The NRCC's in-house examination will include discussions with pollsters nationwide who worked with Republican House candidates last year, focused in particular on how they judged — or misjudged — their congressional district's demographic makeup.
But the issues that need to be addressed go beyond misleading polls. The committee is also vowing to improve the party's digital outreach, another area in which Democrats held an advantage last cycle. "We're spending a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources getting to the bottom of what happened, to figure out the most efficient and best way to run campaigns for '14," says Rob Simms, the NRCC's newly installed political director.
That effort will begin, he said, with throwing out all historical models for polling. The party last year mistakenly assumed turnout would be less favorable for Democrats than it was in 2008. "I don't think you can start from that point anymore," Simms said. "There's one lesson we should learn from the past two cycles: Historical norms don't apply anymore."
There's no consensus about how far the GOP needs to go; Republicans insist the gap is far smaller than the popular perception. But Democrats suggest it's large enough that the GOP cannot make up the ground in less than two years — so long as their own party doesn't get complacent.
For instance, Tim Kaine's Senate campaign in Virginia against Republican George Allen was supposed to be one of the most closely fought, well-funded battles for the upper chamber. But Mo Elleithee, the former Hillary Rodham Clinton spokesman who was a consultant to Kaine, can tick off a litany of areas in which Kaine's campaign operated at a higher level. The campaign's mobile website was built specifically for smartphones; Allen's mobile site was simply a shrunken version of what would appear on a desktop computer. Moreover, Kaine's site would tailor its content to visitors' locations — a voter in Northern Virginia, for example, would see something much different than someone in Virginia Beach.
Kaine's outreach, Elleithee says, was also more sophisticated than Allen's; the former targeted individual households while the latter focused on the broader, more traditional method of reaching out to entire precincts. "What all this gets at is, we were running much more modern and personalized campaigns," Elleithee says. "It was the individual campaigns targeting the voter, as opposed to the broad brush that the other side seemed to use."
Democrats have built these types of campaigns out of necessity. Their coalition of young and minority voters is inherently more difficult to reach with traditional voter-contact methods. Television ads don't work with voters who don't watch live TV. Landline-based polls don't reach voters who only own mobile phones.