to emphasize that he has a sound approach to balancing fiscal responsibility with our nation’s values and priorities is critical to his re-election. David Brooks may say he went too far in criticizing the Ryan budget, but the truth is that the President is on the right track with the idea that Romney-Ryan is a ticket to electoral oblivion, just as Dole-Gingrich came to stand for unacceptable cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

Third, Obama needs to win the 26% of the electorate whose households earn more than $100,000. He connected with them last time and they were his key to victory in 2008 — his margin twice-over came from this important and growing group of professionals and households with dual incomes. That’s why “Buffett rule” days are as likely to lose him votes as gain them — these voters want to know what Obama is going to do to create new jobs through innovation and by mastering the global economy. That’s where he can retain and even make gains with this group.

Fourth, he should remind the voters that every day he is working to make their lives better. That’s why news like the FCC’s new database to track stolen cell phones and smartphones is not small bore — it’s the kind of thing that shows how the administration is looking out for people and their everyday problems.

Obama has a lot of advantages now as we begin to enter the one-on-one phase of the election and he has to press these advantages to win.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

Could defeat for Obamacare mean victory for Obama?

Published March 30, 2012

If the Supreme Court knocks out the guts of the Affordable Care Act — the individual mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance or pay a fine — the battle within the Obama campaign will be fierce. The president will be faced with two stark alternatives: launch the political equivalent of a drone strike on the Supreme Court and use the ruling to energize his base, or accept the decision and move on, hoping to neutralize the divisive law in the general election.

In the first scenario, President Obama would double down rather than back down. So far, he has shown no willingness to compromise on the individual mandate despite massive public opposition to the measure. In the face of a Supreme Court ruling against the law, a defiant president may seek to make an even more strident case for his vision for health care in America.

Already, the talking points for a war on the high court are being put in place by organizations such as the Center for American Progress. The story line is simple and potentially effective: From Bush v. Gore in 2000 to the Citizens United decision in 2010 to the possible Obamacare ruling, the Supreme Court puts politics above the people in the name of the Constitution.

This argument could play among an electorate predisposed to suspect the worst.A Bloomberg News survey taken shortly before the oral arguments found that 75 percent of Americans believe that politics will influence the justices’ decision on the health-care law. If the court kills the act, then Washington is reduced to a triple play of gridlock — between the president, Congress and the Supreme Court, nothing gets done.

The Obama campaign could paint the court as out of step with the modern world, in which the state needs to help redress the inadequacies of global and national markets. After all, the mandate is about everyone paying their fair share toward health care; it eliminates free-riders from the system.

Read Full Article

TIME Ideas: How Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Health Care Affect The Election?

How Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Health Care Affect The Election?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Overturning the healthcare law would be a drastic curtailing of Congressional power that will set off a political firestorm that won’t be good for the Court or the body politic.

The Court would in essence be saying that universal healthcare will either have to be provided to everyone at no charge or that requiring people to pony up for healthcare they need will require a constitutional amendment, just as the income tax needed one back in 1913.

Faith in government institutions is already at a record low. Just last fall Gallup reported that 81% of Americans expressed “historic negativity” towards the U.S. government. Yesterday a Bloomberg News poll showed that 75% percent of Americans believe that the Justices’ health care vote will be influenced by their personal politics.

Although this healthcare plan is not popular in recent national polls (47% against in the New York Times/ CBS poll; 42% against in the Washington Post/ ABC poll) such a ruling would put a fork in the ability for Congress to legislate universal healthcare. It would disillusion people even further – Congress doesn’t act much now and when it does it gets overturned. This would be the triple play of gridlock – from the President to Congress to the Court, nothing gets done.

If this suit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is successful, then perhaps people would want to re-open the requirements for wearing seatbelts or banning kids from sitting in the front seat under age 12. Maybe the mileage standards would have to be rolled back or the EPA standards we have come to rely upon to protect our air. Perhaps we need to reconsider Social Security under similar grounds. Advocates of more states’ rights would use the decision to re-open the debate of the general power and authority of the federal government.

The Republicans would cheer a ruling overturning the plan as a major victory. I think it would boomerang though as the American public doesn’t want to be denied a path to universal care and the decision would create a rallying cry for President Obama and his campaign. The conservative judges would be seen as once again having put a political rather than a legal stamp of opinion on the bill. The politically surer path for the Court would be to let universal healthcare be a matter between the President, Congress and the voters. If they don’t like the plan – and a lot of people don’t – then people can exercise their rights this November. Stopping Congress under any circumstances from requiring people to get healthcare to protect themselves and the greater community seems at best anachronistic and would only further undermine a political system already under a cloud of doubt.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: Why Are Obama’s Numbers Falling?

Why Are Obama’s Numbers Falling?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: The sobering numbers coming from the polls the past few days show that to win re-election, President Obama must do more than simply ask for another four years to let his policies work. He has to make a major leap into the center to deal with the volatility coming from the record number of independent voters in the electorate. His job approval is at 41% in the latest New York Times/CBS poll and 46% in the Washington Post/ABC News poll.

The developing storyline was that an improving economy mixed with a divided Republican electorate should have shot President Obama’s numbers sky high, putting the race out of reach for the Republicans. But the public wants to see more than just job growth — they want to see President Obama grow in the job. They are concerned that difficult situations in Iran and Afghanistan are raising the stakes on who occupies the Oval Office, as his foreign-affairs numbers dropped 10 points in New York Times/CBS poll. And while the fight over contraception coverage energized the base, it also revealed a more divided electorate on the issue than expected when it comes to rules for religious institutions.

I have to admit, I was ready to say that the President had turned the corner based on recent events and that his campaign seemed to have reached a more even footing compared with the rocky and chaotic Republican primary. But numbers like these send you back to first principles: 1) the President has to keep working to overcome doubts about his leadership by being a President first, not a candidate; 2) he has to move more decisively into the center, which means less about raising taxes and more about streamlining and modernizing government; and 3) he has to run on a forward-looking and comprehensive economic plan that deals directly not only with spending but also with trade, immigration, energy prices and a host of other issues holding the country back from real economic growth in the 21st century.

Americans remain moody and pessimistic about government and everyone in it; however, they remain open to President Obama. These unexpectedly low polls serve as a warning sign that he has to keep searching for the right key to the door of re-election.

Hughes: Gas prices and federal budget deficits are rising, and so are tensions in the world. If they aren’t already, alarm bells should be sounding at President Obama’s campaign, because these two new polls, the New York Times/CBS News and Washington Post/ABC News, show Americans are not at all happy with the way the President is dealing with those issues and are deeply worried about the President’s performance — or more accurately, his failure to perform — both at home and abroad. These polls are the most recent reminder of just how vulnerable the incumbent President is during this election year.

Gas prices and federal budget deficits are rising, and so are tensions in the world. If they aren’t already, alarm bells should be sounding at President Obama’s campaign, because these two new polls, the New York Times/CBS News and Washington Post/ABC News, show Americans are not at all happy with the way the President is dealing with those issues and are deeply worried about the President’s performance — or more accurately, his failure to perform — both at home and abroad. These polls are the most recent reminder of just how vulnerable the incumbent President is during this election year.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Ideas: How Is Obama Faring Against a Republican Challenge?

How Is Obama Faring Against a Republican Challenge?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: What Republican challenge? While the Democrats had a long primary process in 2008, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama emerged from that contest as credible presidential possibilities; in this case, the Republican contenders are being diminished, not enhanced, by the bloody contest.

And unemployment is down, the Dow is up and President Obama is in election mode. Fired up and ready to go with his blueprint for America, Obama is rising in the polls.

The President’s budget is not without points of attack. It expands government and raises taxes — problems he describes as virtues in a spirited defense of government spending to protect middle-class values while raising taxes on the affluent. But so far Mitt Romney, one of the wealthiest candidates paying one of the lowest tax rates, has been ill-equipped to join the battle. He is self-interested in lower taxes for dividends and capital gains and so he comes to the debate tarnished by his perceived motivations.

The President has fared well these last two months. But this race is building for the day that there is a Republican nominee and a joint debate on the economy and the budget, which will be about more than unemployment statistics and deficits — it will be a clash of ideologies. Neither Obama nor Romney, if he is the nominee, come from the true extremes of their party; they nevertheless have very different outlooks on taxes and government spending that are going to be at the heart of the election come November.

For now, Obama has put together a strong case that his approach is beginning to work and that it’s time to raise taxes on the affluent to fund maintaining entitlements. So far, the Republican rebuttal has been fragmented and ineffective, but it’s not until the argument is joined one-on-one that the voters will make their firm choices for the presidency and decide the direction the country will take on these big issues.

Hughes: President Obama’s supporters may be feeling a little better this month, thanks to slightly lower unemployment numbers. But to borrow the President’s new favorite phrase, the Obama team’s current sigh of relief is not “built to last.”

Americans’ unprecedented pessimism continues, with 63% believing the country is on the wrong track according to a recent Rasmussen Reports poll. And no wonder. At 8.3%, unemployment is still higher than President Obama’s Administration promised it ever would be. And if you count the estimated 3 million workers who are so discouraged that they have given up looking for work, today’s actual unemployment stands at more than 10%. A record number of Americans are living in poverty, and the housing crisis continues, with more than 1 million homes likely to be foreclosed on this year. Most discouraging, the President’s most recent proposals indicate he’s not serious about any fundamental changes.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

World Economic Forum: Tuning in to more than corporate performance

Published February 7, 2012

In the worldwide marketplace, corporations are continuously being judged by vastly different audiences. From Germany to Brazil, today’s consumers are tuning in to more than just performance; they’re judging corporations on their citizenship. Yet, based on our findings in the inaugural Global Corporate Reputation Index, which was released at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting by Burson-Marsteller, Landor Associates, Penn Schoen Berland and Brand Asset Consulting, corporations aren’t getting or effectively processing that message.

In fact, across the six countries (Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States) surveyed, citizenship, defined as how responsible a corporation is to its community, consistently lagged in comparison to corporate performance, suggesting a lack of emphasis on citizenship in today’s corporate marketplace. Companies can and should use this finding as a clear opportunity to strengthen their reputation by demonstrating and communicating more actively their commitment to good corporate citizenship.

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PRWeek: Davos 2012: The great transformation

Published February 3, 2012

With record snowfall, spirited Occupiers, and thought leaders from across industries and around the globe congregating in Davos, Switzerland, this year’s World Economic Forum was laser-focused on current worldwide crises at hand. Aptly themed, “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models,” the conversation was heavily influenced by the debt crisis in Europe. The larger questions about inequality, how capitalism is working, and how to redefine fairness in the 21st century were discussed at length.

Read the Full Article

TIME Ideas: Has Newt’s Challenge Hurt Romney or Made Him Stronger?

Has Newt’s Challenge Hurt Romney or Made Him Stronger?
Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Newt Gingrich has been a great candidate in the way that the Titanic was a great ship. It has been very attractive to board, but we know where it’s headed. Of course Gingrich believes he is unsinkable, and, for that, Democrats must be very grateful.

So thank you Gingrich for running a negative ad campaign in Florida so that the Democrats don’t have to. You have literally saved the Obama campaign, Democratic National Convention and Democrats around the country millions of dollars. Moreover, you have all but done the work for the Obama opposition research team. From painting Mitt Romney as someone having a “profound character problem” to acting “totally dishonest,” you have torn apart his record at Bain Capital, made him release his tax returns and forced him to deplete his bank account.

Thank you Gingrich for further fragmenting the Republican Party. You have self-declared this GOP nomination a two-person race between yourself, the conservative leader, and Romney, the Massachusetts moderate. In doing so, you are working to depress conservative voter turnout in the general election.

Thank you Gingrich for bringing prolonged drama and grandiose schemes to this primary season. With 46 states to go, you have ample opportunity to remind us of the reasons why moon colonies and farmers in space should be a priority going forward as well as why employing poor children to serve as janitors to earn money is a good Republican idea.

As he did during the ’95-’96 federal government shutdowns, Gingrich is once again bringing his unique brand of brinksmanship to hector Romney and the Republican Party.

Hughes: That which does not kill you makes you stronger. That old adage came to mind as I watched Romney overcome the most serious threat to his campaign thus far with a decisive victory over Gingrich in the important and diverse state of Florida.

To his great credit, Romney seems to be relishing the fight and rising to the occasion. As he said in his well-crafted Florida victory speech, “a competitive primary does not divide us; it prepares us.” Candidates rarely enjoy a genuine threat to the survival of their campaigns. But unless it knocks them out, it almost always makes them better. After John McCain dealt a stunning 19-point defeat to then-Governor George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, we had to re-tool. We had let McCain’s attacks against our candidate go unanswered, we realized, and allowed McCain to steal the mantle of reform. We developed a sharp new message describing George W. Bush as a “reformer with results” and contrasted his executive decision-making experience with Sen. McCain’s years in the Senate. Instead of the usual campaign speeches, Gov. Bush began having town hall meetings, where he was forced to answer lots of questions he might have preferred to avoid — but it helped him hone his answers and demonstrate his ability to think on his feet.

The Romney we saw campaigning in Florida lived up to his promise to show that the GOP nomination is worth fighting for. He rose to Newt’s challenge to his frontrunner status with two of his best debate performances. After coming across as both dodging and defensive about his income and income taxes in South Carolina, he delivered a full throated and effective defense of his wealth, saying:

“I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it. I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America. I’m proud of being successful. I’m proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I’m not going to run from that. I’m proud of the taxes I pay. My taxes, plus my charitable contributions, this year, 2011, will be about 40%. So, look, let’s put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let’s get Republicans to say, you know what? What you’ve accomplished in your life shouldn’t be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America.”

It was one of the strongest statements of the campaign thus far, and it’s exactly the argument Republicans need to make this fall to confront President Obama and his attempts to attack success and divide Americans based on income. As he fights Newt’s attacks on his tenure at Bain, his record as Governor and his financial success, Romney is refining his message for the fall campaign and ironically, showing that he is what Republicans want most: the candidate capable of taking on and defeating President Obama.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

The Hill: Obama must bring back the opportunity society

Published January 24, 2012

Tonight, President Obama has the kind of opportunity that former President Clinton had in 1996 — a chance to jumpstart his presidency, set the framework for his election and show that he has a dynamic agenda for America’s future in the 21st century.

The mess on the Republican side, along with improving economic numbers, has given him a singular opportunity to break through with the American people. The Republican presidential candidates have now proved as fractious and mean-spirited as the Republicans in Congress, widening the president’s opportunity.

So he has to give a speech that is long on job creation and short on rhetoric that could be interpreted as class warfare. In this speech, he has to bring America together and rise above politics and partisanship. It’s a time for tough words on Iran along with strong support for Israel. It’s a time to embrace optimism and the ability of America to succeed in the face of adversity. And it’s time to mend fences with the business community by bringing back offshore profits to jumpstart the economy. Above all, he has to give Americans renewed hope in his ability to restore the American Dream for this and the next generation.

Read the Full Article

The Hill: The center is back — and Obama needs to be there

Published January 11, 2012

The center is back.

After a year in which it looked like the Republican Party was headed to the extremes with Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and then Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney last night took 49 percent of the Republicans who voted in the New Hampshire open primary.

And the more centrist the Republican nominee, the more centrist the president needs to be in order to win in 2012. The huge ideological gap that would have made running against the Republicans an easy romp is disappearing as the exit polls show that even primary voters are choosing practicality over partisanship. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney won with those voters who thought he had a better chance to beat President Obama in November.

Despite Ron Paul’s popularity with youth and Jon Huntsman’s popularity with Democrats, Romney managed to still win the registered Independents and those who identified as socially moderate and liberal. The attributes that have been a weakness to Romney during the primary season will likely be his strengths in the general election if he clinches the nomination in the next contests.

Read the Full Article

Mark Penn and Karen Hughes Faceoff: How Much Could Change in the Race Next Year?

How Much Could Change in the Race Next Year?
Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: If there is one thing that has been true about every pundit’s prediction so far about 2011, it’s that it’s been wrong. Just as the stock market has gyrated erratically, so also the political marketplace has faced much the same kind of uncertainty and instability.

Let’s look at the last few months:

Obama is looking better, just after he was looking dire.

The economy is coming up, just after it was declared dead.

And Newt Gingrich is fading, just after he was pronounced the unexpected frontrunner.

So this suggests that either a) conventional wisdom will win out and Mitt Romney will be the nominee against a vulnerable President Obama and the rest of this is just noise or b) the Republican primary will descend into utter chaos with Obama looking stronger going into the general election.

At this point, I think future b — chaos — is more likely to happen.

Ron Paul could now win Iowa being the ultimate come-from-behind candidate. And if that happens, Romney would be so weak that maybe Jon Huntsman would finish higher than expected in New Hampshire and get back in the race. Gingrich could win South Carolina and then the primary season could go on for several months as a multi-candidate race with no clear winner.

That would give a clear path to Obama to seize the day with a strong State of the Union and re-launch of his campaign and his presidency with the backdrop of a strengthening economy.

Newt could then ultimately win the nomination after a long drawn-out battle, only to have a third party candidate enter the race and either unexpectedly win with a plurality that could be overturned by the House of Representatives. Or the third party candidate could just serve as a spoiler that tips the election to Obama, who would only need about 40% to win.

Far-fetched?  So far based on 2011, only the unexpected can be what’s expected for 2012.

Hughes: The only reasonable prediction after a year that has seen five different candidates lead in the race for the Republican nomination is this: sometime next year, my party will have a Republican nominee. (Of course, we used to say, Win or lose, come election day, it’s over. Then came 2000 and the Florida recount.) But once the campaign moves from a season of straw polls and speculation into a time when Americans walk into voting booths and make their choices, things tend to change fast. And sometimes very dramatically.

How dramatically? Consider that in mid-December, 2007, this same time in the presidential election cycle four years ago, everyone thought that Hillary Clinton would be the Democrats’ nominee. Rudy Giuliani led the polls in the Republican contest, followed by Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, while John McCain was in fourth place with a dismal 12 percent support in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls.

On Jan. 3, voters in Iowa will begin answering these questions: Is Newt Gingrich’s lead as transitory as it was for several other candidates in 2011? Will Romney’s organization deliver a win in New Hampshire and a stronger than expected showing in Iowa? Can another candidate emerge from down in the pack with a surprising finish in one of the early states?

Only the voters will decide, and I have some holiday homework for my fellow Republicans. Think hard about which of our candidates can actually win in the general election, and which would be an effective and respected President. Which candidate can have appeal beyond our Party and attract the Reagan Democrats and other swing voters who will be critical to victory? President Obama is vulnerable, and the only way for our country to change course, restore confidence, return to strong growth and lead the world to greater peace and freedom is to defeat him in November. The eventual outcome of the election may well hinge on the choices made by Republican primary voters in the spring of 2012.

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

What Companies Can Learn from Political Campaigns

Published December 21, 2011

With the Republican primaries now just weeks away, the range of observers who are watching polls and assessing campaign strategies is expanding beyond political wonks and news junkies.

While politics has always been an avid spectator sport, lately it’s become a field that offers valuable lessons for business. Political campaigns have traditionally been among the most sophisticated users of polling and statistics, and that remains true. Over the last decade, however, as baseball embraced the concepts featured in “Moneyball” and the general public became fascinated by the world of “Freakonomics,” many other fields have become adept at using data to make better decisions–corporations among them.

Here are five lessons from political campaigns that every business can learn from.

Find the New Voter/Consumer. In the 1950s, the mobile middle class changed our society by creating the suburbs and the suburban lifestyle, driving both the economy and politics. Today, I believe our economic and political landscapes are being driven by the growing numbers of a new professional class of college-educated, new-economy workers. From computer software engineers to veterinarians, the new professional class made the decisive difference in the 2008 general election for Obama, and they have fueled the dramatic growth of upscale brands like Apple.

In the last Democratic re-election in 1996, we coined and targeted the Soccer Mom – married, suburban, mostly working women who cared passionately about protecting and raising their kids. It was the Soccer Mom who replaced the traditional Democratic target of downscale, non-college, manufacturing sector men; the country wasn’t producing any more of these voters because at that time we had an economy that created 24 million new jobs, but not one in manufacturing.

In the last two elections, one in four voters had household incomes over $100,000, up from just 9% in 1996. The growth of the two-income, college educated household with a broader view of the world is a fundamental change represented by Obama himself, who came from the professional class. In 2008, Obama even won the 6% of the voters making over $200,000, giving him his margin of victory. The new professional class is growing in influence. If Obama expects to win a second term in the White House, he has to reharness—not push away—the political goodwill he captured from this group in 2008.

Read the Full Article at the Harvard Business Review

Mark Penn and Karen Hughes Faceoff: Is There Anything Left in Politics to Be Thankful For?

Is There Anything Left in Politics to Be Thankful For?
Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: There is one thing that all Democrats and possibly the country can be thankful for — the Republican presidential primary field. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. So I am thankful for:

  • Herman Cain’s foreign policy knowledge because it makes us all feel better about our own.
  • Rick Perry, for helping to teach our nation’s kids how not to count to three on national TV.
  • Jon Huntsman, because the more Democrats and Independents adore him, the smaller his chances are of winning the GOP nomination.
  • Newt Gingrich, who reminds us that holiday gift giving and financial prudence begin at Tiffany & Co.
  • Mitt Romney for pretending he is a conservative after pretending he was a moderate.
  • Rick Santorum for constantly reminding us of the two senate campaigns he won in Pennsylvania and for never reminding us about the last one he lost.
  • Michele Bachmann for taking lessons from Herman Cain on foreign policy.
  • Donald Trump for being an apprentice when it comes to politics.
  • Ron Paul for threatening to launch a third party in the event he does not win the primary.
  • All 27 Republican primary debates. Each one has delivered quality sports programming even during the NBA lockout.

Hughes: This week’s question made me think of the Sunday school class I teach, where our virtue of the month is “gratitude.” We’ve been talking with the kids about the need to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude,” to try to find and be thankful for good things, even when circumstances seem difficult. So in that spirit, even after a congressional super committee failed to find common ground on beginning to reduce our ballooning national deficit, we can be thankful that:

  • Congress takes lots of recesses (under the theory that what they don’t do can’t hurt us.) In Texas, our legislature meets for only 140 days every two years and we like to joke that many Texans think it should be for two days every 140 years.
  • There are probably now fewer than 999 times during this Republican primary season that Herman Cain can say 9-9-9 in answer to any debate question.
  • All the leading Republican presidential candidates have much more leadership experience than President Obama did when he was elected: Mitt has shown calm, capable leadership in business, as the Republican Governor of a Democratic state and in rescuing a failing Olympics; Newt has an overflow of ideas and knows how to lead Congress; Cain has a strong record in business and an outsider’s perspective, and Perry has overseen strong job growth in the diverse state of Texas.
  • In just about six weeks, the voters — instead of us pontificators — will begin deciding which candidates are actually ahead or behind.

On a more serious note, even at a time when trust in our political institutions and distrust of our politicians seem to be at the opposite, wrong ends of the spectrum, I am grateful that:

  • Good people from both political parties are still willing to put their names on the line, endure the criticism that inevitably comes, and run for office out of what I believe is most often a genuine desire to make our communities and our country better.
  • Many young people — like the impressive student leaders I have met recently in Texas, Iowa and Louisiana — still care about public policy and want to get involved.
  • We are free to voice our complaints and work for change if we don’t like the way things are going.
  • We are blessed to live in a country that, while far from perfect, has made great progress toward living up to its own grand ideals, and we are grateful for the men and women of our armed services who sacrifice to keep us free. That’s something that I hope close to 100% of my fellow Americans can agree on. Happy Thanksgiving!

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Magazine: Mark Penn and Karen Hughes Faceoff: Can the Republican Candidates Recover From Their Recent Implosion?

Can the Republican Candidates Recover From Their Recent Implosion?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Republican presidential candidates are daily violating President Reagan’s 11th Commandment — Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republicans. From debate finger-pointing to smear campaigns, infighting among GOP presidential hopefuls is heightening as we head into the primary season and it doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party.

Far and away, the American people are looking for a president to create jobs and fix the economy. Yet, the discussion right now is filled with Herman Cain’s allegations of sexual harassment and questions as to who leaked the story. The Cain campaign accused the Perry campaign, who in turn raised the possibility that the Romney campaign was behind the disclosure of the allegations. Then Cain started again and blamed the “Democratic machine.”

Moreover, with Romney still hitting Perry on immigration and Perry peddling Romney as a flip-flopper any chance he can get, it’s no wonder that none of the GOP candidates can get their polling numbers above the 30% mark. These low numbers fuel in-party attacks, and they put the frontrunner position in a vulnerable, yet attainable state. As a result, Republicans at large are once again looking for a new face to enter the race. Things are looking desperate as talk of Palin or Trump entering the race has begun anew.

While it’s too early to measure the lasting impact of the sexual harassment charges against Cain, it won’t be too long before the GOP as a whole runs out of time to turn around its image in time for Election Day. Whoever does win the Republican nomination may just be too bloodied and bruised to get into the ring with Obama.

Hughes: Giddy, goofy and grumpy are not the words most Republicans would want applied to a week of presidential primary politics, but they are nonetheless an accurate description of a week that saw one campaign having to deny its candidate had been drinking, and another fending off allegations of sexual harassment.

On-stage in New Hampshire, Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared to be having a lot more fun campaigning than his current poll numbers would seem to merit. His speech gave new meaning to the word punchy, and became fodder for late night comedians. But the more lasting ramifications on the primary race could come from Herman Cain’s inability to put the sexual harassment story behind him.

Cain spent the week looking mad about accusations he hotly condemned as false. His campaign tried to divert attention by accusing (apparently falsely) another campaign of leaking them, then by week’s end, Cain made the classic mistake of thinking he could unilaterally declare the story dead. “We are getting back on message, end of story,” he told reporters. If you have any doubt that doesn’t work, just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Now that a fourth woman has come forward, moving the story from vague allegations to tawdry specifics, Cain must find a way to effectively communicate his side of the story. He needs to provide facts and context, not blanket denials that he “has never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.” This story will not go away until the questions are credibly addressed. And Cain desperately needs other voices to speak up on his behalf. Where are the senior women who have worked with him and can speak up for him?

Mitt Romney may well be last week’s winner, by staying out of the headlines and staying focused on his economic plan. Jobs are still the number one issue for the American people, and when voting starts, Republicans will choose a candidate they believe can most effectively run against President Obama’s dismal economic record.

Can Republicans recover? Absolutely, but the onus is now on the Cain campaign to effectively rebut these allegations if he wants to stay in the top tier of candidates.

TIME Magazine: Mark Penn and Karen Hughes Faceoff: How Much Trouble Is Obama Really In?

How Much Trouble Is Obama Really In?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Obama is resilient. He proved in 2008 that he knows how to size up a tough spot and come out swinging. This time around he is facing another rough patch, only now he has to come out swinging for the swing voter.

Obama has to distance himself from the Republican right by occupying the center and rebuilding the coalition he had just a few years ago when he brought together those in the lowest and highest income classes — in 2008, he won the lion’s share of everyone making under $35,000 and got a remarkable half of the 26% of the voters whose households make over $100,000. Never before have so many voters fallen into that category and never before had so many of them voted Democratic. He has to keep his coalition together with a second-term agenda that unites them rather than divides them.

Obama’s ratings are hovering around 40%, a big drop from the lofty levels of two years ago, but he certainly could come back from here, as others have. He needs to get near 50% to tip the odds back in his favor. Given tough economic conditions, the best alternative is a relentless drive to show how his presidency is making a difference every day in the lives of average Americans.

While the Republicans tie themselves up in knots in their primary season and continue to be led by the Tea Party, their ratings are sinking lower and lower. National frustration is building and although the voters have real concerns about the President, few think the Republicans have a better idea. On issue after issue, the voters prefer the Democratic solution to the Republicans. And that means that there is a lot of hope for less change than the Republicans are counting on and a path to re-election.

Hughes: To quote an infamous campaign aside, President Obama is in trouble … “big-time.” As he launches his re-election campaign – far too early – he is undermining the very rationale that made him President in the first place.

Read the full article at Time Magazine

Bloomberg: Burson-Marsteller Chief Mark Penn on How to Handle a Crisis

Burson-Marsteller Chief Mark Penn on How to Handle a Crisis

“As a leader, you have to balance the desire to say something right away with the need to get the facts,” Mark Penn, chief executive officer of Burson- Marsteller, says in Bloomberg Businessweek’s Sept. 26 edition. “People typically err on the side of saying something too soon and then have to eat most of what they said.

There are two phases: the hurricane and the cleanup. During the hurricane, you’re trying to keep the house standing and keep your organization functioning. Whether you win, lose, or draw, unless all the employees are on board and focused, you’ve lost. When the immediacy of the crisis is over, then you figure out what changes to make and how you rebuild your image. It can be a two-year process, but most companies recover.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is the best crisis responder I’ve ever worked with. He’s a strong leader, and he’s goal-oriented to solve the problem, whether it’s the nation’s deficit or impeachment. He won by going against the conventional wisdom of crisis management. People think you should get out there and apologize and everything will be fine. That’s not always true.

In some industries you can anticipate what the likely crisis will be. You need a plan and the right person out there as the central voice. Don’t throw your chief executive officer in the middle of every story. In the BP Plc crisis, CEO Tony Hayward underplayed the gravity initially, and then he arguably overplayed it because he was on the defensive. Was there a workaround? Sure. He could have hired General Colin Powell. If there’s a massive incident in the Gulf of Mexico, the person you’d have the most confidence in is someone from the American military.”

The Hill: Getting the Budget Message Right

Published July 19, 2011

At the end of the day, I’d be surprised if there is a government shutdown coming out of the debt-ceiling negotiations — the Republicans learned in 1995 just how devastating that can be. People may want smaller government, but no government is something else entirely.

So President Obama is on firm ground when he pushes back on Republicans holding the country hostage to the debt ceiling, but his message has been puzzling — and even counterproductive — when it comes to the underlying budget fight. Since the Republicans drew him into the debt-ceiling fight, his approval numbers have slipped further; the most recent Gallup polls show him dipping to one of his lowest points since taking office, at 44 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.

The reason I believe is that he has taken up the right fight, but has the wrong message. What people have heard him say boils down to this — “I’ll cut Medicare if you raise taxes on the wealthy.” It’s a reversal on the long-used Democratic refrain that the Republicans just want to “cut Medicare to lower taxes on the wealthy.”
And it alienates just about everyone. The base is upset that he would cut Medicare, and his upper-income voters (among of his strongest bases) feel targeted. Lost in the process is any message of standing for fiscal responsibility. His primary goal seems not to be fiscal responsibility at all, but higher taxes.

Read the Full Article

Time Magazine: Mark Penn on The Pessimism Index

Published June 30, 2011

Just 10 years into a new century, more than two-thirds of the country sees the past decade as a period of decline for the U.S., according to a new TIME/Aspen Ideas Festival poll that probed Americans on the decade since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda seriously weakened, but the impact of the 9/11 attacks and the decisions that followed have, in the view of most Americans, put the U.S. in a tailspin that the country has been unable to shake during two administrations and almost 10 years of trying.

The poll confirms that the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness and pessimism ever. Today’s teenagers hardly remember a time before 9/11, the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and constant economic upheaval. Baby boomers, the generation known for continuous reinvention, are filled with worry and doubt about their future and the future of their children.

It is hard to overstate what a fundamental change this represents. A country long celebrated for its optimism amid adversity is having trouble finding the pluck and the spirit that have seen it through everything from world wars to nuclear threats to space races. The U.S. usually bounces back after a few years of difficulty, such as the Vietnam War, Watergate or recessions. After two or three years of anxiety and worry, the electorate normally returns to its innate optimism. Yet the forces now aligned against the American people seem much more formidable to those we surveyed; the poll uncovered the kinds of attitudes we saw among Europeans during the decade after World War II.

Read the full article at Time.com

GQ Magazine: Mark Penn on How Obama Can Lose

The chief adviser to Hillary and Bill understands a thing or two about winning, losing, and Obama. Here he explains to GQ’s Lisa DePaulo how Obama could still end up out of a job next fall.

1. He Takes Another Big Risk—and Flops
“Obviously, he took the biggest risk of his presidency with the Osama operation. He took a huge risk and it completely paid off. He was right. But watch out now for the over-confidence that comes with success. Don’t try this again with Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. It’s a common thing for presidents to do, particularly on the basis of a risky success. They think, “Well, that went great, let’s try something like that again.” The next risky mission could end up being a disaster that will be very difficult for his presidency to recover from. I sometimes think Bush got into Iraq because the original Afghanistan mission seemed to go so easily. It was won in two weeks, with very few troops involved. I think that led to a notion that he could have equally quick success in Iraq. Instead he wound up with something that defined the rest of his presidency. See, presidents often have two modes. One is: ‘Hunker down, we gotta be careful.’ And the other is: ‘Things are great, don’t worry about it.’ It’s when they get in that second mode that mistakes happen.”

2. He Thumps His Chest Too Much About Bin Laden
“He’s already mentioning it in speeches, and he has to stop. Never ever put the Osama mission in political terms. People are going to want him to put this in ads. Don’t. Everybody knows he did a great job! This was a different kind of thing for sure, but after impeachment was over, Joe Lockhart had this great phrase: ‘We’re in a gloat-free zone.’ The president’s gotta stay in a gloat-free zone.”

Read the full article at GQ.com

Washington Post: How Obama can find his center, writes Mark Penn

Published January 31, 2011

Centrists of America, rejoice. After being out of whack for two years, the political system and the president have come back to the mainstream.

For all of the drum-beating from both extremes during the election season, the result has been a surprisingly sensible shift to the center – a position advocated by neither of the groups that tend to drive so much of the nation’s political conversation.

Now, having adopted a centrist outlook in his State of the Union address, President Obama needs to fill it out with big ideas that solve our major problems rather than let us keep kicking the can down the road.

Read Full Article

New York Daily News: Mark Penn gives the President advice on his State of the Union speech

Published January 23, 2011

In his State of the Union, President Obama has the opportunity, and even mission, to articulate the new direction he has taken in his presidency since the shellacking in the 2010 midterm elections. There is no doubt that he has radically changed course by backing the Bush tax cuts, sending olive branches to big business and reshuffling his team.

But so far, the public has had to read the tea leaves on what he is really thinking and where he wants to take the country. And when it comes to fixing the economy, he has completely lacked any coherence, veering from bailouts of Wall Street to sharp condemnations.

In 1996, former President Bill Clinton was as clear as a bell, declaring that the “era of big government is over,” but this did not mean a return to fending for yourself for those in need. He went back to his New Democratic philosophy of opportunity, responsibility and community, backing a balanced budget that, at the same time, would preserve entitlements.

The best I can make of the Obama retooling is that it will be based on something less coherent but potentially just as potent — a revised economic philosophy that is based more on private sector renewal while holding firm to liberal views on social issues like choice, gay rights and stem cell research. Politically, he will leave the radical right Christian coalition behind while seeking to attract moderates who reject the Republicans on social issues but have been attracted to lower taxes, smaller government and toughness on national security.

This is potentially very successful for him – because it both splits the Republican Party and keeps together much of the Obama 2008 base, which is made up of better educated, upper-income voters who are fine with gay marriage as long as their taxes are kept low.

Last year, the President used his State of the Union speech to launch into the breach, telling Democrats to stand their ground, calling Republicans the “party of no” and basically suggesting that the assembled Supreme Court justices sitting at his feet had turned a blind eye to the need to get corporate money out politics.

This year we can expect something quite different – a tribute to working together to pass a tax compromise, a desire to put aside politics to make progress and an emphasis on putting people back to work. Last year, he was Superman; this year, he will strive to be the super statesman.

Read the full article at the New York Daily News

Politico: Poll: D.C. elites down on Sarah Palin

She told you so.

Washington elites, it turns out, do look down their noses at Sarah Palin.

The former Alaska GOP governor has been saying it for more than two years now, and a new POLITICO poll released Wednesday suggests she’s right.

Just 11 percent of the D.C. elites surveyed said they believe Palin is qualified to be president, less than half of the general public — 23 percent — who believe the same. Eighty-six percent of Washington elites — roughly 9 out of 10 — think Palin is not qualified, compared with 64 percent of the general public.

In addition, 79 percent of Washington elites believe Palin is a “negative influence in national politics” while just 15 percent find her to be “a breath of fresh air.” Outside the nation’s capital, however, more than twice as many believe she has had a positive impact on politics, while 50 percent see her as a negative influence.

“Palin is a populist-oriented phenomenon drawn heavily from lower middle-class voters, but she also deliberately comes off as anti-intellectual and anti-Washington, so it is no surprise she does not play in the Beltway,” said Mark Penn, CEO of the polling firm Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the survey for POLITICO. “Elites almost everywhere are turned off by her and some of the very things she does that attracts her core support.”

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The Hill: Poll: Looming anti-Obama midterm vote may not carry through to 2012

A majority of voters see the midterm election as a referendum on Barack Obama, but most have not decided whether they’ll vote against the president in 2012, according to a poll by The Hill.

Seventy percent of respondents in The Hill’s latest survey of 10 battleground districts said their feelings about President Obama will play an important role in how they vote on Nov. 2.

That tracks closely with polling conducted by The Hill in other districts across the country during the past three weeks, where 69 percent of voters said Obama would affect their choices on Election Day.

The focus on Obama was high among voters in both parties; 47 percent of Republicans in the latest poll said Obama would be a very important factor in their vote, while 46 percent of Democrats said the same thing.

Yet 54 percent of those polled said Republicans winning back control of Congress this year would have no impact on their vote in 2012. An even higher number of independents, 62 percent, said a Republican Congress would have no impact on their vote for president in 2012.

The results point to a paradox of the 2010 election: While it is clear voters worried about government spending and record deficits want to put a brake on the Obama administration, they do not appear to have given up on the president.

“The results indicate voters want to see Obama move to the center and work more with Republicans, particularly on spending”, said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the survey.

While Penn said that the 2010 election is “in many ways” a referendum on Obama, he added: “Voters didn’t see any direct correlation between who holds Congress and who they’ll vote for president.”

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The Hill: Poll: Midterm blowout: 50 or more Dem seats set to fall in the election

Republicans are headed for a blowout election win that seems certain to seize more than enough seats to knock out the Democrats and take control of the House.

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party.

The data suggest a GOP pickup that could easily top 50 seats (the party needs 39 for control of the House).

Of the 42 districts polled for The Hill, all but two of which are currently Democratic, 31 had Republicans in the lead. Democrats were up in just seven, and four were tied. In addition, there are some 15 Democratic districts that are so far into the GOP win column that they weren’t polled. That would suggest at least 46 GOP pickups, plus whatever the party gets out of another 40 or 50 seats that some experts believe are in play.

“We didn’t even poll in about 15 districts that are already too far gone for Democrats,” said Mark Penn, whose firm, Penn Schoen Berland, conducted the poll. “So that, along with our entire series of polls, points to something in the range of a 50-seat gain for Republicans.”

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The Hill: Poll: GOP tsunami ready to sweep the South

Nowhere are Democrats more clearly threatened with heavy defeat than in the South.

Nov. 2 looks set to reverse a trend of recent elections that suggested the blue party might claw its way back in states dominated for a generation by the GOP.

The Hill’s polling shows senior Democrats in the South, who survived earlier Republican waves, poised to fall in next week’s predicted GOP sweep.
In 42 competitive districts polled in four weeks by The Hill, white Southern Democrats face stronger headwinds than any of their colleagues.

Democrats hold 59 Southern House seats and could lose a dozen of them — helping Republicans toward the net gain of 39 they need for control of the House.

“It’s fair to say that Democrats will be devastated in the South,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, who conducted the poll. “I think the strongest deficits the Democrats are facing are in the South and in the Midwest.”

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The Hill: Poll: Majority says no ‘change’ under Obama, or change for the worse

A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse.

In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.

Almost two years after Obama declared on election night that “change has come to America,” only 26 percent believe he’s delivered on his promise to end business-as-usual in the capital.
Strikingly, 63 percent of voters under the age of 34 said the president either has not changed Washington or has made it worse.

In 2008, voters under the age of 30 voted 2-to-1 for Obama against his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). But in The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, only 34 percent of young people say the president has effected change for the better.

The poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland and surveyed 4,276 voters in 10 House districts held by two-term Democrats. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.5 percent.

“All change is not good change, and the voters are expressing overall dissatisfaction with the direction of change so far,” said pollster Mark Penn of the findings.

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The Hill: Poll: Speaker Pelosi’s ‘majority makers’ are facing possible electoral doom

Two-term Democrats, whose victories helped secure the Speaker’s job for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are facing the possibility of a near-wipeout in the Nov. 2 election.

Of 10 reelection races involving sophomore Democrats, Republican challengers are ahead in six and tied in two more, according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.

The fact that these Democrats, dubbed “majority makers” by Pelosi, are in jeopardy is a clear indication that the GOP has a good chance to run the House again after four years in the minority.

Of 32 battleground districts polled so far by The Hill this fall, Democrats are leading in only three, with four races tied. Republicans are ahead in 25.

Thirty of the 32 seats surveyed are now held by Democrats.

“Out of the 10 districts of the second-term incumbents, only one of them is outside the margin of error,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll. “So virtually every one of these incumbents remains vulnerable.”

A majority of voters in all 10 districts had a negative opinion of Obama. Overall, 69 percent of voters said their views of the president will be very or somewhat important when they cast their ballots — a bad sign for Democrats.

There is still a large pool of undecided voters, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing for the Democrats, as most, Penn added, “typically will swing against an incumbent in these situations.”

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Politico: Poll: Dems seen as party of negativity and ideas

October 18, 2010

Most things in politics are cyclical. The two parties trade power, popular support, and even politicians as regularly as the seasons.

One exception to this rule, however, is party reputation. For years, Republicans have been seen as the party of negativity—the party of innuendo and attack ads, the group with the hatchetmen on speed dial. That’s why it’s so surprising that, for the first time in recent memory, voters now perceive the Democrats as more negative than the GOP.

View the full results from Penn Schoen Berland’s poll, the fourth of six in Politico’s “Power and the People” poll series

According to the latest POLITICO poll, 34 percent of Americans think the Democrats have been the most negative party during this election cycle, vs. 23 percent who say Republicans and 15 percent who name the Tea Party. Though on the surface this looks like a pretty dubious distinction for Democratic leadership, in reality it is not such a bad thing. It says the Democratic Party has a lot of fight in it during this critical year, and is no longer willing to be taken down by tough Republican campaigns. After all, since Lee Atwater the GOP has been benefitting from campaigns that were devastatingly effective despite being highly unpopular. The Republicans were seen as the kings of negativity by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1.

What’s doubly interesting, however, is that the Democrats were also seen as the party of ideas: 31 percent of the public (and 46 percent of DC Elites) think they’ve offered better ideas for how to govern this year, whereas only 22 percent of Americans say the same about the Republicans, and the Tea Party slides in third with only 16 percent support. Somewhat paradoxically, the Democrats have managed to appear both more negative, and more idea-oriented, than their opponents at the same time.

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The Hill: Poll: Independents prefer cutting the deficit to spending on jobs

The Republican Party’s focus on reducing the federal deficit may be resonating with independent voters who could swing the midterm elections.

While Democrats and Republicans split along predictable partisan lines on the question of whether the government should prioritize spending on jobs or cutting the deficit, independents in 10 battleground congressional districts break sharply toward the GOP’s point of view.

Fifty-two percent of independent voters in The Hill’s 2010 Midterm Election poll cited debt reduction as a priority, compared with only 39 percent who said additional federal spending to create jobs is more important.

Overall, 47 percent of voters in the 10 districts think deficit-cutting should take precedence over employment spending, while 46 percent said the focus should be on the government’s red ink.

“The deficit is cutting against Democrats particularly because independent voters, typically, are very concerned about the deficit,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the survey of 4,047 voters in 10 open seats. The sample had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.

Penn said independent voters who make more than $100,000 per year are particularly focused on debt reduction.

“As a matter of policy, it’s closely divided, but as a matter of politics, that issue going into these midterms is favoring the Republicans,” Penn said.

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The Hill: Poll: Majority of voters say they want a viable third party in American politics

The Hill: Poll: Majority of voters say they want a viable third party in American politics
October 13, 2010

A majority of likely voters think a viable third party would be good for American politics, according to a new poll of likely voters in 10 key open House districts.

Those voters are split, however, on whether the Tea Party should be that alternative.

Fifty-four percent of respondents in The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll said they’d like an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

That number rose to 67 percent for self-identified independents. But even a plurality in the established parties — 49 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans — said they’d like another choice.

“That’s probably the strongest number I’ve seen in a poll of people in America saying that they’re interested in a third party,” said pollster Mark Penn.

“There’s a record number of Independents and a record number of people looking for a possible third party,” he said. “And that’s a big finding. There’s an opportunity here.”

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The Hill: Poll: Republicans are up in 8 of 10 open House districts

The Hill: Poll: Republicans are up in 8 of 10 open House districts
October 13, 2010

Republicans are winning eight out of 10 competitive open House seats surveyed in a groundbreaking new poll by The Hill.

Taken on top of 11 GOP leads out of 12 freshman Democratic districts polled last week, The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll points toward 19 Republican victories out of 22 races, while Democrats win only two and one is tied.

A further 20 districts will be polled over the next two weeks, for a total of 42 of the most closely contested races, which will point to who is going to win on Nov. 2 and control the House in the 112th Congress.

The Week 2 focus on open seats vacated by Democrats suggests a string of important pickup victories by the GOP in the midterm election just three weeks away.

Republican candidates have taken big leads in two districts Democrats have held for nearly a century and a half-century, respectively, according to The Hill’s survey. A Republican is also ahead in the heavily Democratic district that contains President Obama’s hometown of Honolulu.

Many races are tight — 12 of the 22 fall within the margin of error — but the margins, though slim, preponderantly favor the GOP.

“There are a couple of bright spots for Democrats, but you’re still seeing strong Republican performance across the country, no question about it,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll. He also noted that Republican pick-up opportunities in longtime Democratic strongholds are thanks to the national trend cutting against the president and the party.

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The Hill: Poll: Independents prefer divided government and are leaning Republican

The Hill: Poll: Independents prefer divided government and are leaning Republican
October 6, 2010

Independent voters are trending toward Republican candidates in toss-up districts, with a majority of them saying they want divided government rather than one-party control.

The Hill/ANGA 2010 Midterm Election Poll found that 51 percent of self-described independents prefer the president and Congress to come from different parties.

In the survey, of likely voters in 12 toss-up House districts held by first-term Democrats who arrived in Washington with President Obama, 43 percent of independents said they would vote for the Republican in their district, compared to 34 percent who said they would vote for the Democrat.

“In these districts they’re trending Republican,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll. “You have to be a little bit careful in that this is a particularly volatile set of districts, but there’s no question that the independents are largely coming to the side of the Republican Party and are extremely dissatisfied with Congress.”

Throughout this cycle, congressional Republicans have stressed the need for “a check and balance” on the Obama administration. The poll indicates that message is working.

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The Hill: Poll: Dislike of healthcare law crosses party lines, 1 in 4 Dems want repeal

The Hill: Poll: Dislike of healthcare law crosses party lines, 1 in 4 Dems want repeal
October 6, 2010

Healthcare reform is hurting the reelection chances of freshman Democrats in the House, according to The Hill/ANGA poll.

A majority of voters in key battleground districts favor repeal of the legislative overhaul Congress passed this year.

President Obama predicted in the spring that the new law would become popular as people learned more about it. But the poll shows Republicans strongly oppose it, independents are wary of it and a surprising number of Democrats also want it overturned.

Republicans have vowed to repeal the law if they take control of Congress, and the findings of Mark Penn, who led Penn Schoen Berland’s polling team, show that healthcare is a major issue for voters this year.

When asked if they wanted the legislation repealed, 56 percent of voters in the surveyed districts said yes. “Only Democrats were opposed to repeal (23 percent to 64 percent),” Penn said. “Undecided voters wanted the healthcare law repealed by 49 percent to 27 percent.”

In each district, a majority of those surveyed said they want the controversial law gone.

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The Hill: Poll: Opinions of Obama will be on voters minds when they decide on Nov. 2

The Hill: Poll: Opinions of Obama will be on voters minds when they decide on Nov. 2
October 6, 2010

Two-thirds of voters in key battleground districts will be thinking about President Obama when they choose their next member of Congress, according to a 2010 midterm election poll from The Hill and ANGA.

The poll surveyed likely voters in 12 competitive congressional districts held by first-term Democratic lawmakers who came into office with the president in 2008.

Of the voters surveyed, 69 percent said their feelings about Obama will be an important consideration when they vote in congressional elections, while 28 percent said the president would not be a factor.

“All politics is local, but not all voting,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll.

“I think, without question, people view this as a national election,” Penn said. “The strongest thing working against the administration today is the number of people dissatisfied with the economy and the government and who are willing to take their votes and vote on a national basis rather than on the merits of the individual candidate.”

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