The best article on political persuasion you’ll ever read

I’m learning from these Facebook ads and misleading YouTube videos that you have to have an outrageous headline to get clicks. THE FUNNIEST VIDEO IN THE WORLD!

“Well, maybe it’s not the funniest, but to make that claim, it must be pretty funny. Click.” But without too much hyperbole, this article really is important. Oh, and just like those annoying ads, I’m going to make you wait til the end for the good stuff, because to understand why it’s the most important article, you have to have some context. This one’s a long one, but I hope you’ll find time.

The democrats won the presidential election by more than 2%, the Senate popular vote by over 10%, and lost the House of Representatives by 1%. What’s more, losing this election was hardly a reason to panic. A flawed technocrat lost to a charismatic populist with the help of the FBI, Russia and fake news, which dragged down the other races too.

If they change nothing, they are still the favorites to win the next presidential election. This was the electoral equivalent of scoring 2 touchdowns in the last 2 minutes of the game.

Then again, what good is it to have the Presidency and be permanently in the minority in the House? And the state houses? Democrats have less power now than any time since the 1920s.

But here’s what I find more disconcerting. This election should never have been within 2 touchdowns. This should have been 65-10.  And what’s worse, I see nothing from the democratic leadership (oxymoron alert) that indicates they’ve learned why they lost.

They look at the issues and think, the American people agree with us on almost all the issues. And then they look at the demographics and think, it’s all moving in our direction. They can’t figure out why they lost.

One word: Messaging.

Here’s a sampling of polls from on the major issues we face today. Blue means the results lean toward typically democrat positions. Red toward republicans.


That’s an image of a country that believes in democratic values.

But missing from this is the “wording.” Credible pollsters go to great lengths to remove bias from their polling. For instance, the immigration polls won’t say the preferred liberal phrase “undocumented immigrants” just the same as they won’t call them “lawbreakers.” But political fights have no such restraint. You don’t even have to get to misleading lies like “Death Panels” to play dirty.

Here’s a great example of how wording can affect perception from a CBS poll:
“Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a governmentadministered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans?”
59% favor
34% oppose

Sounds great right? Democrats should run right out and campaign on universal single payer healthcare, yeaaaah!!!!! But what happens when the very same poll asks the question a different way:
“Would you favor or oppose a single-payer health care system, in which all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan that is financed by taxes?
43% favor
50% oppose

That’s essentially the SAME POLICY!!! And we haven’t even gotten started on “Government takeover of healthcare” and “government telling your doctor they have to let you die” and all the other stuff you know is coming.

Democrats are just lately starting to understand the power of wording and are taking it seriously, but the GOP has been doing surveys and focus groups on wording and terminology for decades. They have an operation that puts Madison Avenue advertising execs to shame. But more than that, they have a home field advantage: it’s easier to turn someone AGAINST something than to convince them to be FOR something NEW.

NEW is the key word, and that’s why the debate over Obamacare has been so difficult for the GOP. Now that 18 million Americans stand to lose healthcare coverage if it fails, even its enemies have a hard time convincing Americans it’s terrible. Paul Ryan is just telling flat out lies about how it’s in a death spiral and he still can’t unite Republicans to repeal, who wisely realize that they’re going to own the mess they make. There’s even talk now about how they might just keep Obamacare and try to repair it, as democrats have been asking for all along. Even the the hardcore right wing is not calling for a return to pre-Obamacare status. At the same time, a constant barrage of non-stop criticism for 7 years has taken its toll on the popularity of the program, with many polls showing people against the law despite supporting most of the provisions.

So what does this mean for liberals and democrats? The election of Trump has led to the kind of upswelling of participation and activism among liberals not seen in the modern era of politics. There’s even talk of the formation of a left wing tea party: the herbal tea party .(Get it? Because liberals are wimpy hippies that…nevermind).

I love the activism, but this is not what the democrats need.  The GOP did not succeed because of this movement, but despite it.  They squashed the RINOs from their own party. They primaried their own leadership. They pushed policies outside the mainstream. The base is fired up, but this has not made them loved or made their policies popular. Most Americans, even conservative minded people, are turned off by the Tea Party. A 2015 CBS poll put Tea Party support at just 19%, vs. 66% against.

For all the Tea Party’s work in getting regular people fired up and involved (just what we’re seeing on the left now), it didn’t ever really get outside its core of supporters because its rhetoric stayed within the sphere of its loyalists. Liberals face the same dilemma now. The arguments don’t expand the bubble at all.

I started writing this article about a week ago, and today I just stumbled on this amazing story about how democrats need to reach out to conservatives. It talks about how the rigidity democratic doctrine is hurting them (think God, guns, abortion, climate change, etc.).  But more importantly, it talks about how if you want to reach new people you have to speak to their values.

People tend to think their values are universal, but they’re not. Liberals worry about harm and fairness. Conservatives see things in terms of loyalty, patriotism and purity. Saying that the immigration order is unfair will not sway a conservative. Saying it with passion simply makes him or her turn you off (and I’m guilty here for sure). You really should read it.

So when we’re arguing next week about appointing Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, instead of talking about how much he’s against Climate Change, democrats might do well to show a picture of hunters trying to find deer in a forest devastated by strip mining. Or fishermen unable to fish in a stream polluted by coal companies.

Or maybe instead of talking about how Trump is a liar, they should try to frame how he puts his own business interests ahead of the country, unlike what a patriot would do.

If democrats can master this, they might lose some political purity, but they’ll be so dominant (see the polls above for proof) than the current version of the GOP will cease to exist and something new will emerge.

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe. On the horizon is some cool analysis on healthcare that will change the way you think about government spending.

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