Red States to Blue – Messaging

Very often, I hear some of my fellow Democrats bemoan “low-information” voters who seem to support the GOP in spite of their best interests. Having suffered a perplexing and frustrating loss in the 2016 general election, Democrats across the nation have been looking for explanations for this loss. But one thing that we have not done enough of (in my opinon), is to focus on our failure to connect with people in the “red” areas of our state and nation and to communicate our platform to them.

obama_crowd_speechPresident 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 for over 50 years! Was it a “big” program? Yes. Was it “out of control?” No. It functioned as designed, albeit not as initially hoped.

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Because so many of the medical plans that people were paying for were sub-standard, they were not eligible for use under the ACA and so some people lost access to their plan and/or doctor. When Obama and his administration tried to explain this to Americans, things went from bad to worse. Explaining to consumers why they had lost access to their doctor, would require a detailed explanation involving medical issues, economics and even politics.

Denouncing the program 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.” With the aid of that speech, we now know that Barack Obama went on to win a second, very successful, term.

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I personally 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. 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 twenty words when a five or four word phrase will convey the same meaning. Take the example above. While I could deal with Obama’s explanation of his program, more Americans preferred Clinton’s “down-home” approach.  Whereas I can appreciate sentences that use words such as “whereas,” most Americans, it seems would rather not have to deal with that.

And that’s OK.

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?”

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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 our platform in intricate details, we should also be able to summarize the planks to basic terms. Not because voters can’t deal with the longer, detailed explanation. But sometimes, in today’s world, they just don’t want to have to deal with that.

And that’s OK, too.

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