Interview Skills 101: How Democrats can reach more voters, spread more truth, and win more elections
Lately I hear a lot of Democrats bemoaning the communication/propaganda skills of the Republicon party, and wondering why Democrats are not as successful in reaching certain demographics that are flocking to Trump.
Egberto Willies’s recent essay at Daily Kos about communicating with Trump voters says Democrats need their own Frank Luntz. We already have our own Frank Luntz. Sadly, many on the Blue Team choose to ignore him.
I’m not Lakoff, or Luntz, but I’ve been saying for more than ten years that the Democratic Party needs people who can communicate our ideas at an elementary school comprehension level. Maybe now is a good time to repeat all these ideas in the same place. In fact, I think I will number them so that I can refer to them by number in the future.
(1) Choose simple words most people know instead of showing off our graduate degree vocabularies all the time. (I read somewhere that Donald Trump speaks at a 4th grade level.)
(2) Focus campaigns on short memorable framing phrases. If the phrase rhymes or starts with the same letter, that’s helpful. Marriage equality. War on Women. Yes We Can.
(2A) is just as important: Never use red team framing. EVER. for ANYTHING. If you are using the other side’s framing, even to explain that it is wrong or untrue, they win. (When the Rs started denying they were waging a war on women, we had won that framing battle.)
(3) Speak slowly and clearly (Chris Hayes still sounds like he is trying to set the speedtalking record).
(4) Write and speak using short sentences and straightforward syntax without a lot of nested parentheticals and dependent clauses. Use action verbs. If making a positive point, use positive words. Using negative words to make a positive point is confusing. Say what things are, not what they aren’t. Specifically avoid the “not only A, but B” construction, which is very common in political analysis, and requires people to process two seeming negations in order to get to your meaning. just say “both A and B” or “first A, and more important, B”.
(5) State what you want to be true as though it is obviously true, avoiding the words “i think” and “i believe”. No one cares what you think or believe. To the average person’s ear those two phrases convey doubt rather than certainty, just as they are confused about what the word “theory” means to scientists.
When analytical people say “I believe” or “I think”, there is an unspoken parenthetical (it’s true) that is supposed to be understood: I think (it’s true) that Republicons are hypocrites who say one thing and legislate the opposite; or I believe (it’s true) that Barack Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii. That is because we do not think or believe things unless they are true! But we are up against a party that is famous for inventing their own reality: in the finest blackwhite tradition of Newspeak, they believe whatever they are told to believe and think whatever they are told to think if it will accrue more power to the GOP. It’s time for us to get a little Jean-Luc Picard up in here. There are four lights.
(6) Use pauses. Give people time to comprehend one idea before hitting them with another. Never present more than three ideas at a time. First tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. People sometimes complain when Rachel Maddow does this, but her teaching style could be effective with redstate voters if we could get them to watch her.
(7) Avoid allusions, analogies and references from literature, entertainment or history the average person does not know, does not remember from school or never learned about in school.
(8) Talk to people with respect in a natural unforced manner with the assumption that they understand you, without any snide overtones of “normally i don’t talk this way and i really dislike having bring this down to your level”.
(9) the ethos/pathos/logos triangle bears repeating also. I have watched the Blue Team lose so many elections because the intellectuals all got behind the logos-heavy/logos-only candidate (Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and sorry, HRC) and then whine “how come the non-intellectual people don’t respond to this candidate the way we do?”
ETHOS first: if people don’t trust you, identify with you, or see you as a reliable authority figure, they won’t even listen to you. Period. They tune out from you and don’t even HEAR you, so it doesn’t matter what you say! Fielding candidates with whom people have a natural affinity would be a big help. Not everyone automatically accepts a lawyer as a authority figure. In fact, mainstream culture largely perceives and portrays lawyers as untrustworthy — willing to say whatever needs to be said in the moment.
PATHOS next: the most effective and fastest way to reach people is through an emotional hook or an appeal to core beliefs. Sadly, fear is the easiest emotion to appeal to: what people like varies widely from person to person, but large numbers of people are afraid of the same things.
LOGOS last (or not at all!): only after they trust you and feel emotionally engaged by you, will folks even consider whether your actual words make sense or are based on facts. Even worse, if they trust you and feel emotionally engaged by you, THEY DON’T CARE whether you actual words are based on facts, because the first two are more important to them! Everybody please read that over and over again until it sinks in. “Facts” remind these folks of studying (which was hard) and school (which they hated) and teachers who told them they were wrong (and made them feel stupid). This is one of many reasons most people do not make political decisions based on facts.
(10) Stop giving whole groups of people the impression you think they are stupid. You don’t have to tell them they are smart if they aren’t (although Trump does that all the time to great effect) but you do have to show people by word and deed that they are VALUED. They need to see some evidence that you value the same things you value. Making fun of things they hold dear is, well, unhelpful! Making people feel valued regardless of intelligence level, income level or geographical region ought to be a progressive value!
(11) Advertisements must obey the Price is Right rule: the audio must carry the message all by itself if the voter is not watching, and the video must carry the message all by itself if the voter is not listening.
(11A) This also applies to campaign appearances and speeches: whenever it is under your control, choose meaningful locations and dress the area with visuals to reinforce the ethos/pathos message. If the voter is watching the campaign speech with the sound off, they should have some idea of where you are, and what you are talking about, and why they should care.
(12) Last but not least, someone with clout needs to be responsible for message discipline: monitoring every interview and speech of every elected official, every candidate, and every spokesperson/surrogate to make sure they follow the guidelines consistently: rewarding them for doing it right and punishing them for doing it wrong.
The Republicon Party does all this. Fakes News does all this. They’ve been practicing for decades. They have workshops to teach promising young spokespeople how to do it. They teach it to their candidates.
They laugh at us for not doing it.
They laugh at us for believing we are smarter than they are.
The good news is there is no reason at all why Ds can’t follow these guidelines.
Rcons have a lot of vulnerable Senate seats this year and a cheeto-colored millstone weighing down the top of their ticket. If we put in the work and seize the moment, this is a year we could win big.
Can someone with a bigger megaphone than I have *please* do something to get this message across to our elected officials, candidates, surrogates and pundits?