The Message Isn’t Working: Ostrich Edition
I was reading through opinion polls on the new Senate version of the AHCA and a few numbers jumped out at me. I’ve written about the No Opinion Voter in the past and I wanted to see how this segment of the public is reacting to the messaging surrounding the incredibly unpopular new bill. As it turns out, the Republicans are suffering from a big NOV problem, and in this particular case it’s hurting them.
39% of Republicans do not have an opinion on the Senate version of the AHCA. How is this possible? One thought is that due to the right’s desire to keep mum about the new bill has hurt the residents of their echo chamber. Fox News and other similar outlets have barely mentioned the AHCA and any of the last week’s fuss around a vote.
This is understandable, and the right-wing media has fought long and hard to maintain that all other news sources are Fake and that all the country’s ailments can be traced back to Obama. It has, thus far, preserved the President’s approval ratings among Republicans. In situations like this, however, it can paint them into a corner; you don’t want to educate people about a wildly unpopular and cruel bill, but by not doing so the first news about the AHCA they hear will come from the media or the left, which won’t be flattering.
What started me down this road was the messaging the GOP is belatedly trying to put out via Twitter — that 28 million Americans are uninsured under the ACA and it, therefore, is a failure.
The message itself is a faulty comparison, since the Republican plan would kick another 22 million off insurance bringing the number closer to 51 million, but the messaging makes sense in our post-fact world. They can typically depend on the echo chamber to fill in the blanks, shaping the narrative without explicit falsehoods from elected officials. The graphic (from HHS, which is itself a bit terrifying) doesn’t directly compare the ACA and the AHCA, but it’s an implied response to the CBO numbers floating around the media. A low information news consumer might look at it and think that 22 million is less than 28, and surmise the Republican plan is a better deal for America.
If the right-wing media was more coordinated and the White House had a coherent message, this might be doable. In the days of Karl Rove and Roger Ailes, perhaps this talking point would work. The chaos in D.C. right now makes certain that it won’t.
The AHCA could still pass, true, but it won’t be due to messaging. The bill is extremely unpopular even among Republicans, further exacerbated by the right-wing media’s reluctance to even bring the topic up at all. It’s still important to pay attention to the messaging, the wording, and the way that the right speaks to its base. In rare cases like the health care debate the narrative has shifted so strongly against Republican reform efforts that counteracting the lies becomes nearly automatic. Many other issues — immigration, women’s reproductive rights, campaign finance — are not so cut and dried, and those on the left would do well to study how the right thinks it can shape the conversation with a coordinated narrative.