10. Government Performance

Begin in agreement, for example: Our laws, rules and programs should be enforced fairly and equally to ensure that everyone gets a fair shot, everyone gives their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

Our values: Opportunity, equal opportunity, justice, fairness, fair share, fair rules, level playing field

Our vision: State and local governments play a powerful role as rule-makers and enforcers, and as employers and contractors. A progressive government will: (1) ensure that the workers of both the government and its contractors are paid wages and benefits that support a decent standard of living; (2) guarantee that economic development subsidies are used sparingly and only to create middle-class jobs; and (3) operate with transparency and the highest ethical standards.

Conservatives have worked very hard to denigrate government, and to some extent they have been successful. Voters are quite cynical about Washington. Despite negative stereotypes about the federal government, however, citizens like their state governments and appreciate local governments even more.

Further, even when people say they don’t like government, they still like what government does. For example, when asked about federal spending programs individually, there’s only one program that most Americans would cut: aid to foreign counties. Voters do not want to cut federal spending on health care, environmental protection, energy, scientific research, infrastructure, education or Social Security. And when asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable impression of well-known federal agencies, Americans favor the FDA, OSHA, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission by margins of 2-to-1 or more. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has been the subject of unrelenting attack by conservatives, is still favored 52-to-33.

In short, when talking about government and its performance, avoid generalities and focus on the benefits of government programs.

Don’t say . . . Say . . .



Public health and safety

Roads, schools, parks, libraries

Consumer protection, environmental protection

Fair treatment of workers, fair markets, fair trade


Stay away from government, bureaucracy, and especially Washington to avoid triggering negative stereotypes. And yet, don’t hesitate to say rules, laws, and even regulations.

Lake Research Partners performed two rounds of in-depth public opinion research to probe people’s feelings about government rules, regulations, agencies and enforcement. This research found that Americans want more enforcement of rules and regulations, not less. The problem people have with government enforcement is that they feel the rules are not being applied fairly. They think the rich and powerful can get away with whatever they want, that the privileged class can break the rules without consequences.

When asked, “do you think that increased enforcement of our national laws and regulations is a good thing or a bad thing,” citizens answered it is a “good thing” by a margin of 71-to-14. State enforcement is even more popular than federal enforcement. More than 2/3rds complain that laws and regulations are not “equally” or “fairly” applied.

These findings do not only apply to enforcement of laws and regulations currently on the books. They can also be used to justify new laws and regulations. Americans don’t really know the difference between making laws and regulations stricter and having stricter enforcement of what’s on the books. Here’s why that’s important.

Lake Research gave respondents a choice between two narratives. The conservative narrative was:

Protecting consumers is important but government regulation has gone too far, so that some politicians seem to think government is the answer to every problem. Increased regulation, bureaucratic red tape, mandates, and uneven enforcement hold back economic growth and destroy jobs. America was built on the free market and free enterprise. Forcing entrepreneurs, small business owners, and citizens to submit to arbitrary government regulations puts all the power in the hands of out-of-touch bureaucrats. It raises the costs of goods and services at a time when we can’t afford higher prices.

That’s an excellent description of the conservative message. The progressive narrative went something like this:

Say . . .
We need to ensure that everyone plays by the same fair set of rules. But today, the system is often rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful over ordinary Americans. Whether it’s stopping prescription drug companies from overcharging patients, prohibiting hidden credit card fees, or eliminating tax loopholes for special interests—we need stronger enforcement to ensure that you and I are treated fairly.

Given this choice, Americans agreed with the progressive narrative by a margin of 80-to-16. That’s a landslide. It means this is a powerful way to frame our arguments. And this progressive narrative promotes policies that could be accomplished by either new regulations or new statutes.