Some Democratic outreach tactics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling Friday drew criticism as consultants tell C&E they’re encouraging clients to take a nuanced approach despite some calls to go on the attack.
Capitalizing on breaking news moments around national issues has been a hallmark of digital strategy for years and with few issues to go on “offense” with, it’s no surprise many practitioners on the left are encouraging clients to target supporters aggressively around the issue.
But immediate reaction to some of the post-ruling tactics shows how an aggressive approach may not be as effective with voters on the left. Consider the DNC fundraising text that went out in the wake of the Court’s ruling striking down the constitutional right to abortion access provided by Roe. v. Wade that produced viral moments of disdain from voters, including one captured by MSNBC.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a frequent critic of her party’s tactics, put it this way on Twitter on Saturday: “How many seats does the party need to Codify Roe? Dems must SAY THAT. Not just ‘go vote’ or ‘give us $6 to win.’ That is demoralizing, losing, unfocused nonsense.”
In fact, consultants who spoke with C&E also warned against a blanket pro-choice message to voters on the left.
“It shouldn’t be used as a catch-all when messaging to all Democratic voters this cycle,” said Cheryl Hori, founder of Democratic digital shop Pacific Campaign House. “We have to remember that for some, the idea of fighting for abortion rights is a luxury and will come second or third to high gas prices, inflation, and other kitchen-table economic issues. Democrats cannot afford to risk another cycle where we appear out of touch by overemphasizing any singular issue.”
She added: “It’ll also be important to remember that while most Democrats overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to choose, there are still thousands of [No Party Preference] voters or independent voters who might typically support progressive values, [but] also have strong religious ties that de-prioritize abortion rights. In some districts, these voters will be the margin of victory, so it’ll be critical to not alienate them.
“It all comes back to your audience and how well you know them.”
Alesa Mackool, founder and president of Democratic fundraising shop ACM Strategies, stressed that campaigns and groups need “integrity” and consistency on the issue if they plan to fundraise off the ruling.
“The unfortunate reality is that, while this will absolutely drive donations in the immediate aftermath, many people will stop paying attention if we allow the news cycle to move on,” she said. “That said, the consequences of the Dobbs decision and Jan. 6 will likely be the largest motivators for Democratic donors for the remainder of the cycle.”
Francesca Dulce Larson of Democratic digital firm Mosaic Strategies Group warned campaigns and groups not to shy away from engaging on the issue.
“No matter how much digital noise you hear, you still need to add your voice. Your absence will be noticed and called out,” Larson said. “Your supporters are waiting to know where you stand right now, and your response will echo this November and election days for years to come.”
While she’s encouraging her clients to put out content that’s “useful” by, say, informing them about protests or state-level policies, she also believes it’s a fundraising moment to capitalize on.
“If you’re in a competitive district or a red state, it’s time to mobilize donations for your campaign,” she said. “If you’re off-cycle, amplify donation asks for local organizations. If you have legislative power, tell us how you’re using it this week.
“Remember, when in doubt, choose personal over perfect. Skip the rounds of edits. TLDR. Jump on a ‘live,’ and in your own authentic voice let us know you will never stop fighting for our human rights.”
Mike Nellis, CEO and founder for Democratic fundraising shop Authentic, is among the practitioners skeptical that abortion access will be a defining issue this cycle.
“It’s hard to say whether Roe will be the defining issue in this election,” he said. “In an environment with high gas prices and rampant inflation, it’s challenging to break through.
“Given the political terrain we’re currently in, the impact on our politics from the Supreme Court’s ruling might not truly materialize until 2024 and in future elections.”