Why Democrats Have Trouble With Messaging

There is a fundamental problem with being a Democrat.  The problem is quite simple, yet complex in an ironic sort of way.  The issue is Democrats’ inability to discuss positions in short, mind-numbing, explanations.  There are two main reasons why Democrats struggle with delivering a clear, concise message:

  1. Democratic ideas are more complex and difficult to deliver in one line statements.
  2. Democrats, as a party, are splintered into several groups made up of various demographics.

Democrats have a fundamental problem of controlling the message.  There is a saying which sums up debate in politics, “If you are explaining, you’re losing.”  Republicans understand this concept and have perfected it in all aspects of conversation.  Here are some uniformed Republican responses:

-How would you strengthen the economy?  Cut taxes so employers have more money to hire.
-Talk about your stance on government?  Inefficient and should be cut.
-How would you improve education?  Remove teachers unions and develop charter schools.

Right wing talking points are precise and effective.  Republicans believe government is the problem, so obstructionism is an effective part of the strategy, and help reinforce the right’s platform of smaller government.  Republicans have a better chance of taking House and Senate seats the lower the approval rating is because “government does not work”.

Democrats have a much different perspective.  Government has the ability to solve many of our Nations’ problems, so explaining the role of government in any conversation becomes difficult.  For example, Obamacare has critical pieces of legislation that protect consumers and lower costs of prescription drugs.  However, discussing a Democrat’s perspective of healthcare legislation takes several minutes as one tries to identify the issues, and then explain the solution.

If there is one fundamental problem President Obama has encountered, it is controlling the message.  Today, very few citizens can recite what the stimulus package or President Obama’s education legislation accomplished for this nation.  These types of programs cannot be explained in short 45 second sound bites which allow the opposing view to crowd out the rationale.  President Bush was the opposite.  Most of his policies were highly problematic for the country, but the messaging was so effective it won him reelection in 2004.

The second problem surrounding discussion is the demographics of the Democratic Party.  Democrats as a whole have varying views on key social issues and platforms.  Ask ten different Democrats a question, and you will potentially hear ten different responses.  Some might argue this demonstrates how disorganized the party is.  Democrats would argue this is what makes the party great.  Politics is not about perfect alignment, it’s about constructive discussion that resolves in a unified solution.  The founders of this nation were splintered in discussing the role of government, but they were passionate about compromising which led to a collective decision.   Democrats won in 2008 largely because moderates flocked away from the rigorous views of the right and were welcomed with open arms by the left.  You could be pro-life and be Democrat (Harry Reid is).  You could support corporations and be a Democrat.  You could be a fiscal conservative and be a Democrat.

Regardless of these varying degrees of opinions on key Democrat platforms, government has the capacity to solve many of our Nations’ problems.  This is the only unformed principle fully supported by all party members.

Democrats need to understand these two principles when sharing their ideas in conversations.  Although the immediate and easy response is to leverage anti-Republicans slander in debates, Democrats have the data and vision to be leaders of solutions and change, not part of the cynical problem and robust pessimism.  Republicans use short, concise talking points to paint problems black and white in one quick stroke.  Democrats should take the lead in fostering debate and discussion, understanding that internal differences place the party in the best position to represent the majority.


  1. Excellent post, Matthew! I totally agree with you that the Democrats’ thinking is more complex and harder to create powerful soundbites with, and that the diversity of thought inherent in Democratic beliefs also leads to non-unified (and less powerful) messaging. I do think though, that while these make powerful messaging more difficult, it CAN be done. It can be. It just isn’t, unfortunately.

  2. In the case of Dept of Education, 70x increased money spent (after adjusted for inflation) did not net us an increase of SAT score. Do we spend more?

    Dept of Energy, spends 28% on green energy, gets a horrible -118% return of investment and have 28 companies go under. Do we spend more?

    Foodstamp has grown +40% since recession began and no sign of slowing down. Do we spend more?

    Small medium businesses are stifled from expansion due to onerous regulations. Do we bail them out like we do to large companies? No, we tax them more.

    What counterpoint can be concise enough to those purportedly achievements?

    Need to focus on fundamental of a working society to achieve these consise messaging.

    The real issue of the DNC is not realizing that larger government is actually scaring businesses across the board into minimizing their own business expansion plans, because a larger government will want more taxes from these businesses.

    Usually, government outlay consumes 20% of GDP, but now that has shot up to historic high of 26% and is looking to be even higher still.

    Oh, wait… this is what the Progressive wants… never mind.

  3. Matthew left out one element: Republicans are not tethered to the truth.Example: If we lower taxes, the ‘job creators’ will hire. Brief, but an out-and-out lie. Hasn’t happened yet. Proof to the contrary, as in the Bush Tax Cuts.

    Companies hire when demand goes up, and demand goes up when people have money to spend. A little more nuanced but at least it’s accurate. The real job creators are the true small businesses (97% of them), who make less than $250k/yr. They hire more and locally, and don’t outsource for the most part.

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