Democrats have integrity and policy on their side. They just need the communication skills to sell it.

America is at the precipice of democratic collapse with Republicans steadily pushing us toward the edge. As a clinical social worker, I look at this crisis from a behavioral perspective. Whether the issue is immigration, abortion, gay rights, voting rights or gun control, Republicans have one underlying agenda: to regain power. I call this dynamic “same scene, different script.” Issues important to most Americans, they treat as tools to energize their base and overwhelm everyone else. From this perspective, it makes sense Republicans contradict themselves, ignore democratic norms and overstep the law – as they are a means to that end.

If Democrats want Americans to vote for them, they need to be equally strategic. Take it from someone who’s been changing minds for 30 years, below are the strategies Dems should be using.

1. Align with voters. Any time you try to change minds through rational argument, you put yourself in a power struggle with your listeners. Start by identifying the problem. Then portray it as something you and voters are fighting together. For example: “You have a right to trust your leaders to do the right thing. Unfortunately, Republicans have proven they will lie and ignore the rule of law to hold power. So, now it’s up to us to save democracy.”

2. Ask rhetorical questions voters can relate to. You can’t do the thinking for them but you can facilitate insight and problem solving. For example, you can get voters to see the GOP more objectively by asking, “How would you feel if your spouse refused to help unless they get their way? What do you think of people who point fingers and criticize but offer no solutions?”

3. Be transparent about the realities of making hard decisions. You may be surprised how receptive voters are when you show some vulnerability.  For example, “I feel between a rock and a hard place. Watching the horrors in Ukraine and Americans struggling to afford groceries. Will Americans understand that defending democracy abroad means making sacrifices at the gas pump and grocery store?”

4. Challenge voters. Not since JFK’s iconic inauguration speech, has a Democrat shown the courage to hold “fellow Americans” accountable for doing their civic duty. “I know you’re busy. I know you’re tired of the politics. But giving up is not an option. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It only works when you participate.”

5. Appeal to voters on an emotional level. Republicans have known this for decades. While Dems argue facts, Republicans get Americans to vote against their best interest by stirring up anger and fear of the “other.” Dems can point to real threats. “Republicans are trying to take away your right to vote, marry who you want, have an abortion, and protect your children from gun violence.”

6. Ignore content and focus on motive. Most of the country is not in a culture war. The GOP is. When Democrats respond to Republican rhetoric, they are legitimizing false grievances and letting Republicans control public discourse. Congressman Jaime Raskin was praised for calling out Kevin McCarthy’s hypocrisy over the January 6th investigation. But it would have been more effective to call out his selfishness. “Yesterday, Kevin McCarthy said one thing. Today he says the exact opposite. In other words, he’ll say whatever gets Trump supporters to vote for him.”

Democrats have truth and integrity on their side. They just need the right communication skills to sell it.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse after seeing the Mid-Term poll results. I’ve been a Republican for most of my life, not an MAGA extremist just a believer in the fundiments. After Trump, I was embarred I voted for him and ashamed of him. The key problem to me is we don’t have enough moderate politicians on either side to make a difference. I don’t believe in the fundamentals of the Dem party but I will not vote R again until there is a moderate candidate. We’re at a critical point it feels like and I’m scared the direction we’re going is going is setting our country back. But when I look at what country I would move to, there aren’t many. Or many I could afford to live in.

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