How the Right Words Can Defuse Republican Attacks

The text Words Have Power appearing behind torn brown paper

Since learning some tips and tricks on how not to accidentally amplify the opposition, I’ve been on the lookout for other ways we can use words and language to our advantage.

As it has become increasingly clear in the past few weeks that the Republicans are all using the “let’s smear all Democrats as socialists” page out of their playbooks, I’ve begun to wonder how we respond or counteract those attacks. As luck would have it, the incredible researchers at The Navigator just released a report about this very topic.

Before we go into their findings, it’s important to know two things: 1) when you ask Americans about socialist-type programs (think Medicare, etc.), they are popular with a clear majority of people, but 2) when you ask Americans how they feel about socialism, they are very negative. Only a third of Americans perceive the word positively. (As for the term “Democratic Socialist,” it fared a tiny bit better than just “Socialist” but it is still perceived very negatively.) So the basic problem is that while Americans like the benefits of socialist programs, the word itself it a huge turnoff.

This isn’t anything we can fix before the next election, so what can we do?

What The Navigator did was test two pairs of messages to see which one did better. They tested several. Here is one of those pairs, where they asked people to say which of the following two statements was more convincing:

“Too many Democratic politicians are embracing the failed ideology of socialism. They want an agenda of sky-high tax rates, government-run health care and unlimited government spending that will bankrupt the country and destroy the economy just like in socialist Venezuela.”

“These political attacks are just another attempt by Donald Trump to distract from his own problems. What Democrats believe is everyone should have access to affordable healthcare and believe the government can and should do more to help middle and working-class Americans.”

We see the first statement all time coming from the White House, Republican politicians, and conservative media. Problem for them is, the second statement does better, a lot better with the American public, by 10 points.

Here are some additional pointers from The Navigator’s report:

✦ Don’t use the word socialism

✦ Connect progressivism with popular public programs

✦ Remind people of conservatives’ continued attempts to undermine those programs

✦ Make a counterargument that conservatives are the ones with a failed approach to American capitalism

✦ Attack out-of-touch conservative plans – like tax breaks to the rich that come at the expense of the middle class

✦ Remind people that name-calling is nothing more than “crying wolf” after the same attacks were deployed against progressive reforms for generations

You can read the full report HERE. I previously relied on The Navigator’s work to write How to Make Trump the Anchor that Sinks Republicans at Midterms. Heads up–the tip I wrote about there still works, and will very likely continue to work right up to 2020.

Next time you see this attack somewhere, I hope you’ll find this guidance helpful in crafting your response.

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4 replies

  1. Words definitely matter. I saw a poll today where over 50% of the public now say the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. Gee, I wonder where they got that from? Amazing that so many now feel that way. Sometimes I just don’t understand the American people. I love what The Navigator did though. Very compelling. We need to pay attention. Messaging is so important!

    • Messaging is critical. Of course the public thinks there is a witch hunt—the president says it constantly, the media reports that he said it, Trumpers repeat it, and even well-meaning folks on the left say “It’s not a witch hunt” which only reinforces the key words.

  2. I love this! I am a big believer in Law of attraction, and talkng in detail about what we DO want, instead of saying what we don’t want. Whatever we feed grows, so feeding programs (instead of an often misuserstood dealogy term like sicialism) that benefit all citizens with our words helps those programs grow stronger! Thank you for this powerful tip!!!

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