What is Opposition Research



An Opposition Research Definition

So just what do political professionals mean when they talk about opposition research? We look at these questions and the contemporary meaning of the discipline.


Opposition research is in the news today with Don Jr.’s revelations that he took a meeting regarding “opposition research” supplied by Russian actors (pun intended). Seems our new found fame makes a good chance to look at just what is opposition research and what it’s not.

Some define opposition research as, “investigation into the dealings of political opponents, typically in order to discredit them publicly.”1

This conventional definition of opposition research is incomplete and somewhat misleading in our view. As this story suggests, Donald Trump neglected self research, or defensive research, a cornerstone of our craft and something we recommend always and ahead of opposition research. Trump’s story isn’t the only one that stands out in this regard; Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook page featuring blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe and, moreso, his lack of a cohesive strategy to respond to its unearthing demonstrate a strategy failing to utilize self-research as well.

As Kevin Cirilli has noted, it is “political tradition” to do defensive research. This promotes discussion and preparation for the political fights to come. It’s almost as much a team building exercise as anything.

At Nesbitt Research we consider “opposition research” to be the full and complete due diligence review of a candidate and their opponents. This may be in service to a specific candidate, Social Impact organization, a PAC or a party. For us it includes review of as much of the public record as possible.

In the defensive research situation, we may be engaged to review non-public records as well, with our client’s permission. In Northam’s case, with his permission, Nesbitt Research would have interviewed Northam and close associates to unearth any skeletons in the closet from his past and then provided research to assist his top campaign staff in crafting a strategy to respond to such skeletons if ever brought to light. We take this responsibility seriously and as Bloomberg noted, we think defensive research is as much a part of a great campaigns as opposition research.

Our Services

At Nesbitt Research, we provide a lot more than just opposition research. As previously mentioned, we believe defensive, or self, research is also integral to a campaign, PAC, party, or cause. As we eloquently put it on our home page, “Know thyself.”

Defensive research is important because it provides an objective profile of the subject in question. This profile helps better frame policy platforms, and communications strategies. A simple online search of defensive research returns results on marketing, and that’s exactly how you can think about it. Defensive research allows the subject to better market themselves to the public.

We provide other services that will help transform your campaign and guarantee success:

  • Defensive Research
  • Opposition Research
  • Fact Checks
  • Design and Recruit a Research Team Specific to Your Campaign

If you’re interested in getting to know more about our services, feel free to reach out to us!

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