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State of the Union

February 5, 2020

Why Bother with State of the Union Spectacles?

President George Washington gave the first State of the Union address to the nation on January 8, 1790, in Federal Hall in New York City.  Last night, President Trump continued that tradition speaking from the well of the House of Representatives with a speech that lasted 78 minutes.

Clearly, the Democratic Party majority didn’t want him there. The speech, like all State of the Union speeches, was heavily choreographed and crafted. There is no Constitutional requirement that the State of the Union be delivered in person by the president. What was once a solemn but functional exchange between the branches of government has become more about political theater than it is about governing.

Some may wonder why every Congress and Administration continue the charade?  The answer is — as you might guess — political.


The Super Bowl of Earned Media 

The State of the Union is a unique opportunity for the president to speak to millions of viewers, unfiltered by the news media or partisan interpretations from the left and the right.  Commanding the attention of millions of people for one hour and 18 minutes unabated is otherwise a nearly impossible feat and costprohibitive for most candidates. The speech, which every news and broadcast channel carries, gives any president a massive opportunity, especially in an election year.

To a lesser extent, the opposition party enjoys a similar benefit in the form of their “Response to the State of the Union” broadcast immediately following the president’s speech.  This response offers the party out of power access to a smaller, but still massively concentrated audience, normally out of their reach. As such, it is equally calculated and choreographed with the right profiled speaker and poll-tested language, laying out the priorities of the opposition party rather than responding directly to the president. 


Image Management

Because the State of the Union amounts to one-wayclosely watched conversation that allows the president to present the best interpretation of his/her track record and vision for the future with uninterrupted clarity, presidents typically see a postState of the Union boost.  In 2019, a CNN poll found that 59-percent of viewers had a positive reaction to the address. Today, CBS News reported that the initial response from the speech found 97-percent of Republicans viewed the speech favorably, but more critically, 30-percent of Democrats and 82-percent of independents did as well. Whether presidents are facing a tight election or a tough legislative session ahead, any positive bump among independent and undecided voters represents significant boost to their party’s agenda.


Speaking Directly to Targeted Audiences 

From NASCAR dads to soccer moms or blue-collar voters and minority voters, every president is propelled to power by certain voting blocs. In the State of the Union, presidents seek to hold their base of support and expand it to other key groups. Administrations often use special guests that speak directly to the concerns, issues, and aspirations to both the tried-and-true voting blocs and the ones they would like to make closer inroads with before the next election.

President Trump demonstrated this last night by seizing the opportunity to present the human faces of his agenda. With guests ranging from an African American student seeking a better school to returning members of the military and paying homage to a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, Trump reached out to a broad crosssection of America for maximum electoral impact.



Watchers of the State of the Union speech might recognize that camera coverage routinely cuts a way to pan the Congressional chamber. Audience participation at the State of the Union is its own form of political communication. The imagery is filled with subtext that pundits in the mediate duly note and pontificate upon for days on end. This empowers both parties to either deliver a point or emphasize something the president has said. So, standing or sitting, both sides are speaking to the American public. However, last night was unique in that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s animated destruction of a copy of the speech presented to her by Trump stole the show and will be the lasting image that defines the Democrats response.

State of the Union speeches might not serve the direct functions of the past, but they continue to play a critical role in the governance of our nation. In a communications environment filled with fractionalized affinity media, tech platforms, and editorial punditry, these speeches can be rare moments of focus and clarity that can educate the electorate and shape the opinions that ultimately decide the future course of our nation.  

How is Trump surviving…and maybe even thriving?

January 28, 2020

There is little debate that the media coverage of President Trump (whether deserved or not) is 95% negative. Yet, despite this avalanche of hostility, the president’s approval ratings remain steady.

How is this possible?

To be sure, many elements are driving this outcome. Some are specific to Trump, such as the president’s personality, the fierce loyalty of his admirers, and not least, his willingness to explode established norms. Others, such as the hardening red-blue division and regional or class distinctions, reflect the cultural and economic realignment underway in America.

Below are five structural factors that merit specific mention as their relevance to public policy campaigns will continue well beyond the Trump presidency.





1. Weakened Mainstream Media Credibility
It is widely acknowledged that the 24-hour news cycle and the race to publish quickly has led to a decline in standards for news, both on the air or in print. The emotionally charged environment surrounding Trump has also led to some prominent instances of demonstrably biased reporting. The result is that more Americans lack trust in traditional media sources than ever before. At the same time, traditional outlets are forced to compete with many alternative news sources across all mediums. All these factors make it easier for the public to question the veracity of the latest “all caps” accusations and vastly harder for charges to gain currency with audiences not already predisposed to believe it.

2. Increased Consumption of Like-Minded News Sources
Increasingly, audiences are evaluating the validity of news coverage against the perceived worldview of the source and are placing a premium on those sources they feel reflect their own. As a result, there are now close to 20 center-right publications that attract at least one million visitors a month and reach an immense  audience across America. Among the top sites are, the Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, Newsmax, and Western Journalism. These outlets and many more like them have provided a strong counterbalance to mainstream attacks on the president. They often play a direct role in fueling skepticism of the latest bombshell revelations.

3. The Conservative Domination of Radio
Studies show that radio remains America’s leading megaphone, reaching over 240 million listeners each week. Talk radio persists as one of the top radio formats and continues to be dominated by conservative voices. Many of the biggest shows, such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and others, are diehard Trump loyalists. These hosts spend hours each day defending the administration’s agenda and dissecting the media’s critiques point-by-point. With over 90-percent of the country listening to AM/FM radio, it has played a critical role for the administration in the battle for public approval.

4. The Rise of Social Media
It should come as no surprise that social media has outpaced newspapers as a source of news and information. These social networking sites, particularly Twitter, have allowed center-right decision-makers and analysts to cut through the mainstream media chatter and justify the president’s reasoning to supporters and prospective voters in real-time.  During the Mueller investigation, for instance, individual Twitter accounts like @UndercoverHuber, @TechnoFog, and @RedSteeze fact-checked news stories from the mainstream media. They highlighted discrepancies and countered stories, many of which were poorly sourced and, in some cases, later discredited. These three accounts alone have almost half a million followers and are often retweeted by the president and his 75 million followers. Their engagement often shifts public discussion as their analysis quickly finds their way onto Facebook and other social media platforms.

5. Crowdsourcing Rapid Response
Any time a new attack is launched, a veritable army swings into action researching sources, verifying information, and publishing critiques. By monitoring and engaging these outlets closely, the White House and Trump’s congressional defenders have been able to create a feedback loop. This feedback loop supplies them not only with information and arguments tailor-made for core audiences, but also a platform to respond and disseminate their own messaging to large swaths of the nation.

President Trump’s strategy has thus far proven remarkably effective at preventing the loss of existing support and has even shown a significant spill-over effect in influencing coverage that reaches far outside of his base. While the real impact of this strategy will be tested in this November’s election, the tactical methods that are being deployed by Team Trump reflect a changing media landscape that demands appreciation. Recognizing these transformations and developing a plan to harness them will be crucial to public policy battles long into the future.

Remember Impeachment 1998? 2019 is Strikingly Similar.

January 15, 2020

The effort by House Democrats to impeach President Trump has moved to a new phase, with the Senate likely to begin a trial in the next few weeks. While the exact process that will occur in the Senate still needs to be determined, the actions of the House should not come as a shock for those who remember previous impeachment campaigns, particularly those of 1998.

While impeachment remains rare in the broad arc of American history, efforts to remove Donald Trump occurred within 20 years of proceedings against Bill Clinton. The relatively close proximity of time and comparable sociopolitical eras in which they occurred have produced remarkable similaritiesOur latest analysis examines the positions, arguments, and tactics of both political parties to find that, with roles reversed, 1998 and 2019 are interesting mirror images of one another.   

Among our key findings:

  1. Same Arguments, Different Parties: Republicans today are making many of the same arguments that Democrats made in 1998 and vice versa. In some instances, current members of Congress who were serving in 1998 are making arguments that contradict their previous positions entirely.
  2. Activists and Donors Drove the Drive to Impeach: In both 1998 and 2019, establishment political leaders were hesitant to move forward with impeachment but eventually succumbed to pressure by the activist bases of their parties.
  3.  Vulnerable Members Provided the Green Light: In both 1998 and 2019, signals from politically vulnerable members proved the final factors in launching impeachment proceedings.  

Our analysis also identifies some stark differences in the processes, including different standards of deference provided to the accused and the length of time it took the House to complete its action, among others. 

The consistencies and differences between 1998 and 2019 both serve to highlight the fact that despite proclamations of moral necessity, impeachment remains largely a political process with both parties operating in a highly charged partisan environment and behaving accordingly –  

much as they do with any other contentious piece of legislation. That is not to say that impeachment proceedings should be taken lightly. Nevertheless, bearing these facts in mind may provide readers some perspective as they watch endless news coverage of voices proclaiming that this impeachment proceeding is the one upon which the future of our republic hinges.  


If you’d like to read more, click here to access the full report.  

Impeachment 1998 VS 2019

January 2, 2020

For the third time in American history, the second in twenty years, the House of Representatives passed an impeachment resolution against a president. In 1998, House Republicans, with the support of five Democrats, impeached President Clinton for an oath. This year, House Democrats enacted a resolution by party line vote charging President Trump with “abuse of power” and “contempt of Congress.” Unique differences exist between the impeachment hearings of 1998 and 2019 but both are similar in important foundational ways, to the point of making them political mirror images of each other.

Read our full White Paper: TDS Analysis Impeachment



Digital Didn’t Kill the Radio Star

June 10, 2019

Talk Radio Remains As Important As Ever


There is little debate that traditional forms of communications – particularly newspapers and television – have been impacted by the growing power of the Internet and social media. Some, however, question whether radio, particularly talk radio, remains a powerful medium to connect with voters and consumers. It does.

Talk radio emerged in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Communication (FCC) repealed the “Fairness Doctrine,” a policy requiring controversial viewpoints to be balanced by opposing opinions on the air, and satellite technology became more affordable and effective. Radio stations were free to allow hosts to discuss a variety of issues without fear of running afoul of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). AM radio, which analysts at the time viewed as dying, exploded in popularity as local “talkers” on both sides of the political spectrum, from Rush Limbaugh to Howard Stern, became a national phenomenon.

During this period, there was little doubt as to the power of talk radio. Listeners were avid and loyal. Ratings and weekly reach, which exceeded 10 million for some shows, skyrocketed. Hosts and listeners held a bond that outmatched anything found in print and broadcast mediums before.

However, since 1996, the growth of the World Wide Web has created new competition for radio hosts and stations. In recent years, the popularity of podcasts and Internet talk shows surged, causing doubts over the long-term viability of talk radio to emerge as advertising dollars shifted online.

To this day, radio remains a powerful form of communication. According to the Pew Research Center, “traditional AM/FM radio…continues to reach the overwhelming majority of the American public audio, as a platform is stronger than ever, as more and more ways to listen continually emerge.” Another study from last year found that 81-percent of the population considers the radio to be more trustworthy than cable TV, while also considering it to two-time as credible as social media and 27-percent more trustworthy than network TV. An incredible 247 million people listen to radio each week, an increase from the previous year.


Many believe radio listeners are homogenous, but the facts show otherwise. Consider the following:

Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1979):

  • Nearly 80.5 million Gen Xers use radio each month
  • 97% of Generation X reached monthly by radio

Boomers (those born between 1950 and 1964):

  • More than 41.2 million Boomers listen to radio each month
  • 98% of Boomers reached monthly by radio

Hispanics (those 12 and older):

  • More than 44.6 million Hispanics use radio each month
  • 96% of all Hispanics use radio each month

African Americans (those 12 and older):

  • Over 34.5 million African American listeners use radio each month
  • 97% of African Americans use radio each month


From a political, public policy, and commercial standpoint, radio is still a powerful mechanism to speak directly to consumers and activists across the political, racial, and generational spectrum.

There are two primary ways to communicate through radio. The first is through advertising. With costs lower that television and the market segmented based on the profiles of the given hosts and media markets, radio advertising can hit target audiences with near-precision while building name recognition.

The other is through placing guests on shows. With issues concerning public policy, radio hosts are often willing to explore timely topics through a long-form interview process. Rather than paying for 30-second ads, the right questions can afford one the opportunity to delve deeper before the ears of millions of Americans, sometimes for upwards of 30 minutes or more.

TDS Public Affairs can help build your campaign. Let us know about your issue, and we can develop a specialized marketing and promotion campaign centered around the radio and other communication mediums.

The Power of Social Influencers

June 4, 2019

The growing use of influencers on social media is radically shifting the advertising and promotion playing field both for the marketing of products and influencing public policy issues. In almost every industry, there is someone with a large social media following that can make or break a product or idea. That is why more brands and agencies are turning to influencers to amplify their marketing campaigns than ever before.

The reach of many of the influencers in raw numbers is staggering. For example, the YouTube channel of PewDiePie – a Swedish commentator – has 95 million subscribers around the globe. One of his videos typically gets 10 million views in a day. By comparison, 103 million people watched the Super Bowl earlier this year. For many younger people, watching videos has replaced watching TV as the main way they get their news and information.

Public policy is not exempt from the growth and use of this new digital strategy. The rise to prominence of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on the left and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) on the right are impacting the political debate through Tweets, Facebook posts, and live feeds.

Political YouTube commentators and social media stars like The Young Turks and Tomi Lahren have attained significant influence over national policy debates while Terrance Williams, Diamond, and Silk, and Louder with Crowder speak to millions of people on a daily.

These stars’ videos and posts are shared tens of thousands of times for months on end on social media, including by key members of Congress, top political organizations, and the president of the United States himself. A decade ago, an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press was seen as the pinnacle of political influence. Today, many of the aforementioned social media activists have exceeded the reach of the Sunday morning shows.

Social media mentions are now rivaling newspaper clippings as a means for Congressional offices to monitor public opinion. Nearly two-thirds of staff surveyed (64%) think Facebook is an important way to understand constituents’ views and nearly three-quarters (74%) think it is important for communicating their Member’s views.

Twitter and email campaigns can also serve as a digital meeting between members and constituents.  A single Tweet with the right message can elicit a response directly from a representative or a senator.  While not everyone communicates this way, it has empowered the agitators and well-organized who can pressure policymakers almost instantaneously.

Harnessing the voices of those who speak for and to millions of people via the social mediums with an aggressive, well-timed campaign can be tremendously impactful. Failing to do so would ignore a large swath of the population that does not get their news any other way.

Navigating Factional Media Consumption

April 10, 2019

For decades, Americans got their daily information predominantly from three sources – radio, newspapers, and television. News magazines, like Time and Newsweek, provided a more in-depth analysis of current events and despite being upwards of a week behind the news cycle, still held influence with the public. Today, that model of news consumption has dynamically shifted.  

This trend is not new, but as consumers react to current political events and as technologies further evolve: sourcing, viewing and reading habits also continue to shift in ways that are having a profound influence on our society and the mechanisms that influence current events.

Factional Viewing 

The growth of talk radio in the mid-1980s and the Internet a decade later fractionalized news consumption like never before.  By satisfying Americans’ insatiable demand for instantaneous updates, while comforting large swaths of the populace that had lost their trust in many traditional media outlets, talk radio conditioned some consumers to seek alternative sources that fall more in line with their point of view. 

  • According to a study by the Columbia Journalism Review, liberal voters prefer to get their news from a consortium of outlets like CNN, NPR, MSNBC, and The New York Times. Not surprisingly, conservatives prefer Fox News as their primary outlet.
  • Despite some proclaiming the decline intalk radio, millions of Americans rely on talk show hosts for their daily source of information.  Neilson reports that listenership is growing by double digits every year, even among 18-34-year-olds. These listeners are more likely to vote or contact their congressman than typical news consumers.  Access to these shows through guest bookings can be an enormously cost-effective way to speak directly to millions of people
  • Just as radio and television viewing has become based upon finding comforting ideological outlets, Internet-based platforms like on the right and the Huffington Post on the left reach millions of Americans with their combination of news and commentary.  Their readers tend to be more activist and partisan than other consumers at other outlets.
  • One news outlet seems immune to the partisanship.  Local television news garners views and trust from voters across the political spectrum, in part, because oftheir reliance on straight reporting rather than commentary and their predominant focus on local events.

Internet News Consumption Grows Yearly 

The gap between television and online news consumption is closing.  As of August 2017, 43% of Americans reported getting news online, a share just seven percentage points lower than the 50% who often get news on television.  The number of Americans who get news from Television has fallen, while the portion of Americans who get news online – either from news websites/apps or social media – has grown dramatically. 

Pew Research shows that two-thirds of Americans now get their news from social media. 

Strategic Impact 

Penetrating the public consciousness in an environment of factionalized information consumption requires a segmented and variable channel campaign that encompasses both earned and paid media from trusted voices.  Often a smaller, targeted campaign can produce the dollar-over-dollar impact that is superior to a broader, expensive ad buy. Strategic decisions should be driven by segmenting larger audiences into smaller pieces, audience analysis, and message targeting. Our team of professionals can help you sell your message, identify your audience, develop the right messaging and cost-effectively deliver impact.

Lame Duck Session Means Opportunities and Risks

November 7, 2018

Lame duck sessions of Congress that precede a change in party control have historically seen legislation enacted at a frenetic pace.  In 2006, Republicans lost the majority in November, but in the post-election period, managed to send 115 bills to the White House for President Bush’s signature. During the 111th Congress, policymakers sent 100 bills to President Obama during the lame duck just before the GOP assumed the majority.

The decision by the voters to turn control of the House of Representatives back to the Democrats this past election suggests that Republican House and Senate leaders will soon launch an expediated free-for-all five-week session where they attempt to pass as many legislative agenda items as possible before Democrats take over in January.

Another hallmark of the lame duck session is that in a rush to cement a high volume of laws before relinquishing control, closed-door negotiations replace the plodding, more transparent committee processes of regular order.

These dynamics present both significant opportunity and risks for organizations with interests pending before Congress.

On the one hand, a lame duck session provides an excellent opportunity for legislative movement on issues stuck in the gears of government. On the other, the volume of matters competing for attention far outpaces the finite time available to Congress which creates challenges for more obscure or complicated issues to gain attention.

The same is true regarding the opaque nature of the lame duck process. Where the absence of prolonged public scrutiny may be beneficial for some, the emphasis on backroom negotiations leaves others with fewer means to influence policy outcomes.

In this environment, a robust and engaged public affairs campaign is even more valuable. A media offensive can help increase the likelihood that it is addressed or drive backroom negotiations out into the open to create political pressures. Likewise, a rapidly deployed digital activism and grassroots operation can harness hometown voices to remind decisionmakers that even in the extraordinary circumstances of a lame duck session they remain accountable back home.

In short, the last 2018 activities of Congress will likely prove to be anything but lame. Organizations that understand the dynamics and execute comprehensive plans will see significant returns on their investments. Others who rely exclusively on more limited efforts may find the fate of their enterprises in their opponents’ hands.

Video Marketing Increasingly Vital to PR Strategies

October 16, 2018

A decade ago, the addition of digital advertising to your advocacy campaign was an afterthought. Today, it is a required tool for shaping public opinion even as it continues to evolve with ever new approaches to delivering on-message content.

The rapid growth of digital advertising generally can be seen in the spending habits of recent presidential campaigns.

In 2012, President Obama spent an estimated $52 million on online ads while Mitt Romney spent $26 million. In the subsequent election cycle, Donald Trump paid a whopping $94 million for digital marketing alone, with his digital director making an estimated 50,000 Facebook ads a day — a robust number that the Clinton campaign incredibly managed to eclipse.

Video marketing is following a similar trajectory.  According to a new analysis by EMarketers, spending on video marketing in the United States is expected to reach nearly $28 billion in 2018, making up one-quarter of all digital advertising in the US and will represent more than half of the ad revenue for Snapchat and Twitter.

The largest recipients of online video ad dollars are:

Facebook (and Instagram) — $6.81 billion.

YouTube — $3.36 billion.

Twitter — $633.3 million.

Snapchat — $397.3 million.

For advocacy and issue campaigns without presidential-sized budgets, video marketing campaigns offer the ability to cost-effectively deliver targeted messages to specific audiences, mobilize the masses, and achieve significant impact.

The bottom line: Online advertising is no longer optional and despite recent revelations of problems with Facebook’s metrics systems, video marketing is fast becoming a compulsory component of effective digital strategies.