A recent vote in Montgomery County (MC), Maryland, illustrates the problem in microcosm that Democrats have with messaging.
This past November there was a proposal, Question B, on the ballot as to whether term limits should apply to County Council members and the county executive. A local Republican activist frustrated by the Democrats’ dominance on the Council pushed the proposal. In MC, 58 percent of the registered voters are Democrat, 19 percent are Republican and 22 percent are independent.
Clinton clobbered Trump by more than three to one in MC, 75 percent to 19 percent in the general election.
The local Democratic Party carefully researched Question B, and urged Democrats to vote against it. Their research was thorough and showed that when term limits were implemented, institutional knowledge was lost and that the influence of lobbyists and special interests increased.
So in a heavily Democratic area that defeated similar propositions twice before, Question B overwhelmingly passed with 70 percent voting for it and 30 percent voting against it.
According to a prominent MC Democratic party activist, term limits passed because many people were upset that the County Council had increased taxes, yet the Council had not made the case as to why they needed the tax increases.
The MC microcosm demonstrates two key points. One, people often vote with their emotions and not their heads. Two, politicians must constantly explain and justify their actions, preferably in a way that resonates with people’s feelings, to get their message out.
On the national or macrocosmic level, Democrats have a severe messaging problem. As one conservative said:
Those of us at the Heritage Foundation and allied public-policy institutions like the American Enterprise Institute have effectively defined the terms of the debate on Medicare reform. The Democrats are debating our proposals. We’re not debating theirs.
— Robert Moffit, Senior Fellow, Heritage Foundation
Unfortunately for Democrats, messaging struggles include health care, taxes, economic policy and other areas. For example, in health care there is a debate about whether to repeal Obamacare or keep it. If Democrats had done their messaging properly, the debate would not include how to repeal Obamacare, but how to make it better.
If Democrats want to win, they need to solve their messaging problem.