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CHAPTER 3: THE WINNING MESSAGE

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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

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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 11: TALKING ABOUT HOT-BUTTON ISSUES

Horn, Bernie Berrett-Koehler Publishers 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.

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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 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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