Political commentators and prognosticators were stunned on Nov. 8, 2016. Their data-driven calculations and history-based predictions led them to a forgone conclusion that the political establishment’s presidential selection would not only win, but win emphatically on Election Day. But their calculations didn’t gauge true voter sentiment or what would motivate average Americans to vote for the underdog candidate.
So what can we learn about why Americans selected Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton? And what was it in Trump’s messaging that resonated with voters and compelled them to choose his path forward? To answer these important questions, SPN commissioned Heart+Mind Strategies to conduct a post-election survey. The results of this research are fascinating and will assist the network in honing our messaging to the public to better address their concerns and hope for the future.
Unsurprisingly, one of the highlights of the survey found Americans are fed up with the status quo, and only a third of those polled still trust the federal government. While voters believe state and local governments are more in touch with their needs, they are still concerned about state government corruption, wasteful spending, and corporate influence. The good news for the network is that most of those polled believe it is nongovernmental organizations like state think tanks that will better represent their needs and priorities.
Here are some ideas for applying the research to your messaging in 2017:
Stand up for the “little guy” against cronyism and corruption. The public yearns for leaders who look out for the average American. It’s the working middle class that is hit hardest by bad public policy. Position yourself as the champion for these disenfranchised, struggling, and frustrated citizens.
Give voice to the public’s concerns. Anytime you present a policy solution, frame it in such a way that you are advocating for average citizens who feel disempowered. Solicit feedback from the public, and then share their stories with those in power. One of the best ways to do this is through actually getting to know the citizens whose lives have been negatively affected by poor public policy. Find out their struggles and concerns directly from them, then address those in your policy and messaging work. Each state is different, so how you approach and communicate with the “Forgotten American Worker” will be unique to your organization.
It’s all about jobs. It’s no accident that the “Rust Belt” and regions hit hardest by middle-class job losses swung from historically voting Democratic to Republican in 2016. Trump’s message about making America great again centered on bringing back working-class jobs. Whether talking about taxes, education, or occupational licensing, make sure to address the lack of jobs and how a specific policy solution can create more jobs in your state.
Rise above politics. Americans are tired of the petty, divisive political discourse. They simply want solutions that work. As nongovernment organizations, think tanks are ideally situated to champion ideas about liberty. To paraphrase former President Reagan’s eloquent description of his leadership style, we can appeal to their best hopes, not their worst fears, to their confidence rather than their doubts. Occupational licensing reform may not sound inspirational, but the principles of freedom and opportunity which undergird it certainly are.
As you write opinion editorials, testify in legislative hearings, conduct media interviews, or talk at town hall meetings, make these themes central to your message. Use real examples of people hurt by the failing policies of the past. Reassure them that our policy solutions can help solve many of society’s current challenges and change the status quo. Regardless of what policy you’re championing or challenging, weave the key messages into your communications so it will resonate with your audience.
Last year was full of divisive demagoguery and angst. In 2017, state think tanks can change the status quo by providing clear solutions explained through optimistic messages. After all, we are the advocates for the best policy ideas that promote economic growth where the Forgotten American Worker can achieve their goals and live healthy, prosperous lives.
To learn more about the Heart+Mind Strategies survey and its findings, contact Meredith Turney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meredith is director of strategic communications at State Policy Network.