Editor's note: Michael Lieberman is founder and president of Multivariate Solutions, a New York research firm. He can be reached at 646-257-3794 or at michael@mvsolution.com. This article appeared in the April 9, 2012, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.

As the race for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination rages on, Americans are tasked with keeping straight the candidates and what each stands for. While Republican candidates' platforms bear many similarities, their slight differences are what set them apart from one another. Research can be used to determine these differences, also known as wedge issues, and guide candidates on how to best position themselves to garner the most swing votes possible.

This article explores the use of a political visual: the perceptual map. This visual, often implemented in branding and advertising research, can be used to demonstrate a candidate's early position and movement as the campaign progresses and to identify wedge issues and what influences undecided voters.

A political campaign begins with a candidate. Regardless of the party or office sought, each candidate must first consider some very basic questions: Who am I politically? What do I want to achieve? Why I am uniquely qualified? The answers to these questions define the candidate's public profile, otherwise known as his/her political brand.

Campaign research starts with a baseline survey or poll - asking carefully-worded questions to a scientifically-selected sample of people via phone, online or face-to-face - to analyze the issue environment, demographics, party affiliation and relative positive and negative images of the candidates. The polling data and research must be analyzed further to facilitate understandable, effective strategic and tactical decisions.

Perceptual mapping is a graphical marketing research technique that visually displays the perceptions of consumers or, in this ca...