— by Hadley Heath & Heather R. Higgins
as featured in POLITICO
Deb Fischer’s upset victory in Nebraska’s GOP Senate primary Tuesday surprised many political analysts. How could a relatively little-known and massively underfunded conservative upstart beat two well-funded politicians: establishment heavyweight Attorney General Jon Bruning and tea party-supported Don Stenberg?
One answer can be found in a post-election survey research of 300 Republican primary voters, conducted for Independent Women’s Voice.
It revealed that 38 percent made their decision in the campaign’s last week – and of that group, 58 percent voted for Fischer. That’s a late-breaking electorate, and a large majority of the late deciders chose Fischer.
But why did late deciders choose Fischer?
In the closing week – just as late deciders were tuning in – Fischer signed the Repeal Pledge, a comprehensive promise to repeal, push back, defund and dismantle “Obamacare.”
Our group, Independent Women’s Voice was behind that pledge. We did for Fischer what we had done the previous week for Richard Mourdock in Indiana: We alerted the media and our 200,000 members that one candidate had made this commitment, and encouraged the other candidates to do so as well.
In addition, we ran targeted online advertising and recorded a robocall from a local doctor – to make sure people in Nebraska knew that Fischer had signed this vow. We did not advocate or endorse — leaving people to make up their own minds.
How did that turn out?
Well, among Nebraska primary voters, “Obamacare” repeal ranked highest of any single issue as the determining factor in the respondent’s vote. Roughly 57 percent of respondents said that Fischer signing the Repeal Pledge mattered to them.
Of the people who told the pollster they recalled receiving a phone call from the doctor, 50 percent voted for Fischer. She also won a plurality among those who recalled seeing Internet ads about the Repeal Pledge.
Many factors, of course, contributed to Fischer’s win. We wouldn’t presume to take credit when so many elements are at play. Still, it is interesting to note that various news outlets are calling the Nebraska race a “victory for Sarah Palin” — whose endorsement six days out truly gave Fischer a big push and established her as a legitimate contender.
Yet when asked which mattered more to their vote, 14 percent said the Palin endorsement, while 35 percent – two and a half times as many – said the Repeal Pledge.
Among self-identified conservative Fischer voters, her signature on the Repeal Pledge was deemed more important than the Palin endorsement by a 37-17 percent margin. Among self-identified moderate Fischer voters, the pledge was emphasized over Palin by a whopping 34-10 percent margin. Moderates, in fact, broke nearly 42 percent for Fischer, close to 15 percent for Bruning, and 17.6% for Stenberg — which may reflect the high negativity of the two males’ campaigns.
Conclusion: The Repeal Pledge works across the center-right spectrum.
Most telling, “Obamacare repeal” mattered most to Bruning’s voters. Twenty percent of them cited this as their main issue — perhaps knowing his record as a state attorney general opposing “Obamacare.” But Bruning, perhaps thinking with his record he didn’t need to bother, failed to take the Repeal Pledge.
Past track records apparently aren’t enough. House members who voted for the full repeal bill in early 2011, and think that’s sufficiently convincing for voters, should keep that in mind.
Republicans in Congress, a recent Politico story suggested, might attempt to keep certain parts of “Obamacare” that they considered too politically treacherous to repeal. Whether this is correct or not, victories like Fischer’s should indicate to them that not only is full, unapologetic repeal the right policy — it is also the right move politically.
With an impending Supreme Court decision that could leave “Obamacare” in shreds and make the 2012 elections critical, Americans want to be able to hold both parties accountable for how to handle health policy going forward. Incumbents, as well as challengers, may want to consider signing the pledge, to put in writing their commitment to repealing the entire law and then starting over with real reform.
The pledge’s value is that it makes clear who can be relied on to continue to walk the talk. Moreover, while the fight against government-controlled health care is partly an economic issue, even more fundamentally it is a liberty issue. This vow thus provides a philosophical marker for the real change one can hope for.
Voters seem to recognize that. Now they need to make sure their candidates and representatives do too.
Hadley Heath is a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Voice. Heather Higgins is the group’s president and chief executive officer.