The Icosahedron #4 ft. Amanda Iovino on women and security issues and Matt Knee on modeling the effect of a Trump endorsement. — Published 01/07/20

By: Matthew Knee and Amanda Iovino

Thanks for reading our newsletter. This issue features important pieces from two of our senior leaders at WPA Intelligence. Amanda Iovino advocates for fine-tuning messaging with swing vote women view security issues, which have shifted over the past several years. Matt Knee takes you under the hood of how we built our “Trump Effect” model, which offers clients the opportunity to gauge the impact of an endorsement by the president.

Michael D. Cohen, Ph.D., CSO, WPA Intelligence

Swing Women – Still Swinging: Security Issues

By Amanda Iovino, Senior Client Strategist

Last month, we looked at how swing women are thinking about health care as a pocketbook issue (and how the GOP needs to meet them where they are).

This second installment on swing women focuses on another issue area where Republican talking points have stayed relatively the same even as swing women’s perspectives have changed: Security Issues.

Republicans tend to do well when security is top of mind with women (see: 2002, 2014). But women today aren’t as worried about foreign-born terrorists coming to the U.S. as they were in those cycles. Instead, they’re worried about the attack being perpetrated by one of our own with a gun.

Adjusting our talking points is going to involve a mental shift for many of us on the Right. Republicans tend to think about the Second Amendment as a Constitutional issue, or as a cultural one, but swing women are viewing gun policy as a security issue. It does not matter that the Las Vegas shooter from 2017 did not fit into the FBI’s definition of “domestic terrorist,” to many women, that’s exactly what he was.

Let me be clear: I am in no way advocating for a Republican candidate to change their position on these issues. But it is vital for our candidates, especially those in swing states and districts, to understand how swing women are thinking about these issues, to put ourselves in their shoes as we figure out how to message to these key voters.

Last fall, Republicans in Virginia tried to stay quiet on the issue of gun control even while it was a top issue among voters, and they lost control of both houses of the Legislature, handing complete control of the state over to Democrats for the first time in a generation.

More broadly, two-thirds (67%) of women nationwide labeled gun violence as a “big problem” in a National Geographic/Ipsos poll late last year (another 19% called it a “moderate problem”).

Credit: National Geographic/Ipsos

Gun control means different things to different voters. Some want the laws on the books evenly enforced, others want universal background checks or red flag laws instituted. Few want Beto’s policies enacted and even fewer are looking for a full repeal of the Second Amendment.

How can candidates better message to swing women on this issue? It all starts with better data. WPAi not only has simple off-the-shelf models of voters’ basic beliefs on the Second Amendment but we can help candidates create custom models designed to pinpoint areas of commonality between a candidate’s and voters’ views on gun policy, allowing each campaign to navigate their unique electorate in a way that is true to the candidate and answers voters’ concerns.

The Trump Effect

By Matt Knee, Director of Analytics

The 2016 election was a powerful reminder of the power of leading figures to fundamentally reshape public opinion. Once Donald Trump became the Republican Party’s standard bearer, partisans on both sides polarized around that new reality on issues from trade to opinions of Russia. Seeing this powerful effect in the wild, we decided to apply social science to harness it for our clients.


We conducted a 6,200-person survey experiment, asking a control group if they supported a congressional bill called the “Government Efficiency Act,” opposed it, or did not know enough to form an opinion. This was chosen because it is ideologically neutral, and no one could possibly have a real opinion about this bill because it doesn’t exist. We made it up for purposes of this study. The treatment group received the same question, instead with the added information that President Trump supported it.

This way, the only thing driving real opinion change on the issue was the endorsement. This information moved 67% to have an opinion, up from 19%.

We then modeled the responses from the treatment and control groups, providing scores for every registered voter in the country. We found that compared to the control group, the information that President Trump supported this fictional bill moved Republicans a net 25 points toward support. Conversely, Trump’s support moved Democrats 20 points in opposition.

These models are available to help primary candidates who have been endorsed by the president best leverage it, those who do not have his endorsement (or are running against a Trump endorsed candidate) have the best chance of victory. Furthermore, these data help advocacy groups navigate the effects of presidential support or opposition and companies that may be mentioned in a Trump tweet or speech best deal with the impact.

The Trump models themselves are ready-made to help primary and general election candidates and advocacy organizations understand and target around the most influential and largest share of voice in American politics. We built a widely applicable model with scientific rigor. If President Trump has weighed in on a candidate, company or issue, for or against, a model like this is a must to leverage or evade it.

President Trump may be the most powerful example, but he is far from the only entity whose support or opposition is invoked to drive people to or from a particular candidate or opinion.

Other high-profile politicians are routinely invoked in political messaging. Much political and advocacy messaging and decision-making rests on people’s inclinations to side with business or labor, with industry or environmentalists, etc. Organizations such as the NRA and Planned Parenthood are routinely invoked in both political and policy debates.

So not only does this model have clear and innovative applications directly, but it is a proof of concept for a broader technique we will deploy in a wide variety of political, corporate and advocacy contexts. This method, based on a controlled experiment, models the causal effect of hearing a politician or organization supports a position. This technique can be used by candidates or advocacy groups to judiciously use outside endorsements or hold opponents’ responsible for theirs, and by advocacy groups to know who would benefit from hearing of their support or opposition (or for whom it should be downplayed or withheld).

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