Congressional candidates this cycle should consider developing a dual-track approach to messaging.
In purple districts, we’ve seen a shift in voter receptivity from one-line, party-platform based message punches to messaging that’s more nuanced. It’s reflective of a wholly different voter mindset than even just a decade ago.
This is especially evident in California where there are several high-profile purple districts that flipped to Democratic representatives last cycle and are core priorities for both parties in 2020. Still, the lessons apply throughout the country.
It’s simply not enough today to charge an opponent with something like being a lobbyist or a carpetbagger, or as being pro- or anti-Trump, pro or anti-Pelosi.
Today’s messaging must be meaningful. It should reflect dinner table conversation, and often requires an independent tone, separated to a degree from partisan cues. Above all, it must be authentic and tie the target to specific behavior.
This requires storytelling, based on district-specific, issue-focused opinion research.
This is more critical than ever before given the decreased importance voters place on incumbents, coupled with candidate name ID registering in remarkably low proportions.
President Trump might make good dinner table conversation, but congressional candidates decidedly less so.
This delivers campaigns and IE efforts an unprecedented opportunity to define the playing field earlier and with considerably greater “stickiness” than ever before. But only if those efforts are based on well-constructed, issue-based storytelling.
Ultimately, campaigns shouldn’t be afraid to tread a careful path through seemingly contradictory message themes, such as being against sanctuary cities while simultaneously for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Using California as an example of targeting dinner table conversation, research shows a high prioritization of homelessness, public safety, education and more housing that’s affordable for everyday Californians — issues that resonate throughout the state but vary in terms of prioritized ranking depending on specific districts.
In this example, it would seem that California congressional candidates should find a way to speak to the pervasive issue of homelessness. But candidates need to make their case relevant — illustrating how federal policies affect homelessness, and finding a way to tie the consequence of homelessness to the mindset and actions of their opposition.
Moreover, there’s opportunity to address the usual public safety gremlins — though it takes understanding what the local sources are — while also highlighting failed policies that have resulted in a state bereft of available homes that working families, young professionals and our nations’ veterans can afford.
Meanwhile, President Trump is often upside down in these districts, and building a wall along the border with Mexico is unpopular. As a result, most Democratic candidates feel that their anti-Trump, pro-immigrant/DACA stance can also extend to protecting sanctuary cities.
But we regularly find that voters can be simultaneously anti-wall, pro-DACA and supportive of joining the president’s lawsuit over sanctuary cities. As a result, it would be important to give voice to support for DACA if an ad were to be made that targets an opponent’s support (or apparent support) for sanctuary cities. These messages will often require dual tracks in order to achieve the authenticity required to persuade voters.
Justin Wallin is the founder and CEO of J. Wallin Opinion Research specializes in opinion research on behalf of government, business, special interest and media clients.