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The Election Shows the Importance of Political Messaging

Here is an iron rule of politics; because of the complexity of the modern world, many voters do not understand all the nuances of perplexing public policy issues. That's why we are fed a constant stream of painfully oversimplified campaign ads during our elections that add little to a serious dialogue about important issues like trade, immigration, climate change, taxes or international relations. But, that's our political environment, and you can't wish it away.

So, in this world of "soundbite" politics, messaging and slogans matter a lot because once something is branded, it is very, very difficult to rebrand it. The recent election highlights several examples of poor messaging that cost Democrats seats in the House and Senate.

In the future, here are some rules to keep in mind:

1. it's usually not a good idea to let political activists do the branding. Things that sound good to folks within the echo chamber of an advocacy group, can fail miserably when introduced to the general public.

For instance, the slogan, "Defund the Police?" it was a gift to reactionaries on the right that used it to scare the bejesus out of low-information voters who envisaged a perpetual "Purge" in the streets of America. Public policy experts and politicians wasted countless hours explaining that the phrase doesn't literally refer to disbanding our police departments and leaving the citizens to fend for themselves. They shouldn't have had to fight the initial branding.

"Defund the Police" is meant to signify the reallocation of some of the resources currently used for policing to social services, mental health programs, youth services, job programs, education, and housing, among other things. Activists that support this reallocation argue that investing more money in community programs would provide a better deterrent to crime, and a lot of research supports that view. And, yes, there would still be a police force to respond to your 911 call, and that's the point. Our police departments are great at ferreting out serious criminal activity, but often lack the skills and training [not to mention the patience] to handle domestic disputes, drunks, and mental health meltdowns.

So, here's an idea; change the slogan to "Reform the Police," something that the overwhelming majority of Americans support after watching the George Floyd tapes. That doesn't capture the entire message and is too wishy-washy for some activists, but why go out of your way to drive supporters away. Civil rights icon, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina made that point Friday, arguing that the "defund the police" mantra of the social justice protests and the headlines generated from the slogan hurt Democrats at the polls on November 3rd. "I’ve always said that these headlines can kill a political effort," said Clyburn.” He's correct. It did. Branding matters, way more than we would like to admit.

2. Relate a simple message that highlights how a public policy will benefit the voter and hammer home that message consistently. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's "Green New Deal" is the perfect example of how not to do this. The slogan was an empty vessel that conservatives soon filled up with frightening nonsense.

Voters broadly support action to combat climate change, but the slogan doesn't convey a clear message and doesn't highlight the millions of high wage, clean energy jobs that the initiative would create. And, the ambiguity of the message allowed Republicans an opportunity to portray it as a job-destroyer that would double gas prices, cost 100 trillion dollars, and according to President Trump, cause us to "take buildings down and rebuild them with tiny little windows, little windows so you can’t see the light, you can’t see out.”

Yes, such criticisms are ludicrous, but Ocasio-Cortez should have seen them coming and tailored her message to appeal to an apprehensive public, worried about higher prices and losing jobs in the energy sector. The message should be; more jobs, better jobs, safer jobs and a cleaner future, all of which would result from a move away from coal and other fossil fuels.

3. Talk about change in bite-size chunks. As we have written before, "Medicare for All," or some form of it, will come....eventually, but for now the majority of Americans are quite happy with their current insurance coverage, especially those folks that receive untaxed, subsidized coverage from their employers. And, the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces, rules protecting people with preexisting conditions, and Medicaid expansion are also quite popular.

One of the primary reasons for the "Blue Wave" victories in 2018 was that Democrats talked about protecting and expanding what worked within Obamacare and didn't talk about blowing the whole thing up and replacing it with Medicare for All. Hopefully, that too will be a lesson learned.


By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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