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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Persuasion Should Be Part of Democratic Strategy

At Campaigns & Elections, David Radloff, John Hagner and Dan Castleman explain “Why Persuasion Isn’t Dead in the Age of Wave Elections.” The authors, partners at Clarity Campaign Labs, a data and analytics firm that works with Democratic campaigns, write:

Even after success in 2018, many progressives remain convinced that winning over people who voted for Donald Trump is impossible and that trying is a waste of time…Data, however, tells a different story. According to 2018 exit polls, more than 3.5 million, or 8 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2016 voted for a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House this year.

This probably understates the real number—exit polls have had methodological challenges and many people who defected from Trump are unwilling to admit that they voted for him in the first place. But it’s clear that persuasion is alive and well in American politics.

Radloff, Hagner and Castleman add that they conducted “experiments that allowed us to see which voters actually changed their minds when presented with certain information. Then we scaled that analysis and created statistical models for the national electorate.”

They found that “Nationally, we could move 1-out-of-every-30 voters to change their congressional vote with a single message reminding them of Congress’s power to be a check on Trump…There were an almost equal number of people that moved to the Democrat as there were that moved to the Republican upon hearing anti-Trump messages.” Further,

We also found that using a different message reminding voters about healthcare issues and the GOP’s plan to cut protections for people with pre-existing conditions worked even better. Hearing that message just once, we could move 1-out-of-every-20 voters to change their congressional vote. And, unlike the Trump message, almost all of the movement was towards the Democrat, with very little backlash.

Healthcare, rather than opposition to Trump, proved pivotal for the 2018 blue wave, which won the Democrats a net 40 seats and control of the House. Our methods didn’t just tell us what message worked best, but what voters to target. Despite the backlash, we could identify a universe (almost 20-percent of the country) that still moved Democratic with the Trump message at a staggering rate of six times greater than that of the average voter.

This enabled us to help specific campaigns talk to the right voters, using the right message, and through the right medium. For healthcare messaging, we could identify groups of voters in which 1 out of every 5 we talked to would vote for the Democratic candidate instead.

The authors explain the methodology they used and conclude that “when we have conversations with Republican voters about issues they care about, we can still convince many of them to join us.”

It appears that Democrats can convince ‘some,’ if not ‘many’ targeted Republican voters, to vote for Democratic candidates with the right message. And in close races, ‘some’ may prove to be just ‘enough.’

One comment on “Why Persuasion Should Be Part of Democratic Strategy

  1. Watcher on

    I agree that persuasion is still needed but the Campaign & Election article accidentally weakens their own argument when they talk about capturing Trump voters. The very same CNN exit poll they sight also shows that Republican candidates got 5% of Clinton voters. So while Democratic candidates did pick up 8% of Trump voters, the net difference is just +3%.

    Getting first time Midterm voters may be more important (16% of the respondents and they favored Dems by 62-36). In addition, 3rd party supporters were 8% of the sample and they went for Dems 54-41. I have not worked out raw vote totals but I do have to wonder if the persuasion tactic is indeed overrated.


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