At this point the Right has got their election rap down pat, and the Democrats have already written their ads, phone scripts, door to door canvassing messages and other media. So what’s left for us regular citizens to do about framing the issues and getting out the vote? Folks in the know are deeply aware of what rides on this particular Congressional election. If we on the progressive end lose the Senate completely, our country is going to be in much, much deeper trouble. But as everyone also knows, the biggest problem in a Congressional election year is getting everyone who could vote to actually do it. That’s where we citizens can still make a difference.
What are the reasons people most often give for not voting? A. The parties are all the same B. What happens in DC doesn’t affect me. C. Voting won’t make a difference. But here’s the thing: trying to answer or argue against these reasons is a trap. As cognitive science clearly shows, arguing will simply reinforce people’s strongly held beliefs. What we need to do is change the ground of the conversation completely, to something that has personal emotional resonance. Here are some suggestions for doing that job.
- Start by asking what the person or group you are talking to cares about most right now. If it’s something that seems local, remark that their seemingly local item may actually be controlled by legislation made in state capitals or in D.C. If you can give an example of how the opposition voted against or filibustered or otherwise blocked the thing the person or group cares about, all the better. And if you can give examples of bills Democrats passed or tried to pass that would have helped that concern, share that too. (A short list of issues that will definitely be affected by the party that controls the next Senate can be found in note 1. below.)In a recent Democracy for America conference call, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner said, “The ballot box is linked to the bread box.” While this is a great line, I suggest you reverse it in your own conversations: “Your “bread box” (or whatever your audience cares about) is actually controlled by the ballot box, because legislators make the everyday rules you have to live by. And the ones who don’t share your concerns about .…… also have the power to take away the protections you need to be safe and get ahead in life. Say that voting is the best way to protect ourselves from that outcome.
- If you still get resistance, and if it seems appropriate, say something like this: “If voting doesn’t matter, why is the Right working so hard right now to take the vote away from people of color, the elderly and the poor?” You don’t have to answer your own question. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Just let that question hang in the air, wait, and, if you need to, simply walk away. If they don’t know about what the Right is doing to restrict voting rights, and they say, “What?” have a short rap prepared about what’s happening. (See link in note 2.) But keep it matter-of-fact and low key on your end. Youdon’t want to get upset. That’s a turn off. You want them to get upset!
- Avoid passing along horror stories about the Right that contain ridicule, satire, irony, swear words, scandal, or obvious personal attack on particular politicians.That sort of thing makes ordinary, non-political-junkie type people unhappy, despairing, avoidant of anything political, and generally disgusted. This is exactly why the Right does it. They want to keep ordinary people from thinking about politics or voting. It failsus as persuasive framing or “meming.” When we try to do it as an electioneering tactic, it’s just ad hominem attack that either backfires or is merely time-wasting fun for the already convinced. I know you are mad. All of us on the left are mad. But now we have to take our republic to a whole new place. That requires a clear head, skill, and messaging self-discipline about doing real, feet on the ground framing.
Finally, always conclude by going positive about the good outcomes of what could happen, if the American public, and your audience in particular, votes in large numbers. Give some specific examples of what kinds of good things could happen that are connected to your audience’s concerns. Say how important it is to start moving forward together again to solve our nation’s problems. Say that we can help America get back on the right track again! And say that to make that happen, everyone needs to vote in November! Finish up with: This election really matters!
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project, metaphorproject.org, and author of our new book, Move Our Message: How to Get America’s Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997. Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanCStrong.
1. Issues in play because of this election: In the same DFA call where I heard State Senator Nina Turner mention that great “bread box” metaphor, we heard Professor George Lakoff speak in detail about the way all progressive issues boil down to freedom issues—freedom defined as a progressive value. Making his message a bit more succinct, the progressive set of issues is an expression of two aspects of our freedom value:freedom from immoral blocks to equal opportunity and freedom to be “the best we can be,” without having to risk life and limb for it by joining the military!
Getting more specific, here’s Robert Reich’s list of issues this election will affect:
- Unemployment benefits will not be extended to the long-term unemployed
- No minimum wages—no living wages for that matter
- Continuing education cuts
- Continuing decay of our country’s infrastructure
Here’s another, longer list of issues that could be affected by the election:
Women’s equality issues
Universal background checks
Infrastructure spending (roads & bridges)
Oppose SNAP cuts
Increase minimum wage
Extend unemployment insurance
Reduce income disparity
Close tax loopholes for the 1%
Pathway to citizenship
Public school funding
Limiting greenhouse gases
Overturn citizens united
2. For details about Republican vote suppression tries, see: