As the midterms get closer, the punditry gets more predictable. For the past several weeks, not a day has gone by without at least one column–usually more– bemoaning the Democratic Party’s lack of effective messaging.
To which I say bull-feathers.
The problem with “messaging” isn’t that candidates aren’t choosing to emphasize arguments likely to move voters; the problem is the civic ignorance of those voters and the siloed information environments they inhabit.
Take inflation. Republicans are convinced that an emphasis on inflation is a winner for the GOP, and they may well be right. If they are, it will be because the average voter has absolutely no understanding of economics–and is totally unaware that inflation is currently a global phenomenon (much worse elsewhere, actually) with multiple causes.
Progressives have been pointing to several of those causes–“messaging” about the effect of the war in Ukraine, the Saudi’s outrageous decision to cut production so as to raise gas prices (a transparent effort to help Putin by helping Trump’s MAGA base), the persistence of pandemic supply chain problems, and a healthy dose of corporate greed.
That last item has led to calls by some economists for a one-time windfall profits tax–but again, how many American voters understand how price gouging occurs, or what a windfall tax is or does?
American voters have historically blamed the President–no matter who is in office and no matter what his party–for economic conditions a President cannot and does not control. Those voters have historically gone to the polls in midterm elections and ousted members of the President’s party–despite the fact that the opposing party is generally offering zero credible policies to address the economic problem of the moment.
Right now, the GOP’s proposal to “fix” inflation is to cut spending on Social Security and Medicare, and stop supplying arms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. How many voters know that, or are aware of the various statements to that effect made by Republican members of the House and Senate?
For that matter, how many voters understand how the filibuster works, and how its deployment by the GOP has doomed popular legislation?
Until the most recent session of the U.S. Supreme Court, few voters understood the connection between the politics of the Senate majority and the placement of qualified jurists on that Court. (Most still don’t understand how we got the current, highly politicized and retrograde Court majority.)
A number of the pundits decrying the inadequacy of Democratic messaging are convinced that the upcoming election is about saving American democracy–a point with which I agree–and that effective messaging should focus on that threat. They never seem to explain just how they would address the loss of American democracy in those 30-second TV ads or glossy mailed flyers.
If American voters understood how our government is supposed to work–if they all knew, for example, that we have three branches of government (a fact that was evidently a revelation to Tommy Tuberville, elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama presumably because he was a good athlete), and how those branches are supposed to operate, perhaps it would be possible to make the case in a way that would resonate with those voters. Without that public understanding, Democrats (and disaffected Republicans like Liz Cheney) are reduced to making the accusation–and an accusation is not an explanation.
For that matter, even excellent messaging must be heard to be effective.
If American voters all tuned in to the same media outlets, it might be possible to educate them about these matters, but of course, they don’t. Democratic messaging–no matter how brilliant–isn’t likely to reach the legions of voters glued to Fox News and its clones.
What do American voters know?
Most know that an illegitimate Supreme Court has–for the first time in American history–withdrawn a constitutional right. Most know that the right to reproductive autonomy is critical to women’s health and equality, and a significant number know that Republicans are very likely to continue to chip away at other rights previously protected by the constitutional right to privacy.
Some portion of the electorate knows that the President doesn’t control gas prices, and that Republicans will continue their assault on the social safety net. Growing numbers recognize that the MAGA movement is dangerous; they may not be able to define fascism but–like pornography– they know it when they see it.
Will what American voters do know be enough to upend the history of midterm elections–a history that favors the party not currently in control of the White House? Will what they do understand motivate sufficient numbers to turn out to VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO?
I guess we’ll find out.