Democratic Message Lacking Emotional Appeal?

Some Democrats fear that they are getting beat in the rhetorical battle.

Democrats are losing the battle for voters’ hearts because the party’s message lacks emotional appeal, according to a widely circulated critique of House Democratic communications strategy. “Our message sounds like an audit report on defense logistics,” wrote Dave Helfert, a former Appropriations spokesman who now works for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). “Why are we defending [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program] instead of advocating a ‘Healthy Kids’ plan?”

Helfert sent the memo this week to an e-mail list of all Democratic press secretaries and communications directors after staffers met on Monday to discuss rolling out the Democrats’ latest message. He said the meeting left him cold because it focused on what polling shows voters want rather than how to present persuasive messages. Republicans have done a better job by developing poll data into focus group-tested messages like “culture of life” and “defending marriage,” along with attacks like “cut and run” and “plan for surrender” in Iraq, he argued.

In particular, Helfert points to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who helped develop the 1994 “Contract with America” and is credited with helping Republicans come up with terms for polices like “Healthy Forests” and “Death Tax.” “Republicans have been kicking our rhetorical butt since about 1995,” Helfert wrote.

[…]

“Almost every Republican message contains a simple and direct moral imperative, a stark contrast between good and evil, right and wrong, common sense and fuzzy liberal thinking,” Helfert wrote. “Meanwhile, we’re trying to ignite passions with analyses of optimum pupil-teacher ratios.”

Helfert’s message suffers from unfortunate timing, though. Democrats have recently won back both House of Congress and are favored in all the polls to win back the White House and possibly expand their margins in Congress. Indeed, there seems to be no front on which Republicans are winning at the moment.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kenny says:

    The difference between “common sense and fuzzy liberal thinking”?

    Is that a slip of the tongue there? From his perspective shouldn’t the Dem message be common sense, even if it isn’t sandblasted into a six syllable catchphrase?

  2. Triumph says:

    Some Democrats fear that they are getting beat in the rhetorical battle.

    This is unsurprising coming from a party with no apparent ideas to back up the rhetoric.

    Luckily for the Democrat party, the Bush ideology that dominates the Republican party is so insane to most reasonable people that they are likely to benefit regardless of the rhetorical battle.

  3. Neo says:

    So does this mean that the “NewD irection” is a the Democrat’s “Pathway to Hell”.

  4. whippoorwill says:

    Democrats have recently won back both House of Congress and are favored in all the polls to win back the White House and possibly expand their margins in Congress. Indeed, there seems to be no front on which Republicans are winning at the moment.

    True, but you neglected to factor in the democrats world class expertise and skill at performing the circular firing squad.

  5. Beldar says:

    Dr. Joyner wrote,

    Indeed, there seems to be no front on which Republicans are winning at the moment.

    “Winning” in a legislative context doesn’t always mean affirmatively passing legislation your side favors. Accordingly, I respectfully submit that Mitch McConnell and his team are kicking the butts of Harry Reid and his team in the U.S. Senate, notwithstanding what would be characterized in hockey as the Dems’ having a power-play advantage before cheering crowds.