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CHAPTER 4: TARGETING THE PERSUADABLES

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.

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CHAPTER 5: HOW FRAMING WORKS

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.

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CHAPTER 9: TALKING ABOUT GOVERNMENT

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.

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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.

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CHAPTER 7: FREEDOM, OPPORTUNITY, SECURITY

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.”

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CHAPTER 1: WHAT WE BELIEVE

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.

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