Daily Dose: New Dem message - a cure or another symptom?

July 25, 2017


Democratic leaders have unveiled their "definitive" message after months of strategic planning. According to minority leader Chuck Schumer, “Too many Americans don’t know what we stand for. Not after today.” The new Dem message to win in 2018?


“A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future”


Is this new message a cure for the Democratic Party ills? As Schumer acknowledged, "too many Americans don't know what we stand for." Indeed, a recent Washington Post/NY Times poll, 52% of respondents said they believe that Dems "just stand against Trump" instead of "standing for something." In the same poll, among Democrats, more than 25% said they believe their own party just "stands against Trump." 


This presents a major problem for Democrats and progressives. The latest and best research in political psychology confirms what cognitive scientists have long hypothesized. If you want to motivate people to act on a cause, it is necessary to provide them with a moral, belief-centered  message that inspires hope for a better future. A negative, "fear of loss" message has the opposite effect - it causes people to hunker down and disengage.


Is this new message of "A Better Deal" a cure that will inspire and motivate people again? Or is it a symptom of a bigger problem for Dems - the problem of "hypocognition" - that is, a lack of language and phrases to evoke critical progressive moral ideas? 


I'll cut to the chase, and give you the bottom line first. This message is an unmitigated disaster for progressives, and more importantly, will contribute to the continued loss of real progressive ideas and values in our political discourse. The slogan "A Better Deal" does more to reinforce and strengthen conservative ideas (and Trump) than not saying anything. It is a clear signal that the Democrats who are in charge of creating messaging are functioning in a state of hypocognition; and that they themselves have no idea as to how to evoke real progressive values based on empathy. It also proves that current day Democrats completely miss the point of what FDR's "New Deal" message was - because it had NOTHING to do with "deals." FDR's message was about something much more important than "deals" (but I'm getting ahead of myself). Here's why I have reached this conclusion.


First and foremost, in terms of framing, the idea of a "deal" is owned by Trump and the conservatives. It means that the person who is the most disciplined, the most successful, and the highest authority figure will get the best deal for themselves and their followers. It is a moral imperative for conservatives, just as the person with the most money and success is the most moral. People who fail in life and business are deserving of their failure. This is well established in cognitive framing - and the Democrats ought to know and understand it by now.  Trump and conservatives own the idea of the "deal" - which is why they evoke the idea all the time! But it gets worse - the new Dem message goes on to add "Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future" to the mix. Again, this strongly evokes the conservative worldview - especially in terms of economics - exactly the OPPOSITE frame progressives ought to evoke.


In the conservative frame, people who have the better jobs (and thus better wages and a better future) are those who work the hardest, are the most disciplined, and for who GOVERNMENT STAYS OUT OF THEIR LIVES! This is critical, because they are ideas that are understood, unconscious, and largely accepted by a majority of the population, which is why these ideas dominate our public discourse. 


Anyone who is versed in cognitive framing knows that you cannot redefine these ideas by repeating them verbatim, and then trying to just apply a different set of policies to them. This is basic communications stuff, at which the Democratic strategists have now failed miserably. To illustrate just how bad this message is, one need only look at the White House website. These exact ideas of "better deals", "better jobs", "better wages", and "a better future" are used by the Trump Administration to message their agenda and platform! In terms of cognition and how people perceive political ideas, the Democrats might as well be running a pro-Trump ad with this new message strategy. Judge for yourself (important ideas highlighted):


"With tough and fair agreements, international trade can be used to grow our economy, return millions of jobs to America’s shores, and revitalize our nation’s suffering communities.By fighting for fair but tough trade deals, we can bring jobs back to America’s shores, increase wages, and support U.S. manufacturing.


And there's this from the "Bringing Jobs Back and Growth" page:


"With decades of deal-making experience, the President also understands how critical it is to negotiate the best possible trade deals for the United States. By standing side-by-side with America’s workers and businesses, the President’s policies will unleash economic growth, create 25 million new jobs, and help Make America Great Again."


There you have it - deals, jobs, wages, and a better future. Of course, this would resonate with any focus group of in any poll - precisely because it was successful for Trump and company. But that doesn't mean that it's a good message to provide people with a vision for a positive, PROGRESSIVE future!


So yes, the new Dem message is a disaster, and is further proof of our state of hypocognition on progressive ideas - and the desperate need for well-framed, positive, progressive messages. And that's what I'll discuss tomorrow - what SHOULD Democrats be messaging to people?


Here's a hint - it has to do with what FDR's "New Deal" message was all about. And it wasn't about deals - it was about something far more important and American.