Please don’t reject messaging as “spin” or “manipulation”

Posted on May 22, 2019

As we go around the country giving messaging workshops, we’re nearly always asked whether our message framing is a gimmick.

After all, conservatives make it seem like a cynical game. They refer to the rich as “job creators,” school vouchers as “opportunity scholarships,” health, safety and environmental regulations as “job killers,” progressive taxes as “class warfare,” and (in unabashed Orwellian Newspeak) labor leaders as union “bosses.”

So yes, when the right-wing calls a New York Times story “fake news,” that is manipulation because it’s the opposite of truth. But our goal is to understand the vocabulary of persuadable voters and use it to accurately describe our philosophy and our proposed policy solutions.

The problem is, we progressives often use words and phrases in presentations and debate that are really designed for talking to our base. When we do that, what we’re trying to express will not be heard. It’s like going to Spain and trying to communicate in English; they speak a different language.

There are several reasons for this. As explained in PLI’s book Voicing Our Values, people outside of the progressive base are not listening in the context we’re speaking. They lack our knowledge, assumptions and beliefs. And they lack our interest in the details. When our language does not make sense to ordinary Americans, they don’t have the patience or inclination to figure it out.

Left-leaning candidates often confuse a misunderstanding of their language with a rejection of their policies. So, instead of using good messaging to embrace progressive ideas (even very popular ones like an increased minimum wage), many such candidates take “centrist” positions—which satisfy no one.

Let us neither veer to the right nor stubbornly insist on using ineffective language.

Let us let truth be heard. But if a listener does not understand what you intend to express, that truth is not heard.

Let us understand the language of our audience—as well as their culture, assumptions, biases and beliefs—and use that knowledge to speak truth.

So, in the words of the civil rights anthem, keep your eyes on the prize. Democracy enables us to do more than speak to power, it allows us to take power. That’s why we’re in politics—to correct injustice, not just to complain about it. Use language to accomplish that.

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Don’t accept the normalization of hate speech

Posted on May 8, 2019

America is not really a nation of laws. Our statutes govern only the grossest of behavior. The way Americans behave toward each other day-to-day—attitude and etiquette, willingness and wariness, prejudice and tolerance—is governed mostly...

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How do you explain progressive economics?

Posted on April 24, 2019

As you know, conservatives have well-established concepts and language to explain their ideas about economics. And those talking points dominate any conversation with the public. The position themselves as defenders of a “free market” system...

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Five Words the Media Should Stop Using

Posted on April 11, 2019

Language matters. When the media (or sometimes progressives) use language that indirectly supports the right-wing narrative, it obscures truth and impedes political persuasion. Here are five egregious but common uses of language by the...

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What We Stand For: Twelve Words

Posted on March 27, 2019

Most Americans are progressive on most issues. By margins of at least two to one, our fellow citizens agree that the U.S. economy is rigged to benefit the rich and powerful; think wealthy individuals and corporations pay too little...

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How to message in social media

Posted on March 13, 2019

As a political leader, what is your purpose for using social media? Are you trying to move persuadable Americans to your side? Rile up your base? Or perhaps put down political opponents? Certainly, Donald...

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Improve your non-verbal communication

Posted on February 28, 2019

You may have the best political ideas in the world (from PLI’s Progressive Agenda!) and employ the best messaging (from PLI’s Voicing Our Values!) but still communicate ineffectively because of a failure in non-verbal...

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Progressive Economic Platform for 2019-20

Posted on February 13, 2019

Progressives need to tell a compelling story about the American economy, and it shouldn’t be hard. The rich have spent decades rigging the economic and political systems to benefit themselves at the expense of...

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Speak more simply!

Posted on January 28, 2019

This is not going to surprise you, but Donald Trump speaks like a fourth-grader. This was confirmed by the data site Factba.se using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level metric. Specifically, the past fifteen U.S. Presidents...

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Ten of our newest model bills

Posted on January 16, 2019

We’ve just published our latest edition of the Progressive Agenda for States and Localities. You can read it in HTML text, download a PDF, or we’ll be happy to mail you a printed copy. Here...

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