Monday, August 25, 2008

Joe Biden is "Trapped" by Irrelevancy

Let’s start with the newest Vice Presidential candidate, a TV spot from November 2007 by Biden critiquing the situation in Iraq. Aside from a good government spot by Obama and a clean energy spot by Richardson, no other commercial created by a Democratic candidate was so clearly relevant and resulted in as many second-by-second emotional data points as Biden’s. And that’s despite its fatal flaw.

Certainly, the opening is emotionally effective. Among the voters we tested, 14 of the first 17 seconds evoke a reaction. A provocative visual metaphor provides the explanation. Biden’s spot opens with video shot from the perspective of a person trapped below ground looking up out of a hole at a small patch of sunlight overhead. “Imagine you’re trapped deep in a hole,” the narrator begins, making the horror all the worse by adding: “with a group of politicians.”

On-cue and on-emotion, the high appeal score occasioned by the spot’s opening jab at politicians then takes a huge dip. Why? That’s because the narrator has then gone on to add, “President Bush says the only way out of Iraq is to dig us deeper and deeper.” Talk about being on-emotion: among the seven core emotions facial coding can gauge, 16% of the emotional response to this spot involves anxiety, a total exceeded only by the 19% McCain was able to generate while attacking Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience. Where does that anxiety become prevalent? The answer is that voters feel their greatest degree of anxiety on hearing that Bush is apparently in favor of digging America into an ever deeper hole in Iraq.

On-emotion yet again, the appeal score then recovers, lifts, and hits a pair of high points as viewers are promised, “We can get out now without leaving chaos behind.”

So far, so good - for the Biden campaign. Disaster, however, is around the corner. Right after second 17, the small patch of sunlight that had turned into an entire screen of hazy sunshine, is transformed. An image of Biden himself emerges, as if from heaven itself. He is hardly considered an archangel, as far as viewers are apparently concerned. Only a pair of emotional data points are garnered throughout the remainder of this spot, including when the narrator states Biden alone has “a plan to end this war responsibly”, concluding with “so our children don’t have to go back.”

Otherwise, from the moment Biden’s image comes on screen, the emotional data points stop. By the numbers, before Biden comes on screen, 82% of the commercial spurs an emotional response. When Biden appears, the percentage drops to 15%. In other words, is the Iraq war seen as a highly relevant issue? Absolutely. Was Biden seen as highly relevant in terms of providing a solution? No.

The bottom line here is that Biden could tout his foreign policy credentials all he wanted, but voters weren’t buying. Age was surely part of the explanation. “Forty four Senators are older than me,” I heard Biden say in one of his stump speeches, a fact that could leave listeners concerned about the retirement home known as Capitol Hill. Among the voters we interviewed, one quote best reflects this facial coding data. Biden was seen as an “old-style politician” who “doesn’t represent anything new.”