Daily Dose: How Democrats can actually evoke progressive values

August 10, 2017

I've been very critical (recently and historically) of many Democrats (especially those who set messaging strategy) for doing a poor job at communicating and connecting with people outside the "choir". In spite of disastrous election results over the most recent decade for Dems nationwide, coupled with consistent evidence that Dems are ignoring the most recent and best cognitive science on messaging, they continue to follow the old, failed playbook on messaging.


In spite of best efforts to provide new ideas and promote positive change in messaging strategies, I (and others) have been shunned, ignored, and even attacked personally by those who benefit from the status quo. I've even been told by several higher ups in DPW that I should refrain from saying negative things about Democratic strategy. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - if I see someone who's about to get hit by a truck, I'm not going to just stand there and watch it happen. I'm going to speak up. So today, here's a few things Dems can easily do right now to more effectively evoke progressive values and start connecting with people through values:


1. Start with acknowledging that conservatives BELIEVE they are acting morally, and that all politics are moral. Conservatives communicate their moral system all the time - progressives must start to communicate theirs. Simply put, it's authoritarian, hierarchical self-interest vs. empathy, caring for others, and community. And most people accept and live out both moral worldviews - just not at the same time. We are more alike than different.


2. Issues are not values. Conservatives care about the same things progressives do, they just have a different moral approach to get to their policy positions. Just because you talk about a progressive "issue", does not mean that you are communicating (much less evoking) your progressive values based on empathy. Start with values based on empathy first - because that's the foundation of what you care about.


3. Acting on and speaking with empathy, caring for others, and community will undermine and weaken the authoritarian worldview. If people are thinking about their moral responsibility to care for others (The Golden Rule, The Good Samaritan, etc.), they cannot think solely about their own self-interest. Every message on any issue needs to evoke this idea - and it's relatively easy to do. Just think of WHY you believe public education, healthcare, roads, economic opportunity, etc. are important to our future - it's about caring for others as yourself - and it's a moral imperative!


4. Speak to the moral decision we as a nation must make - to care for each other and the nation's prosperity, or to only care about ourselves and follow authoritarians who only care about themselves? Most people will care for their friends and neighbors. 


5. Focus on fundamental moral truths that define progressive values, and connect them with the issues you care about:

  • Our freedom comes with a moral responsibility to the freedom of others.

  • Democracy succeeds when we care for others and act on our empathy to provide freedom and opportunity for everyone; democracy fails when we act only through greed and self-interest.

  • Our private prosperity depends on all the things we do together through the public.

  • Our government and elected officials have a moral responsibility to protect AND empower the people the serve - us.

6. A positive message based on the above values will motivate and inspire people to act. A negative message based on fear and loss will alienate and cause people to feel disconnected and hopeless. That's science, and needs to be at the forefront of progressive communication strategies.


These are six basic and science-based suggestions that could be implemented right now. As many of you know, I (and George Lakoff) have provided many specific examples based on these principles over the years. 


So - in terms of 2018, there's a truck bearing down on you Democrats. Get off the road you're on, and get on a new one so you can once again move the state FORWARD.


Tomorrow - North Korea, Donald Trump, and metaphors. 



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