Frame this: thoughts on the messaging thing

There's been a lot of talk the last few years about the importance of "framing" issues so that progressive messages get across. You could even say that this has become a micro-industry in some circles.

There is a lot of research that indicates that the how of communication is as important as--sometimes more important than--the what. And no one would dispute the importance of skilled messaging and
media work.

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[Our Karl Rove] Democrats in Power, But Powerful?

Note: This is a notification -- not a full diary entry -- published as a service to the MyDD community.

Good news...

A new political strategy has been published on Our Karl Rove.  

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Republicans Set To Go Nuclear

In case anyone has forgotten how vicious Republican attacks can be, here are just some of the ideas they are currently testing before they begin their final round of ads this cycle. From an email sent by a friend of mine in Bucks County (PA-08), who recently participated in a Tarrance Group poll for PA-08:First they ask you what your most important issue is. Here are the answers for immigration:
  • Patrick Murphy wants to let 68 million illegal immigrants into the country
  • Patrick Murphy will give Medicare benefits to "illegals"
  • Patrick Murphy will give full in-state college tuition to "illegals"
  • Patrick Murphy wants to dissolve the Patriot Act, making it easier for terrorists to attack our country.
I don't think that this is exactly a push poll (see Mystery Pollster's discussion on push polls last month). My guess is that they are testing negative messages and seeing what impact those messages have upon trial heat numbers. We have seen similar polls in VT-AL and NY-20 this year. Testing negative messages isn't push polling--it is just testing negative messages. I have done the same thing in polls I have conducted.

What is happening, however, is that once again Democrats are shocked at just how vicious Republican attacks are going to be. A source told me that the Murphy campaign received several phone calls from supporters about this poll, because people were shocked at how awful the questions were. Well, in my experience, they might actually be getting off easy. In 2004, Ginny Schrader and Lois Murphy were accused of raping young women in Afghanistan in the final NRCC ads (as were several other Democratic challengers that year). I remember when that ad first went on the air against Ginny Schrader, my current girlfriend (we weren't dating at the time) called me up immediately after she saw it because she thought it was unbelievably offensive. In fact, I believe her exact phrasing was she had "just seen the most offensive ad of her life, and it was against Ginny Schrader."

That is what I believe is happening here. Murphy supporters were polled and given a sample of the NRCC's nuclear messaging for this cycle. Once again, we are shocked and taken aback by just how vicious the messaging is. By this point, however, we should not be shocked. This is simply standard operating procedure for Republicans, just like suppressing the minority vote. Too often, liberals and progressives, who dream of clean, uncorrupted elections based entirely on policy, are not prepared to answer--much less pre-empt--Republican attacks in kind. I have written before about the lack of stomach to win on the left, and that we are repeatedly shocked by Republican attacks in demonstrative of that continuing trend.

President Clinton has won the news cycle for us over the past couple of days. His toughness in standing up to Faux News by launching an articulate counter-attack against any further slanted questions remains the number one political story in the country. Now we are on the attack, and Republicans are decidedly on the defensive. This happened because President Clinton did not respond to attacks against him, and instead launched an attack of his own. This is what we have to be ready to do in every campaign across the country. We can't fool ourselves into thinking that Republicans won't get much nastier than they have so far. We have to be ready to get much tougher than we have been so far. If you aren't willing to do that, then take an anti-acid, and volunteer in a way that does not put you on the front lines. This is going to get mean.

Democracy Corps Versus MyDD

The latest Democracy Corps memo (PDF) contains the following graph:The latest Democracy Corps survey, echoing two previous surveys,1 shows that Democrats can fend off Republican attacks on these issues and decisively win the national security debate, including the core issue of Iraq, with the audiences who will decide the November election. Democrats must not duck these issues, as some did in recent elections, and have no need to: unlike in previous years, there are few signs that Republicans come out ahead when Democrats contest them. At this point, the Bush focus on the war and national security is only pumping up his base rather than winning over contested voters or districts. By contrast, when Democrats join this debate and lay out their critique and plans, Democrats win across the broad electorate, particularly among Independents and other swing blocks. This is similar advice to the MyDD / Courage Campaign candidate memo, although we argue against laying out plans and in favor of demanding accountability. I think Democracy Corps is certainly right about their analysis of the public mood heading into this election, since we also argue that ducking Iraq is disastrous, and that Democrats can easily win the Iraq debate with proper messaging because the country knows that Republicans have completely messed up in Iraq and are not going to change course. However, I have to disagree with most of Democracy Corps's advice to candidates, since it is just way too wonky and asks candidates to say things that voters do not believe they can implement:On Iraq, stress that "it is time to change course," because Bush has mismanaged the war, has no real plan going forward, and has made America less secure through skewed priorities that deflect our focus and resources from other key priorities in the fight against terror. I agree with most of that, but even that alone would barely fit into a 30-second spot. The one thing I would change is to add "and the leaders who create this mess must be held accountable" instead of " deflect our focus and resources from other key priorities in the fight against terror." The real problem with the memo comes in when Democracy Corps seems to suggest that Democratic candidates should submit 15-page policy proposals to the voters in their districts on Iraq:
  • Lay out their own plan for protecting the nation's security; voters want to know that in addition to the critique on Iraq, Democrats have a positive program to combat terror and make America safer.

  • As part of that plan, highlight the steps Democrats can take to cut America's dependence on foreign oil. This is the public's number one national security concern, and the public sides with Democrats overwhelmingly when they lay out steps to improve America's energy security.

  • Describe how America can take stronger actions against the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism, including implementing 100 percent of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.
What, what, what? Is this a homework assignment that we need to have double-spaced and on the desks of voters in MLA format in two weeks? We need to submit a plan to voters that, among other things, highlights the several steps we can take to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, the steps we can take to otherwise improve our energy security, the several steps we can take to protect us from Islamic extremism, and the many things we will do in order to implement the many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission? That is just crazy advice to give to candidates. Back when I was a writing instructor, there is no way I would have ever assigned a paper like that to my students unless it had a minimum length of 4,000 words.

Democracy Corps is asking for Democratic candidates to present an incredible amount of wonky details on a variety of topics to the voters in their districts. No one is going to read those plans. More importantly, no one is going to believe that a freshman member of the House of Representatives could possibly implement them. People know that Congress can't do that, especially individual, freshman members of Congress. Even Admiral Joe Sestak, who in PA-07 might be the most qualified person running for the House in the entire country when it comes to this area of public policy, is not going to become Secretary of Defense if he defeats lunatic Curt Weldon. And even if he was going to become Secretary of Defense, everyone knows that Bush would fire him for offering such a rational, detailed plan, and that the RNC would back up Bush's decision by running $100M of ads detailing the horrors of then former Secretary Sestak's plan to the entire country.

This is just way too wonky. It suffers from the long-term Democratic candidate disease of hyper-cognition, and the long-term political professional disease of assuming that the rest of the country thinks about politics as much as political professionals do. There is nothing wrong with having plans like this--in fact, it is probably a good sign that a candidate can formulate plans of this nature. However, post them on a PDF link in the "issues" section of your website, or in some other out of the way location. A candidate's message should not be a public recitation of their latest policy proposal.

As I noted, the first bullet point in Democracy Corps's memo wasn't bad, but even that comes close to a 30-second ad all on its own. Keep it Simple, Stupid. I know it is a struggle for many Democrats, but we really need to de-wonkify ourselves around campaign season. I know it wouldn't work either, but I actually prefer the crude, simple message proposed by a Dailykos diarist six weeks ago: Yo, Bush! We're going to stop YOUR shit. Obviously, that would need to be rephrased, but it is simple, direct, it is what people want to hear from politicians and, if it is said in the right way, people will actually believe it. It would certainly be better than the wonkerific campaigns Democracy Corps seems to be suggesting challengers run this year. If this election is supposed to be "it's Iraq, stupid," then please don't turn it into "it's my 43-point treatise on Iraq, professor!" Democracy Corps is right that we can win the national security debate and that we must not avoid it, but we are not going to win it by being wonkier-than-thou.

MyDD / Courage Campaign Poll: Republicans Divided On Iraq, Accountability

Please continue to donate to the MyDD / Courage Campaign Polling Project. This important work cannot continue without your support. Also, check out the official, public, PDF version of the report. It includes graphics and you can email it to whoever you like.

In an important development paralleling the Vietnam-era split in the Democratic Party base, a split is developing among Republican Party base voters around the war in Iraq and the credibility of Republican Party leaders who initiated the war. In post-election polling done by Courage Campaigns and MyDD.com in the Republican-leaning California 50th district, we found that only 19% of Republican voters believe that the Republican Party will hold Bush accountable for mistakes made in Iraq, versus 48% of Republican voters who believe that the Democratic Party will hold Bush accountable.

Other findings include:
  • 63% of Republican voters believe that Bush has made some or a lot of mistakes in Iraq. 24% of Republican voters believe that Bush has made ‘a lot of mistakes in Iraq’, and another 39% believe that Bush has made ‘some mistakes in Iraq’.
  • 34% of Republican voters believe that Bush has definitely or probably not told the truth about the situation in Iraq. 14% believe that Bush has ‘definitely’ not told the truth about the situation in Iraq, and another 20% believe that Bush has ‘probably’ not told the truth about the situation in Iraq.
  • 34% of Republican voters believe that Bush should probably or definitely be held accountable for the situation in Iraq. 19% of Republican voters believe that Bush should ‘definitely’ be held accountable, and 15% believe he should ‘probably’ be held accountable.
  • 48% of Republican voters believe that the Democratic Party is likely to hold Bush accountable for mistakes in Iraq, versus only 19% who believe that the Republican Party is likely to hold Bush accountable.
It is clear that a substantial minority of Republican base voters no longer trust their leadership on issues of war and peace, and that President Bush’s lowered credibility has lowered the credibility of Republican Party leaders in general. At the same time, without skillful exploitation of these vulnerabilities on the part of Democratic candidates, Republican candidates can hold on to their voters, as Brian Bilbray did in his special election victory. A previous polling memo showed that both withdrawal messaging or ignoring the war allows Republican candidates to solidify their voter base and depress turnout among independents.

Voters and likely voters in the bright red California 50th Congressional District believe that George Bush made mistakes with regard to the conduct of the war in Iraq, is not truthful about that war and that Democrats, not Republicans, are the only force that can hold him accountable.

This poll demonstrates clearly that the occupation in Iraq matters to voters and that progressive candidates have the obligation to assure that Congress will be in charge of holding the president accountable.

These stunning findings are from a new poll commissioned by the Courage Campaign, a non-partisan, progressive 527 based in Los Angeles, and MyDD.com, a progressive blog devoted to analysis and commentary on political campaigns and infrastructure. This poll was conducted as a follow-up to the polling memo the two organizations released on August 2nd, which examined reasons for Francine Busby's loss in the special election in the district. The poll was conducted from August 2nd-3rd by Wright Consulting, and surveyed 308 registered voters who participated in the July 5-26 Courage Campaign / MyDD poll. The poll has a margin of error of 5.8% for the entire sample, with smaller subgroups have a larger margin of error.

Full questionnaire can be found here:
http://www.mydd.com/images/user/217/followupquestions.pdf

Complete crosstabs can be found here:
http://www.mydd.com/images/user/217/Crosstabs.pdf

For further information, contact Chris Bowers of MyDD at chris@mydd.com, or CJ Frogozo of the Courage Campaign at cj@couragecampaign.org

Complete findings can be found in the extended entry.

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