Medium 9781576754597

Framing the Future

Views: 1228
Ratings: (0)

Polls consistently show that most Americans are progressives at heart. By margins of at least two to one, we favor affordable healthcare for all, even if it means raising taxes; want federal action to combat global warming; support stricter gun control; don’t want Roe vs. Wade overturned; and the list goes on. So why is it so hard for progressive candidates to win elections?
Because, says Bernie Horn, most progressives don’t know how to explain their ideas in ways that resonate with “persuadables”—the significant slice of the electorate who don’t instantly identify as Democrats or Republicans. These are the voters who swing elections. There’s been a lot of theoretical discussion about framing lately, but Framing the Future isn’t theory—the concepts outlined have been used successfully by progressive candidates across the nation, even in such conservative bastions as Montana, Arizona, and Florida.
Drawing on rigorous polling data and his own experience as a veteran political consultant, Horn explains how persuadable voters think about issues and make political decisions and why, as a result, the usual progressive approaches are practically designed to fail with them. He offers a crash course in the nuts and bolts of framing and shows how to use three bedrock American values—freedom, opportunity, and security—to frame progressive positions in a way that creates a consistent, unified political vision that will appeal to persuadable voters. He even offers advice on specific words and phrases to use when talking about a variety of issues and ideas.

List price: $24.95

Your Price: $18.71

You Save: 25%

Remix
Remove
 

11 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

CHAPTER 1: WHAT WE BELIEVE

ePub

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

In this poem, Langston Hughes famously evokes the spirit of the American dream. It is our soaring common vision—a portrait of an America without tyranny, without injustice.

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above
.

The American dream is not about a society where government secures the greatest good for the greatest number. Our dream is personal. It’s about a poor child delivering newspapers and one day ending up as the publisher. It’s about an unskilled worker attending night school and becoming a successful manager. It’s about individuals and families practicing their religion without interference, getting ahead through hard work, and being able to retire in security and comfort.

8The American dream is a prayer, a vision, a fervent hope that every individual in our nation may be given a fair chance to build a successful life. This deeply held, deeply felt common vision for our nation is both about money—individuals and their families getting ahead, and about self-determination—individuals and their families deciding what to think and how to live. Our dream celebrates the individual.

 

CHAPTER 2: WHAT’S HOLDING US BACK?

ePub

Here is a quiz. Actually, it’s part of the questionnaire I used to gather research for this book. Think for a second:

Time’s up. There are no correct answers, because we don’t have a clear definition of liberal or progressive, we can’t easily explain the proper role of government, and therefore, we can’t distinguish ourselves in a fundamental way from conservatives.

That’s what’s holding us back.

24Progressive thinkers are fairly unanimous on this point. Strategists John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira conclude that “the underlying problem driving progressives’ ongoing woes nationally [is that] a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything.” Columnist E. J. Dionne writes that progressives have “a reluctance to make their case on the grounds of principle and philosophy. This in turn, weakens their moral position and cedes moral argument to the right.” Michael Tomasky, executive editor of The American Prospect, declares that what we “still don’t have is a philosophy.” Progressive writer Paul Waldman complains that progressives lack a “master narrative.” And Gary Hart remarks that “the best Democrats lack all convictions, or at least all courage to state what those convictions are.”

 

CHAPTER 3: THE WINNING MESSAGE

ePub

“‘Poll-driven politics’ is the road to hell,” writes one blogger.

This is true. Polls must not determine progressive policy goals—we’ve got to pursue social justice whether or not it is popular. Polls must not determine what we believe as progressives—we’ve got to follow what’s inside our own souls. But good message framing does depend on good polling. We have to understand what our target audience is thinking in order to decide how to move them in our direction.

What are voters thinking when we say freedom, opportunity, and security? Pollster Celinda Lake tested this philosophy against others in two ways, as a slogan and in a longer description.

This first of these compared the statement, “Government should promote freedom, opportunity, and security for all Americans” to Al Gore’s “We need government to stand up for the people not the powerful,” the recently fashionable “Our government should promote the common good,” and John Edwards’ “Today there are two Americas. There is a working America whose needs are forgotten by the government and an America of wealthy special interests whose every wish is fulfilled by the government.” (Figure 3.1 summarizes the question and the key survey results. For more detailed results for this and many of the following figures, please see the Resource section in the back of the book.)32

 

CHAPTER 4: TARGETING THE PERSUADABLES

ePub

Politics without targeting is like a fire hose without a nozzle. Yet advocates routinely point their spray of messages at the whole population. And then they are surprised when their political house burns down.

Any communications effort—from one person chatting with the neighbors to an entire presidential campaign—has limited resources. And any political decision—from the selection of a grant recipient to the election of a mayor—is made by a limited number of “deciders,” in the lingo of George W. Bush. For example, Bush received sixty-two million votes in 2004, representing just a little more than 20 percent of the U.S. population. Democratic candidates for the U.S. House received forty million votes in 2006, representing about 13 percent of Americans.

But the crucial audience is even smaller. In a general election, most voters are partisan Democrats and Republicans who can never be persuaded to support the other party’s candidate. Only a sliver of voters might vote for either party’s candidate—these are the persuadable voters. The proportion of persuadables is usually a bit larger in local elections, and larger still when you’re trying to galvanize support for an issue instead of a candidate.

 

CHAPTER 5: HOW FRAMING WORKS

ePub

Time for another quiz! When were these political slogans in vogue, and what were they all about?

Time’s up. American message framing is as old as American politics. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison practically invented the modern campaign at the turn of the nineteenth century. In 1800, they used negative campaigning to frame their old friend John Adams as a monarchist. Of course, they didn’t call it framing. There was no discussion of any science behind political persuasion. American politicians framed their arguments because they knew what worked. For example:

Answer 1. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was the slogan of William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign. In 1811, Harrison led the forces that defeated the Shawnee chief Tecumseh at the battle of Tippecanoe. So this slogan framed Harrison as a war hero—just like his venerated predecessor, Andrew Jackson. (John Tyler was Harrison’s vice president.)66

Answer 2. “Don’t swap horses in midstream” was a saying popularized by Abraham Lincoln during his campaign for reelection in 1864. What a great metaphor! The Civil War is presented as an obstacle that the country has to cross. Everyone in that era knew what it was like to cross a stream on horseback. If message framing was good enough for Honest Abe, it should be good enough for us.

 

CHAPTER 6: HOW VALUES WORK

ePub

When the second Bush won his second term, progressives were, quite understandably, apoplectic. “How could we lose to this guy?” we asked. And the media answered, “moral values.” Dick Meyer, editorial director of CBSNews.com, recalls the conventional wisdom that prevailed in the weeks following that election: “The Big Political Idea of the 2004 election goes something like this: ‘Moral values’ turned out to be the most important issue to voters, not the economy or the Iraq war or terrorism. President Bush won because a legion of ‘values voters’—whose growing numbers escaped the attention of an inattentive media—preferred him. The Democrats are doomed until they can woo the voters who belong to this new political force.”

But the conventional wisdom was wrong. It was based on a single exit poll which asked, “Which one issue mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?” Given only seven choices, 22 percent chose “moral values,” and of those, four out of five voted for Bush. The other answers were “economy/jobs” (which was selected by 20 percent); “terrorism” (19 percent); “Iraq” (15 percent); and then “health care,” “taxes,” and “education” (all in single digits). So terrorism and Iraq together were actually far more important than moral values, and economy/jobs was nearly as important. In addition, moral values voters were already part of the Republican base—which means that moral values didn’t persuade, it was just the answer that felt most comfortable to stalwart conservatives.78

 

CHAPTER 7: FREEDOM, OPPORTUNITY, SECURITY

ePub

I was tempted to call this chapter “How to Talk Like Barack Obama,” because he really does have a knack for describing progressive policy in terms of mainstream values. Here are just a few of the things Obama said when he delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

About freedom: “John Kerry believes in the Constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties, nor use faith as a wedge to divide us.”

About opportunity: “People don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

About security: “And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure.”

 

CHAPTER 8: TALKING ABOUT OUR PHILOSOPHY AND OURSELVES

ePub

Republican pollster Frank Luntz tells us that “words can sometimes be used to confuse, but it’s up to the practitioners of the study of language to apply them for good and not for evil. It is just like fire; fire can heat your house or burn it down.” Luntz and other right-wing consultants have given conservatives the words that work—to burn down the house. Let’s talk now about words that progressives can use to warm the hearts of voters.

When asked what you stand for, say—confidently—”freedom, opportunity, and security for all.”

See Table

I know this phrase might sound a bit clumsy to your ear right now. But it will gain popularity with repetition. Remember, the first few people who said death tax sounded like aliens from the planet Zorc. Repetition has made this bizarre and factually inaccurate term seem normal.104

To review, when you’re talking about an issue where government has no proper role, say freedom or use a word or phrase with a similar meaning, such as liberty, privacy, basic rights, or fundamental rights. When you discuss an issue where government should act as a referee, say opportunity or use similar terms, including equal opportunity, equality, justice, equal justice, fairness, or level playing field. When you argue about an issue where government should act as a protector, say security or use such terms as safety, protection, quality of life, health security, employment security, or retirement security.

 

CHAPTER 9: TALKING ABOUT GOVERNMENT

ePub

When addressing persuadable voters, there’s not much benefit in saying the words government, taxes, regulation, or social services. Persuadable voters don’t like the processes of government; they like the results. The processes make them think of unfairness, inefficiency, bureaucratic bloat, and endless waste. So talk about the results—freedom, opportunity, and security.

See Table

Americans have disliked government for more than two hundred years. They’ve always agreed with Thomas Paine’s lament that “[g]overnment, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” Polls show they’ve liked it even less since the 1960s.

When voters hear the word government, what pictures pop into their heads? Frustrating ones! They’re pictures of the surly postal clerk, the114 incompetent IRS help line, and the slow-as-molasses Department of Motor Vehicles. So don’t say government if you can help it. Instead, talk about how we, our community, or our society should do such things as reduce health care costs, clean up the environment, and protect Americans from identity theft. People will understand that you mean government.

 

CHAPTER 10: TALKING ABOUT THE ECONOMY

ePub

Don’t say free markets when you’re talking about the economy—say fair markets. This is the single most important piece of linguistic advice in this book.

See Table

Conservative philosophy is wrapped in the language of radical free market economics. Freedom means laissez-faire policies. Opportunity means unregulated markets. Security means a military and police force to defend market assets, and just enough economic security for the masses to prevent a rebellion. It’s true that only the most rabid right-wingers would put it this way. But it is, nevertheless, a fair description of the free market ideology that conservatives use to justify their policies.

Mainstream economists know that the free market doesn’t exist. It is an idealization, a theory of how markets might work in a capitalist utopia. Nevertheless, the term free market goes pretty much unchallenged in political debate. The language of neoclassical, laissez-faire economics dominates American politics. And it’s baloney.122

The problem is progressives lack an easily explained, competing economic theory. For many decades, our economic narrative was more or less anti-capitalist. Progressives could go on and on about the injustices of capitalism—which was and is an important topic. But we didn’t have an alternative framework for speaking positively about the market system.

 

CHAPTER 11: TALKING ABOUT HOT-BUTTON ISSUES

ePub

Why do voters think we’re soft on hard issues? And why do they support most of our domestic policies in opinion polls but not necessarily at the polls on Election Day? It’s all in the way we talk. We don’t need to support military invasions, torture, wiretapping, or merciless sentencing laws. We don’t need to “triangulate” our domestic policies. But we do need to make it clear that our progressive policies will provide Americans with more freedom, opportunity, and security.

See Table

Progressives lost the elections of 2002 and 2004 over the issue of security. Too many Americans thought that conservatives were for security and progressives were against. Subsequently, conservatives lost the election of 2006 in large part because they bungled the job of security.

You may think the threat posed by terrorism pales in comparison to other concerns—that far more Americans die from domestic gun violence or secondhand smoke or lack of affordable health care. But the media130 is focused on terrorism, and therefore most Americans consider it a supremely important issue. And of course, U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is an overriding political issue.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Chapters

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000023528
Isbn
9781609944230
File size
2.08 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata