Effective Messaging for Progressives: The Voices for Progress Project


The Voices for Progress project is a collaborative research project between Westen Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, funded by American Family Voices. Its mission is to help progressives by developing language and narratives that connect with voters on a personal, emotional level in the short-term debate, as well as help the progressive movement brand themselves effectively in the long-term. 

Despite successes at the polls for left of center candidates, the word “liberal” has accreted negative associations among much of the population, and “progressives” are still undefined in the minds of many voters. By contrast, conservatives have been successful, and continue to be successful, at infusing key catch phrases into the public lexicon, on issues like taxes and the role of government, that summarize broader narratives about themselves, and their opponents—often leaving progressives at a disadvantage in debates over key issues. 

The goal of the VFP is to help the progressive movement control the short-term debate while branding themselves effectively in the long-term. Doing so requires principled stands on issues—emotionally compelling values statements and narratives about where progressives stand, so that progressive leaders, elected officials, and others can address issues head-on, instead of offering defensive hedges without clear underlying principles (such as “I believe we should register new handguns but not old ones”), or adopt “conservative-lite” positions taken to avoid offending certain groups perceived to be opposed to a progressive position.

Downloads

Abortion Handbook (ZIP - 7 MB)
The Economy Handbook (ZIP - 5 MB)
Gay Rights Handbook (ZIP - 6 MB)
Guns Handbook (ZIP - 7 MB)
Immigration Handbook (ZIP - 4 MB)
Iraq Handbook (ZIP - 9 MB)
National Security Handbook (ZIP - 8 MB)
Role of Government Handbook (ZIP - 20 MB)
Taxes Handbook (ZIP - 9 MB)

NOTE: To view the PowerPoint, first download and then open the zip file.

Key Findings

To this end we have developed principled stands in key issues that connect with voters on a personal and emotional level—tested though focus groups, internet panel and survey research. These principled stands include the following issue areas, complete with national survey and dial tests scores:

  • The role of government
  • The economy
  • Taxes
  • Immigration
  • Guns
  • Abortion
  • Gay rights
  • National security
  • Iraq 

Progressives are by definition free thinking, and their values range from center-to-left progressive, so the goal of this project is not to develop “talking points.” Rather, the goal is to develop a menu of well-tested principled stands, from center to left, which progressive organizations and individuals advancing progressive causes can use if they find them helpful and consistent with their own values and goals, instead of constantly reinventing the wheel or speaking to the public in ways that do not resonate emotionally.

The language that progressive groups use needs an makeover so that we can stop recycling the tired, poor, and huddled phrases of the left (e.g., “the environment,” “reproductive health,” “I’ll fight for people”) that lost their appeal decades ago and have little appeal in the political center. 

Methodology

The first round of research consisted of focus groups conducted among independent and weakly partisan likely 2008 voters who tended to split their tickets. We tested a variety of messages for each issue up against Republican and conservative rhetoric. 

We listened to how voters reacted to messages and language, what resonated or what turned people off, and identified narratives that had promise and themes to develop further.

We followed this first stage of largely qualitative research of focus groups with online surveys designed to research the impact of our revised messages when voters heard them delivered via an audio format. By testing messages in an audio format designed to mimic a short speech, we were able to implement online dial testing and other measures to assess the resonant elements of the messages among a large group of voters (approximately 400 voters for each message).

After refining the messages based on the results of the internet panel survey, and a close study of the dial graphs on each message, we followed up with a national survey to test them further among a random sample of likely voters. Approximately 400 survey respondents heard each individual message tested. 

In both the internet panel and the national survey we tested the potential electoral impact of each progressive message (described as the position of a Democratic candidate for Congress) by presenting voters with a strong, well-crafted conservative message as a counter (described as the position of a Republican candidate for Congress). We then asked voters to rate each message individually as to whether it would make them more or less likely to vote for that candidate, and then ultimately which candidate for whom they would vote.


Source: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner / Westen Strategies

Client: American Family Voices