How to strengthen the “Better Deal” message

Posted on August 1, 2017

Last week, the Senate and House Minority Leaders published op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post announcing their new messaging under the banner of “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.”

As messaging specialists, we can’t recommend the banner to policy leaders. It doesn’t employ values. “Better” than what?

Further, while the overall message focuses on the economy, which makes sense, the supporting materials ignore critical issues that are inextricably linked to real-world economics such as our treatment of immigrants, mass incarceration and reproductive rights.

That said, we should recognize that many of the supporting materials were poll-tested and represent several steps in the right direction. These materials recommend that advocates and leaders: point out that trickle-down economics has failed, proclaim that the rich have rigged the system, and demonstrate to working Americans that we are on their side. We can build from there.

For at least a decade, virtually every poll has shown that, if they hear the argument, persuadable voters will agree that the rich deserve blame. For example, among American voters:

  • 72 percent agree “the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.”
  • 83 percent say “there are different rules for the well-connected and people with money” while only 14 percent believe “everyone more of less plays by the same rules to get ahead.”
  • 85 percent believe “the wealthy and big corporations are the ones really running this country.”
  • 67 percent think corporations are “paying too little…in federal taxes” while only 9 percent say they are “paying too much.”
  • 92 percent agree that “there are already too many special tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans” and 90 percent agree there are too many “for corporations.”

So Americans already believe our narrative, if only we will say it. And there are many ways to communicate it effectively. For example:

Say . . .
For typical working Americans, the economy is a wreck. To fix it, our policies must benefit all the people, not just the richest one percent. Our system works when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone gives their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules.

Why . . .

Persuadable voters believe in a series of stereotypes about progressives and conservatives. In economic policy, persuadable voters like the concept of a conservative who supports low taxes and free markets. But they also believe that today’s conservatives favor the rich rather than the middle class. At the same time, persuadable voters like a progressive who fights for economic fairness. But they also tend to believe that liberals favor the poor over the middle class.

So, pretty obviously, we need to emphasize that conservative policy supports the rich while progressive policy supports the middle class. That does not mean we should lessen our commitment to fight poverty or move our policies to the right, it means we should focus attention on the fact that our economic policies benefit the middle class while conservative policies don’t.

This is another version of the same theme:

Say . . .
Our economy is upside down. The majority of Americans are struggling while the rich are doing better than ever. We need an economy that works for Main Street, not Wall Street. Every hardworking American should have the opportunity to earn a decent living, receive high-quality affordable health care, get a great education for their children, and retire with security. [Their right-wing policy] favors the rich, [our progressive policy] sides with the rest of us.

Why . . .

The Schumer op-ed makes clear that he understands it’s important to use language that explicitly blames the rich. A Hart Research poll demonstrated this by asking persuadable voters which candidate they would support in two circumstances. When given a choice between a Republican who “will grow the economy” and a Democrat who “will make the economy work for all of us,” these voters chose the Republican by 55-to-45 percent. But when given the choice between a Republican who “will grow the economy” and a Democrat who “will make the economy work for all of us, not just the wealthy,” they chose the Democrat by 61-to-39 percent. By explicitly indicting the wealthy, the Democrat gained 16 points!

Here are some additional phrases that work:

Say . . .
·         Too often the system is rigged to favor the wealthy over ordinary Americans, or big corporations over small businesses.

·         It does not have to be that way—we can change the rules.

·         We need an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

·         To build a strong economy, we need a strong middle-class.

·         It’s time to rewrite the economic rules to benefit all Americans, not just the rich and powerful.

Why . . .

These narratives and messages appeal to just about every persuadable voter. Let’s use them!

FOR MUCH MORE about progressive messaging, see our brand-new Third Edition of Voicing Our Values: A message guide for policymakers and advocates.