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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 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 6: HOW VALUES WORK

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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

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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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CHAPTER 8: TALKING ABOUT OUR PHILOSOPHY AND OURSELVES

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.”

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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.

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