brilliant corners is a nationally and internationally recognized polling firm that was instrumental in twice electing Barack Obama to the White House. Our work in understanding the new electorate leading up to the historic 2008 election enabled the campaign to activate an entirely new set of voters, and in 2012 we continued to defy conventional wisdom by showing a path to reengagement particularly for minority and youth voters nationwide. Responsible for the youth vote in the 2012 campaign, our research established a blueprint for both how to reach youth voters and how to communicate with them on their terms. The results speak for themselves – while most prognosticators thought the electorate in 2012 would resemble more traditional elections, we saw the opportunity to once again energize the 2008 surge electorate. Indeed, Election Day 2012 saw nearly the same number of young voters turn out as four years prior – much to the astonishment of pundits on the left and right.
Prior to our work with Obama for America, brilliant corners conducted ground breaking work on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, culminating in its widely successful 50 state strategy. As lead pollster for the DNC, brilliant corners was a key advocate in expanding the electorate and provided the foundation for the historic gains of the 2006 election predicated on a better positioned Party brand. In addition to its critical role as a member of the Obama for America polling team, brilliant corners continues to assist high profile corporate clients with their branding and reposition needs.
brilliant corners operates as a boutique polling firm specializing in strategies for targeting and constructing alliances with specific audiences that include youth and culturally diverse and emerging markets. In today’s swiftly evolving environments we offer our clients continuous consultation using a more agile hands-on service model that enables the brilliant corners team to assist our clients in forging new pathways through difficult terrain in the political, policy, opinion and market research arenas.
At brilliant corners, we’ve dispensed with the formulaic approaches still in heavy rotation by too many in the field that at best can provide a road map for the roads already traveled. Our eyes are always focused on expansion. Our goal is to help clients stake out new territory that can impact critical electoral and market segments by providing thoughtful, relevant, and values-driven communication frameworks. Currently, our next-step approach to research design is relied upon by a number of major progressive organizations and high-profile corporate clients.
We explore key issues to understand the underlying values that impact and connect communities and voters to a campaign and help develop communications that resonate with people in a real and relevant way. Our job is to assess the climate around a given issue or candidate and find ways to cultivate a majority coalition in our client’s favor.
market opinion research and strategy
Here, the bulk of our work is comprised of both quantitative and qualitative research that allows us to assess diverse markets with an eye toward building broad alliances for political or corporate campaigns. While we specialize in African American and youth markets and constituencies, our research techniques transcend race and demographics. We believe that our research provides our clients with the essential tools necessary to make profitable and sound targeting decisions.
public corporate policy research
Investigative study is conducted to develop and frame policy for public or private entities. It’s a thorough assessment of the organization or company’s issue agenda and a test of how potential policy approaches fare in experimental research models. Message frameworks are then constructed to best position a product or initiative with the public and to encourage movement toward those positions.
Mississippi voters were given the choice in 2011 to adopt Amendment 26 on the general ballot[i], which would have defined the term person to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. The “Personhood Amendment” had been floated in a couple of other states as a means to outlaw abortion already but never one as deeply conservative as Mississippi. Our initial poll for Planned Parenthood confirmed how big a challenge we faced: fully 63 percent of likely Mississippi voters identified themselves as Conservative, and not just among whites. Fully two thirds of voters claimed to attend church at least once a week (with half of those claiming more than that!), and only 22 percent considered themselves to be pro-choice. We also knew that “conservative” in this context did not just mean white or Republican: half of African American voters identified as Conservative and only 16 percent of them were pro-choice. We also faced a significant enthusiasm gap, with supporters of Amendment 26 much more excited than were the opponents.
While proponents of the Personhood Amendment made it clear this was about outlawing abortion from the outset, we knew we could not win that debate and made the decision not to talk about it in those terms. Instead we had to find the cross pressures that would give these voters an excuse to vote No. In addition to persuading undecided voters, we had to give supporters of 26 a reason to doubt their support based on other, possibly unintended consequences of such a law, while simultaneously generating more enthusiasm among our own base of voters.
After our initial poll analysis, we went to work modeling the effect of each argument on different segments of the electorate. In the end, we determined that there also existed sufficient distrust in the electorate that we could use the Amendment’s over reach to tamp down support. Voters were not in favor of larger government, and certainly did not want politicians to be involved in healthcare decisions. This sense was further heightened given the recent passage of “Obamacare.” There were also far reaching consequences of Amendment 26, on the availability of birth control and legality of in-vitro fertilization. All of these were effective arguments to specific groups of voters, but in the end they all tied into a central theme: that government politicians should not come between a woman and her doctor/family/religion when it came to her own healthcare, and that the life of the mother was sacrosanct. Our poll showed that proper delivery of these messages would give us a slight advantage in the ballot test and, perhaps more importantly, nullify the initial enthusiasm gap we faced.
On Election Day, Mississippi voters rejected Amendment 26 (and most people’s expectations) 58-42, a sixteen point margin! They did so because ultimately the Personhood Amendment was out of step with their core values. They weren’t suddenly pro-choice, but thanks to our research and Planned Parenthood’s mastery of the message, the central focus of the debate was never about abortion. Rather than try to change the opposition’s world view (which would be seen as disrespectful), our campaign focused on other aspects of the law which its erstwhile supporters simply couldn’t stomach. We met voters on their own turf, but not on the grounds of the opposition.
In many ways, this campaign typifies our work at brilliant corners. Confronted with an extremely difficult and sensitive campaign, our initial instincts were not to run a typically progressive campaign to change the minds of the voters. Instead we sought to understand the electorate and communicate on their terms. We didn’t change anyone’s mind in the state of Mississippi on abortion, but we helped defeat a law that would have ended abortion in the state (something roughly two thirds of the state agrees should happen), and we did it by 16 points.
[i]Though an off year in many states, 2011 would also see Mississippi vote on a new Governor and other statewide offices, so turnout was expected to be high.