Democrats’ Messaging Dilemma

A lot has been said about how bad the Democrats are at messaging. In October, Barack Obama acknowledged before the midterm election that Democrats can be “a buzzkill” with their abstract campaign messaging and could better connect with voters by emphasizing what constituents feel in their day-to-day lives.


In an interview on MSNBC, California Governor Gavin Newsom described it as “a messaging problem has persisted in our party for years and years. We allow these culture wars to take shape, and we are constantly on the back end.”


It could be argued that Democrat messaging is not as bad as it is said to be, at least to those who follow mainstream news outlets. If you watch CNN, NBC Nightly News, or read the Washington Post or New York Times, messaging on Democratic-sponsored legislation is usually clear and factual, as it usually is for Republican-sponsored legislation.


What is true is that messaging to a large percentage of Americans is clearly one-sided. Conservative media’s treatment of three legislative achievements in the past year illustrates the challenges the Democrats have to get their message across to tens of millions of middle-class Americans who only watch Fox News and other conservative outlets. According to the Pew Research Center, only 35% of Republicans and Republican leaners trust the information from national news organizations, compared to 78% of Democrats and Democrat leaners. Moreover, 65% of Republicans trust one news source over all others – Fox News.


The Chips and Science Act (also known as the Chips Act), signed into law in August, is a case in point. The Chips act provides roughly 280 billion dollars in new funding to boost domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors in the United States.


The Chips Act had broad bipartisan support in Congress and the Senate. Nevertheless, the pundits on Fox News and its usual cadre of political guests were quick to express opposition to it, following the lead of the right-wing element of the Republican party. Rep. Jim Banks, Chair of the Republican Study Committee, claimed that Chuck Schumer’s fake ‘China Bill’ would boost inflation and, despite Democrat’s claims, much of those taxpayer dollars would end up funding semiconductor factories in communist China, not at home”. (Note the perhaps not-so-subliminal linking of the “China Bill” to the “China Virus”).


Yet when the CHIPS Act became law, it spurred a wave of investment announcements by semiconductor companies. Micron, one of the world’s largest microchip manufacturers, announced it would invest $20 billion in a new semiconductor factory in Upstate New York. The site will initially employ 3,000 people and could eventually include four factories and 9,000 employees. Micron’s investment will grow to $100 billion over the next two decades.


This is a monumental investment in a part of the country known as the Rust Belt that has been economically depressed for nearly 50 years. It is an example of what needs to be done across the rust belt states, where middle-class Americans have seen their quality of life deteriorate because of the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1979, manufacturing employment reached an all-time peak of 19.6 million. In June 2019, manufacturing employment stood at 12.8 million, down 6.7 million or 35 percent from the all-time peak.


Fox News similarly railed against the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into Law in August. Tucker Carlson called it a ‘classic case of misinformation,’ and conservative pundits falsely claimed it included tax hikes on middle-class Americans. It eventually passed in the Senate with no Republican support, and only a handful of Congressional Republicans voted in favor of it.


The bill will fund numerous initiatives focused on middle-class Americans, including investments to lower prescription drug costs, health care costs, energy costs, opportunities for America’s 33 million small businesses and innovative startups, and rebates for electric automobiles and appliances focused on middle-class Americans. It is the most aggressive action we, as a nation, have taken to confront the climate crisis.


President Biden signed the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in November 2021 with broad bipartisan support. Despite that, opposing Republicans and pundits on Fox News railed against the Bill as a ‘swindle’ and reckless tax and spending bill.


Of course, all three bills are so nascent that there has been insufficient time for communities in economically depressed areas to realize their impact or benefits. It will take a couple of years as funds are allocated to specific projects and initiatives in communities across the U.S. to make an impact.


On December 26, a headline on Fox News’ website read that ‘Biden has granted only seven formal sit-down interviews with journalists in 2022′Biden is constantly talking with the press. Most of the time, he is standing, not sitting. Is that really a problem? If he were always seated, Fox News would be raging about how feeble he is. Fox News often doesn’t cover Biden’s press engagements, whether sitting or standing, especially during their prime-time programming.


The Democrats can craft the most eloquent messaging – on point and direct to middle-class Americans. But if that messaging is kept from tens of millions of Americans who only get their news and information from Fox News and other conservative media outlets, or if it is only presented to them with critical or sarcastic commentary and sound bites, what value is it?


So how do Democrats get their messaging past the conservative media blockade? There is a way that may require a paradigm shift in HOW Democrats communicate to the Republican base. According to Pew Research Center, 68% of Republicans trust the information they get from local news and media outlets. Always looking for revenue opportunities, most local news sources will not refuse paid “infomercials.”


By no means I am I suggesting that Democrats have all the answers. Sound legislation intended to improve people’s lives and livelihoods must represent multiple points of view and result from compromise and consensus among multiple stakeholders.


The point is that ordinary citizens need to be presented with all points of view to make informed opinions and decisions about legislation affecting their daily lives and the people they choose to represent in Washington and State Houses across the nation. If that means taking the message to the people where they live, then that is what needs to happen.


Richard Zacaroli

Rich Zacaroli had a long and distinguished career in the private sector, and has served for over 30 years on numerous boards of non-governmental organizations in the education, cultural exchange, community development, and banking sectors. He is chair of the board of directors of Greenheart International. He is a member of Rotary International, a Paul Harris Fellow, past-president of the Rotary Club of South Sacramento, Rotary District 5180 Global Grant Scholarship Chair, and serves on the Pastoral Council for the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento.

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