In his article Communicate Frequently — Adam Grant writes: “Repeating yourself is vital to effective communication. It’s better to over communicate and be seen as redundant than to under communicate and miss the mark.”
Grant’s observation has been affirmed by election results since the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion rights decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a decision overturning the Court’s 1973 decision on Roe v. Wade.
In the 2022 Congressional elections, pro-choice advocates channeled their anger over the Dobbs decision into get out the vote initiatives. A key element of those initiatives was the following core message repeated early and often by Democratic candidates – Many Republicans oppose abortions anywhere and at any stage of a pregnancy. The goal was to energize and mobilize pro-choice voters, especially, but not limited to independents and women, to vote for Democratic candidates.
In an election cycle where a red wave was widely expected that wave turned out to be a trickle. While Republicans did gain a majority in the U.S House, it was only by a very narrow margin. They failed to gain a majority in the U. S. Senate.
In 2023 state level elections, Democratic campaign strategists have had more measurable electoral success communicating their core message early and often.
Most notable were elections in Virginia, a purple state that elected Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor just two years ago. This year wins by Democratic candidates in Virginia Senate elections added another seat to their pre-election majority. In the Virginia House of Delegates, wins by Democratic candidates added at least five seats to their caucus and flipped from being in the minority to being in the majority. Democratic House of Delegates member Don Scott told NPR the Democratic effort had the message, the candidates, and the momentum to put a stop to the “extreme” Republicans agenda. Democratic wins occurred despite Governor Youngkin’s message that the Republican agenda on abortion was what he considered to be a “middle of the road” approach calling for an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and exceptions for rape, incest, and risks to the life of the mother.
In the Virginia general assembly election results, it is clear the Democratic early and often message on abortion rights resonated with a majority of voters. The Republican message did not.
Recently, pro-choice advocates also had success on abortion rights referendum elections in Kansas, Montanna, and Ohio (all red states).
For the Republicans, it is time to engage in dialogue, deliberation, and decisions on another approach to election messaging. That approach is development and delivery of messages early and often focused on what public policy positions voters say they support and what they do not.
A perfect model for this approach is an updated Contract with America (CWA). The CWA was a plan of action proposed by Republicans during the 1994 congressional election cycle. The CWA detailed specific actions the Republicans promised to take if they became the majority party in the U.S House of Representatives. A critical feature of the CWA resulted from a decision to only include positions on “60% issues”, i.e., positions that polling showed at least 60% support of voters. As a result, the Contract with America did NOT include positions on abortion rights, a very divisive issue then and an even more divisive issue now.
In an important public display of unity, the CWA was signed by all but two of the incumbent Republican House members and by all non-incumbent Republican congressional candidates.
The CWA messaging in 1994 resulted in Republicans gaining 54 U.S House seats and 8 U.S. Senate seats, flipping both chambers from Democratic control.
If Republicans are serious about winning elections going forward, they need to do three things. First, develop an updated Contract with America with public policy positions that are in sync with the views of a majority of American voters. Second, launch a communications initiative to deliver messages early and often that Republicans listened to them, respect their views, and support their views. Third, develop and aggressively execute get out the vote campaigns that energize and mobilize voters to support Republican candidates who support a new Republican Contract with America.
David Reel is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trusted advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters who lives in Easton.