Opening Keynote Session

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

10:00am – 11:15am

Mark PennPolitical Strategist, Pollster, and Author

Why do we remember some advocacy campaigns, while others never get our attention? Is there a magic formula for creating content that sticks? If anyone knows, it’s Mark Penn. He counsels world leaders and leading organizations on how to craft, test, and disseminate stories to help win hearts and minds. Now we have the chance to learn from this messaging wizard.

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  • If you’re looking for a description of strategy, it is Numbers + creativity = strategy.
  • When you’re telling a story that you expect will resonate with your audiences, you need to understand the framework you are in.
  • A framework explains the situation, and it means really understanding the public’s views.
  • If you understand the public’s current framework, you can do a much better job of predicting the future, and then getting them to participate/activate around your issues in the future as well.
  • In this discussion, we will explore why there is so much discontent, review the latest Harris Poll findings, and take questions.

Setting the scene: Election 2016

  • A lot of people were surprised by the results of the election, but the reason for that was not because the polls were wrong.
    People did not see the counter-narratives being told. They did not have a sense of the framework that voters were coming from. The framework of the last election was VERY unique.
  • There were multiple different types of voters in the last election, but almost none of them liked Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Likeability was just not a factor.
  • It is pretty unusual to have an election with that low of approval ratings for candidates.
  • Hillary Clinton’s strategy was to make the argument that the voter just had to like Donald Trump a little bit less.
  • But the key question ended up being: how do you vote when you don’t like either choice? The answer is you turn to something else. You turn to the narrative and the framework.
  • If you have a framework, you can change minds. Hillary was not going to be able to raise the positives, but she should have tried to find a way to really develop content and messages that spoke to their audiences.

We’re in a time of realignment

  • There is a basic realignment occurring today, and you have to dig in to understand what is going on.
  • The existing power relationships are undergoing dramatic changes – some are obvious, some are less obvious.
  • As the powers change, they kick off a whole series of other changes.
  • Why are we seeing so much discontent? It’s because as people lose power, they are vocal about not liking it. Similarly, the people who took the power, are happy and are vocal about getting the power.
  • Election 2016 was not just an election of democrats vs. republicans. In fact, the Republican candidate had to almost run against his own party, and they ran against him. What all of this indicates is a shift in power towards “non-elites” and away from elites.
  • Donald Trump was able to sense this transition and knew that this was the main working assumption of the electorate. So for election 2016 – it was not about liking the candidate, it was about capitalizing on what he thought the voters were going vote on.
  • Elites to non-elites: Power had been flowing to the non-elites for a very long time. But there has been a shift. With the power now lies with the non-elites, there are a few big demographic elements. For example, this means that rural voters have a higher impact; which has partisan implications since rural voters identify 2:1 as Republican. The non-elite is about the common sense perspective, and they see their opponents as the “ivory tower” residents. They are on Twitter over TV, they prefer new media to old media – and this was very reflective of how Trump ran his campaign.
  • Example: If you look at an electoral map, you’ll see large swaths of counties that are not urban centers that voted for Trump.
    Polling is not about the America you see, it is about the America that you don’t see. You need to use polling to supplement and/or correct your inability to personally observe what you don’t live in.

There are a number of different kinds of realignments

  • From young to old: Everyone views society as one that is increasingly driven by millennials and the younger generations that are coming up, but older people have more electoral power. The country has never been older. We are only going to see the country get older. The 50+-year-old population will grow by 16 million over the next decade, whereas the 18-49-year-old group will only grow by 5 million. When JFK was elected, the 18-29-year-old grouping outranked the 50+ by a ratio of 2:1, but now the 50+ is equal, and will only get higher.
  • The resurgence of old people has a big impact on marketers and storytellers (50+ accounts for 50% of all consumer expenditures, but only get 10% of marketing dollars targeted to them), boomers and older Americans own 63% of all U.S. financial assets.
  • The bottom line is that no matter how strong young people seem, the 2016 election (and Brexit) have shown that old people have reasserted their electoral strength and power.
  • From married to single: We spent a long time with family politics dominating everything. There is now a power shift people who are single. People used to be single for a shorter period of time. The age of first child birth has gone back 6 years. A majority of women now go to college, and the family process has been moved up.
  • The whole notion of how you live, and how you live and deal with issues, is shaped by being married and by having kids.
  • From old to new media: We’ve moved from network to cable, from mainstream to alternative, as we continue to make those moves more channels transition to individualized content. We may not have self-driving cars in a few years, but we will have personalized commercials.
  • The entire process of marketing as we knew it has shifted, and now it is important to micro-target if you want to reach your audience.
  • When you go back and look at past elections, mass television events have consistently been firestarters. What has changed is that before something would happen and 20-30 million people would watch it, and the next day 30-40% could tell you what was happening. In this election even if the same percentage watched an event, the following day, nearly everyone could tell you what happened.
  • The information transmission system has gone from “I can’t hit everyone”, to this incredible power for important events, just hitting everyone with ease and certainty.
  • EMERGING WINNER: Fox News (and maybe MSNBC) – by catering to these older non-elites, and presenting themselves as an alternative source, they are winning.
  • From desktop to mobile & from television to the internet: All you have to do is look at advertising – right now internet advertising is just at the verge of overtaking TV. Now you are seeing desktop minutes go down, as people are doing more shopping directly on their mobile devices (and mobile devices are now maximizing their screen space). Mobile to overtake desktop in next two years.
  • From monetary to fiscal policy & from regulation to deregulation: It used to be that Congress couldn’t agree on anything for a number of years, but Trump has stepped in and begun unraveling monetary policy – and shifted fiscal policies.
  • From grain to protein & from sugar to salt: There are hundreds of millions of dollars in the shift in power from grain farmers over to protein farmers. Chips have really taken off and sugar is under attack, and this impacts whole areas of the world economies, tremendous interest behind it.
  • From cash to credit: Value of noncash payments continue to soar.
  • From genteel to combative: People underestimated the extent to which the American society is a combative society, not just The Apprentice – TV is filled with shows whose general objective is to throw people off an island. Even the Angry Birds game shows this – they were angry birds. Trump understood the rough and tumble aspect of American society more than the image cast by the elites. The only caveat is, voters consistently say that Trump should top tweeting and take a lesson about tone.
  • The new power map is one that favors: non-elites, old, single, new media, mobile, deregulation, protein, salt, credit, combative people.
  • The new power map is one that disfavors: elite, young, married, old media, desktop, regulation, grain, sugar, cash, genteel people.

Harvard Harris Polls

  • Reviewing results of a survey conducted online within the United States from July 19-24, 2017 among 2,032 registered voters.
  • Is the country on the right track? Voters consistently feel the economy is on the right track more so than the country. Although just marginally believe the economy is on the right track.
  • Roughly 2 in 5 registered voters say they have a favorable view of the President, while 44% approve of the job he is doing. 92% of the people who voted for Trump have stuck with him. Around 10% have not.
  • Who do people like less than Trump? The parties. 59% disapprove of the Democratic Party and 67% disapprove of the Republican Party. Nobody is winning – they are all losers.
  • Impeachment – 41 % want to see the President impeached, 44% think no action should be taken, 15% would be fine with censure.
  • Most people think the investigations are hurting the people – but in the past, most of them have wanted investigations.
  • Most feel the Trump presidency is on a bad course. Of those people who said it was on a bad course, 77% felt it was because of his temperament & 23% felt it was because of his policies. If they felt it was on a good course, 65% of those people felt it was because of his policies, whereas 35% felt it was because of his temperament and way of governing.
  • What do you think the President should do to improve? Top of the list – focus on jobs, taxes, and infrastructure, stop tweeting, change his tone to be less combative.
  • Voters are split when it comes to opinions on the Affordable Care Act. 53% feel it is working (47% failing), and 51% oppose repealing Obamacare with a two-year window for Congress to agree on a replacement.
  • Drugs are seen as a leading contribution to crime by nearly half of voters – drug and crime, voters say leading contribution to crime was drugs, lack of opportunities, lack of moral values, poverty, gangs.
  • According to voters, they think the crime in their area is about the same, but across the United States, 60% say it is more.
  • Voters are evenly split on whether the criminal justice system is biased against minorities.
  • The majority feels unfavorable towards black lives matter protests.
  • Majorities favor policies on gun ownership; say a gun in the house makes a home safer.
  • Around 7 in 10 voters support the death penalty, both in general and for those who kill cops.
  • Majority says legalizing marijuana makes society better; about half say it should be fully legal


This data gives you a framework on two levels: 1) do I know what is going and 2) do I know what is needed to gain power? Never before have we seen a country as economically happy as it is and so pissed off at the political community.

Q & A

Q: How much do you think social media is making these shifts more complex?
A: Not much, for the past 40 years, this is roughly the path we’ve been going on. This is the basis we have to recognize: the public has always had more complex views than we’ve given them credit for. Social media just exposes that. I don’t think social media creates the conflicts, social creates more wrestling about it. The real problem with social media is in terms of how it exacerbates combative nature, and how it rewards fan marketing. Fan marketing (just marketing to who you already know is your fan, not swing marketing/convincing people). Fan marketing will change everything because it is just about talking to your fans and gaining new fans, not swinging or convincing people. The current economic model promotes fan marketing, and fan marketing typically exacerbates combativeness.

Q: You’ve been looking at polls for a long time, have you seen any trends or done analysis that shows that we have moved further away from or closer to fact?
A: The more important question is has the public moved more away from fact? One of the more remarkable questions we ran in a poll was do you think Donald trump colluded with the Russians. 48% then I asked do you think there is any evidence of that – and only 36% said yes. This is firmly against the American system (innocent until proven guilty). So, I worry that Americans generally have an opinion, but it may not be based on facts.

Q: One of the challenges with the projects for 2016 was that we used the last election’s model to predict turnout. Do you think that we will see the same turnout without Trump on the ticket in 18?
A: The base is still energized, campaigns are going to make judgments based on how they read things. They need to decide whether to nationalize or to localize. The “we can’t give Trump a blank check” vs. the “my opponent is a scallywag” approach. I don’t think there is a clear decision on it yet because so many senate races are in areas that Trump won, Democrats underestimate the underlying strength of Trump and what got him elected, the safer course would be to not nationalize it.

Q: Are you concerned towards the world portrayed in Idiocracy?
A: The birth rate for the less educated has plummeted in the last 5 years. But if you look at who votes and who doesn’t America, you see an interesting trend. Downscale whites and the African American community are registered equal percentages to educated whites. There is still considerable room for the Latinx community to grow.

Q: How much of Trump’s success was anti-establishment vs a cult-of-personality?
A: Not at all cult of personality. 56% of people did not like either candidate. His success was based on the issues.

Q: A lot of us in the room are establishment organizations who have been around for a while. How can we re-establish trust with our base?
A: Trust for any source is low. On the one hand, the public hears and absorbs stuff they don’t believe– and 80% say they can’t trust any sources. To me, the best thing people can do to reestablish trust is to show they understand there are 2 or more sides to all debates. Understanding what is making America pick a side helps too.

Q: Is the momentum that came out of our nation’s rural communities sustainable?
A: Yes, but this is a time for people in rural areas to demand to be thrown into the 21st century and to get the full infrastructure they deserve. Rural America has our respected and has been responded to, and now they are in a much better position to do that than they were.