January 10th, 2012
06:37 PM ET

Letters to the President #1086: 'Dial testing in South Carolina'

Reporter's Note: The Republican candidates are wrapping up in New Hampshire and steaming toward South Carolina, which is where I am waiting and writing today’s letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

I am in the lovely city of Charleston, South Carolina, awaiting the results from the New Hampshire primary. It has been a nice day here that steadily sped up as the hours passed. Now we are closing in on the first returns and everything is buzzing.

I’m here for what we call a “dial test” group. That means pretty soon about 40 undecided Republican voters will join me here at our workspace at the College of Charleston. (And here is an aside; this is a beautiful school! The way it weaves through the old town, filling the streets, shops and restaurants with students; wonderful! I can easily see why so many kids are attracted here. But I digress…) These voters are going to watch the returns and the candidates’ speeches afterward with me (note to self: get chips!), and throughout the process they will have these remote control dialers in their hands. Each time they hear something they like, they will twist the nobs on the dialers up to show how they feel…and they’ll turn them down if they don’t like what they hear.

A team from Southern Methodist University will be monitoring the computers which will turn those dial turns into a display that will makes sense to the rest of us; i.e. a line on the TV screen that will rise and fall as the candidate speaks.

I’ve done this several times before and it is always interesting. There is something inherently fascinating instantly seeing what people think of someone or some idea, second to second.

Will it tell us who is going to win here when the South Carolina primary rolls around? No. Or at least we can’t bet on it. But it should give us some indication of which emotional and intellectual triggers the candidates will have to press to have a chance of winning.

Like I said, it is interesting to watch, and I’m sure you will be. When it is all over for the night, I will have a bit more work to do, but if you want to call afterward I’ll give you more details about what I heard and saw. You can tell me about what your pals in the White House thought of the NH results. What fun!


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