I’ve heard some of my fellow Democrats bemoan “low-information” voters who seem to support the GOP in spite of their best interests. Following the losses in 2016, Democrats across the nation have sought explanations for this loss. One thing that we have not done enough of (in my opinion), is to focus on our failure to connect with people in the “red” areas. We need to improve our Blue messaging in Red areas.
President Obama left a legacy of important and significant programs such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Most people referred to this program as the “ACA.” The GOP labeled this program simply as “Obamacare.” In so doing, they had hoped to tie this program personally to Barack Obama. They also expected this program to fall flat on its face. It almost did on several occasions. But in the end it proved to be a program that has benefited over 20 million people.
Initially, the GOP loved this program, for nefarious reasons. Democrats had provided the GOP a perfect example of the type of out-of-control, “big brother” program that was (in their messaging) going to drive America to the socialist hell they’ve been warning against. Was it a “big” program? Yes. Was it “out of control?” No. It functioned as designed, despite some stumbling out of the starting blocks.
Because so many of the medical plans that people were paying for were sub-standard, they were not eligible for use under the ACA. These substandard plans led some people to lose access to their plan and/or doctor. When Obama and his administration tried to explain this to Americans, things went from bad to worse. These explanations would involve medical issues, economics and even politics.
The KISS Principle
Denouncing Obamacare took only two words: “He Lied!“
At the 2012 Democratic convention, former-President Bill Clinton took the stage and gave a masterful speech describing, in “plain talk” the programs that the Obama administration had pushed through congress and why they were the right thing to do. For the next few days (weeks? months?) Clinton was referred to as the “Explainer-In-Chief.” He understood the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
That speech was an important turning point that helped Barack Obama win a second, very successful, term.
I feel that Barack Obama is a great orator. He has a great voice. He knows how to deliver his speeches in a deliberate, sometimes forceful, sometimes sensitive manner that is able to draw my attention to the topic at hand. His word choice is extraordinary.
But, this approach doesn’t seem to translate well to voters in the “red” areas. They seem to prefer a simpler message, a more straight-to-the-point message. Why use a twenty word sentence when a four word phrase will convey the same message? Take the example above. While I could deal with Obama’s detailed explanation of his program, many Americans preferred Clinton’s “down-home” approach. Whereas I can appreciate sentences that use words such as “whereas,” most Americans do not.
And that’s OK.
Four words or less
As party activists, we’re in the business of letting voters know the details of our platform and why it will serve them better than the GOP’s. That means that we need to package our message in a manner that will appeal to the greatest number of voters. I have always told people that we need to be able to express our message in four words (maybe five). Most people to whom I say this think I’m joking. I’m not. I’m dead serious. If we can’t explain the core principles of our platform in a short phrase, we probably need to need to examine those core principles. Are they really “core principles?”
I surf the website Reddit. On many discussion threads you will see the acronym: ELI5. This stands for “Explain it like I’m five (years old)”. We need to keep this in mind when crafting communication pieces. While we should always be able to explain the intricate details of our platform, we should also be able to summarize the platform planks in basic terms. Not because voters can’t deal with the longer, detailed explanation. But in today’s world, they just don’t want to have to deal with that.
Bottom line: Democrats must get much better at Blue messaging in Red areas.
Remember: Democrats Work for You