Here’s a post from a smart guy we met at Netroots. He runs the blog Recess Appointment, and he has an interesting take on the messaging around voter suppression:
To change the narrative, there needs to be an alternative title that doesn’t hit the ear as an overreach, but still conveys something that offends the average American. Personally, I suggest using the phrase, “voter screening laws.” It doesn’t suggest that the recent spate of laws rise to the level of past suppression efforts in place before the civil rights movement, but it ups the ante from “showing an ID” to “being judged based on your ID.” Another advantage of the term “screening” is that it ties these laws to TSA airport screening, the most common instance of “screening” in American life. Whether or not the TSA is perfect, the fact remains that a national tragedy was caused in part by lax airport security and 10 years later Americans hate airport security. Boiled down to its essence, Americans prefer terrorism to a screening that might force them to take off their shoes.
Finally, I suggest peppering the rhetoric about this issue with the word “bureaucracy.” Combining “screening” with “bureaucracy” invokes the image of a petty bureaucrat standing between voters and their fundamental civil rights. I call this the “Patty and Selma” effect after Homer Simpson’s loathsome sisters-in-law who work at the Springfield DMV. If you want average Americans to join the fight against these laws, try to connect the voting experience to waiting at the DMV and see how quickly Americans turn on Voter ID laws.
The whole thing is worth a read. Most of us agree that Democrats did a poor job with messaging with HCR, and finding a concise way to reach people who are turned off by excessive complexity or the appearance of extremism is worth some serious effort.
I think you’re wrong, MM.
Among other things, “screening” reasonably implies weeding out unregistered/illegals/non residents/etc. which most people will support.
“Suppression,” which is what the Pukes are actually after, and which implies that they want to prevent registered/legal voters from participating, is the way to go.
We just need SOMEONE at the national level to use such language. Gosh, I wonder who that someone could be?
The Red Pen
George Lakoff hasn’t been able to get Democrats to alter their language and he specializes in it. I predict this advice will be ignored, even if it finds its way to Plouffe.
you cant win the messaging war, if the messenger wont let you and good luck getting the MSM to follow suit. Just ask pro-choice groups how this works. Rather than fire up conservatives with calling out mislabeled and disingenuous rhetoric, the MSM will always favor the right in a naming battle.
I don’t think “voter suppression” is off the mark, since that’s exactly what’s happening. I think educating people to care about voter suppression by hammering home the history of the vote and the casual way we treat it like some meaningless privilege would go a much longer way in not only blocking current efforts but preventing future flare-ups.
I think our biggest problem was remaining silent when the Republicans said committing a felony eliminated your right to vote as if it was a privilege you could lose for bad behavior. That allowed people to move more into a “voting is a privilege” mindset that has lead us to the more overt movements of trying to reban the right to vote if you are brown, homeless, young, or living in a city.
And I think trying to outmessage the Republicans will always fail simply because liberals aren’t authoritarians. The right has a direct line both up and down the chain from the people who pay the bills all the way down to the lowliest blogger. If they want to pimp a new marketing term, every single person will use it. Liberals don’t.
And that’s a big strength we have. But it means any counter tactic will have the much harder job of using a suite of tactics and having to slowly educate people out of the “easy” path with the fancy marketing.
Everyone rejecting “voter screening” must also agree with his point that “Voter Id” is weak, too, right?
And for those who say we’ll never move the narrative dial, it’s not totally hopeless. Stenographic media are stenographers.
Generally, I am skeptical of all the fetishism over “framing,” but I think this idea is pretty good. Perhaps it helps to start by accepting that liberals have not been winning this argument up until now.
Voter ID is the GOP’s term, because it inevitably brings out the “what’s so bad? everybody’s got an ID” crowd.
Suppression is right. It’s more understandable to the lay person than disenfranchisement.
@mistermix: mistermix, give me one instance where democratic framing won out? I am not being snide, but that is just not the way it works. Just look at “torture.” Was there ever a greater abdication? enhanced interrogation?
For real this guy is proposing that Dems start bashing “bureaucrats”? Ahem — that’s the other side that pushes that bull. Thank God the internet does not run the Dem party.
Meh. How about calling it what it is; voter supression. Personally, I’ll take the advice of someone like John Lewis over a blogger concern trolling about “messaging”. Most especially when that blogger thinks calling a rat a furry brown rodent is the way to get the message across.
Voter pat down, another case of government overreach, what next does my grandmother have to show her hip replacement to prove she doesn’t drive before these bureaucrats let her vote… Etc…etc.etc…
@eric: Like Steve, I am skeptical that framing is everything, but I like this one. It takes agreement within the party, unified messaging, and the right framing to “win” (if that’s the right word to use about having your words being used by the media).
So, to use your example, I think a lot of middle-of-the-road Democrats just avoided the whole torture issue, and many of them probably used “enhanced interrogation”, so we didn’t have agreement or unified messaging.
I think we could have that on voter screening.
Another aspect of voter ID laws that needs more attention is how much these boondoggles cost, and whose taxes are getting jacked up to pay for them.
If there’s one issue that I’d like to see Bill Clinton take up, this would be it. He’s got enough juice with the white middle class voters who buy this nonsense and the media would give him a big enough megaphone that he could really get some traction with it. A few comments from him about the lack of evidence of voter fraud or Republicans’ attempts to steal elections would do wonders. I think it would be much more effective than flying him in to individual races, like the recall, and it’s an issue that shouldn’t threaten any of the relationships he needs for his foundations or corporate speechifying.
@mistermix: i dont think framing is everything…in this dispute i think framing is 100% irrelevant. The Right’s argument is simple: if you need a photo id to fly, to get your money from a bank teller, to drive….why is is such a stretch to ask for a photo id to avoid voter fraud to protect our greatest tradition. Even here you can see that such phrasing has salience. I dont care what you call it, until there is a unified response to that sound bite, we lose.
Eric, I believe this is because Democrats, for mysterious reasons of their own, SUCK at framing, and they don’t stick to what little framing is implemented?
How many times have I watched a spineless dem spokesperson on a talk show fall apart and back off his or her message when aggressively challenged? How many times, you ask? Countless times, I answer!
What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us? (formerly MarkJ)
@ChrisNYC: Seriously. I’ve been to the DMV. It’s not that bad. I’ve been to the Post Office recently. It was a reasonably pleasant experience – it really wasn’t any worse than a FedEx-Kinkos or a UPS store, and they ship a lot cheaper than either of their private-sector counterparts.
This whole idea that we need to demonize things by making bureaucrats or civil servants out to be lazy do-nothing incompetents is going down the wrong road. If you want to make voter supression unlikeable, make it clear that corporate paymasters and the politicians they bought want to keep people from voting in their own interests.
@Clime Acts: partly…but lets look at the health care law….the public is in favor of the key substantive provisions and does not even realize it. Look at death panels…not only was it empty rhetoric, it was demonstrably false. Yet, where were the editorial outrages calling it a lie and beyond the pale of civil political discourse? there was none because the MSM does nto want to pick a fight with the MUCH louder right wing in the country, even putting aside its own corporatist leanings.
What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us? (formerly MarkJ)
@What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us? (formerly MarkJ): Just to follow up – equate voter screening to those corporate customer service phone trees that you get lost in. They want to make you jump through those kinds of hoops to get to the polls.
@mistermix: The term “voter screening” is weak. Why are we using these wishy-washy terms? “Oh, we might scare people if we sound too extreme, so lets soften the message.” No. No. NO. Denying people their right to vote is suppression, plain and simple. People need to understand this, so we need to keep hammering the message home. Keep it simple, keep it true.
And I lay the primary responsibility for this state of affairs at the feet of the president and all elected dems. Yes, the repukes are assholes; that is a given. Which means Obama and the Dem party has to be organized and relentless and professional in their messaging; and they are NOT. They seem forever to be adjusting their message to whatever is the latest meme out of the RNC.
And for the most part, they would have the actual TRUTH on their side, yet they seem incapable of using that in their favor. They suck at doing this huge part of their job.
Given that disenfranchisement of felons was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1974, it’s not like this is a new development. Disenfranchisement of felons is a holdover from Jim Crow laws. The current disenfranchisement is an attempt to re-implement Jim Crow, and IMO that’s what we should be saying — conservatives are trying to prevent American citizens they don’t like from voting.
@Clime Acts: by no means am i saying that the dems are messaging gods, but i place a very high percentage of the blame on the media.
slim's tuna provider
i don’t even buy the premise that people would vote to get rid of airport screening. people just whine about the thing that is most annoying at present. if we got rid of airport security theatre, i bet the same people would whine about feeling unsafe.
@What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us? (formerly MarkJ):
This. When Republicans have spent 30 years demonizing the government as a bunch of do-nothing bureaucrats, it’s actually harmful for liberals to jump on that bandwagon.
A huge part of the problem that we’re confronting right now is that Republicans have convinced people that they can’t count on the government to help them through their long campaign of taking power and fucking things up (cf Hurricane Katrina). It’s in the Republicans’ best interest for the government to be seen as a bunch of bureaucratic fuckups who can’t be trusted to do their jobs, not Democrats.
@Mnemosyne: “just get a photo id and you can vote….why is that so hard?”
that is the rhetoric you are really fighting..forget this right to vote-suppression side track. You need to say why that meme is wrong! anythign else is a waste of time…
You can say it is wrong because ‘x’ or you are right and therefore we are going to implement voting id trucks to go all over and get people registered with low cost photo ids….
In a climate where public employees are already being demonized, it feels spiteful to cash in on that lamentable bureaucrat-bashing trend in order to make a point about voting rights. And wouldn’t the people who’d be asking to see IDs be volunteers, not public employees, anyway?
What about “voter harassment”?
@Mnemosyne: No one is saying we ought to demonize the government. The proposal is simply to use the term “voter screening.” It does not have to be accompanied by a rant about how the government can’t do anything right, and indeed it shouldn’t be.
My own suggestion for improved framing on the issue is to repeatedly stress that these laws are a Republican attempt to rig elections, they’re dirty politics, etc. Even though the racial impact of these laws is undoubtedly their ugliest aspect, I unfortunately don’t believe it to be the most effective framing. White Americans seem hopelessly unable to grasp, or at least be concerned by, the concept of disparate impact. In every discussion I’ve had on the subject with people uninformed on the issue, they simply can’t process the concept that substantial numbers of people don’t already have IDs or that obtaining an ID is unfairly burdensome. However, if I argue that a close reading of these laws shows that they were particularly tailored to screw Democratic voters and help Republicans stay in office, sadly they find that more believable (even the Republican voters). I feel morally suspect about deemphasizing the worst effects of the law, but I think there’s potential in a strategy targeting voters’ natural distrust of politicians’ motives.
I prefer “voter purge” because it implies the voters are legitimate, which they are, and it sound like something that would happen under a totalitarian regime, which it does. Also, too, purge is a word commonly associated with vomit, so it automatically sounds like a bad thing.
Also, too liberals win in the long run.
Pick a social issue and what was “liberal”, when it was passed is now the normal view, whether it’s women voting, working or premarital sex between consenting adults, the “liberal” view has won out more times than it has lost.
And conservative voters are damn glad those folks can’t vote, because they’d elect the wrong folks into office.
I don’t know how to swing people’s anger about voter suppression into action. The 40%+_ of the country that votes Republican is happy for these laws, because it’ll keep Democrats from winning or at least make it harder, so they don’t want it changed.
The Democrats, who oppose these laws aren’t going to oppose them.
The 10%-20% of people, who vote either way given their mood… I don’t know think will care, unless it inconveniences them or someone they know.
Since most middle class people aren’t interacting with poor people and outside of our grandparents, we probably don’t know too many elderly, I don’t see a way to get people up in arms to make this an issue that people want to vote against Republicans.
@mouse tolliver: call it “illegal purging” and let them explain why it is not illegal and not purging, which gets you to the very problematic methodolgy used to effectuate the purge.
To summarize a post in moderation, liberals win in the long run.
Interracial marriage, women voting…you name it…what were liberal views back-in-the-day are now mainstream.
Despite short run set backs, liberalism seems to be winning out in the long run.
Because not everyone has $30 and the time to spend all day at the DMV getting an ID.
There was someone on here the other day who had a hard time believing that anyone could live in America without an ID — how did those people open bank accounts, or get mortgages? We had to explain very slowly that not everyone has a bank account, and getting a mortgage is a dream far beyond what most poor people can imagine.
Though, IMO, we’re actually better off pointing out that the elderly and disabled often don’t have picture ID from the state because they don’t drive — are we now saying that Grandma has to give up her right to vote along with her car when she’s too frail to drive anymore?
@gene108: not on fiscal and monetary policy we are not and those are driving so much of our lives — affordable health care; affordable retirement; affordable college. We are losing on these three and that is where the real angst is for people. If you told people not to worry about those three things, then people’s lives would be far better off and there would be less viciousness from the right wing because those folks feel the same angst they are just wrong about the root cause – it aint caused by blacks or women, or hippies, or unions or socialist…it is caused by those manipulating the white underclass into misdirecting its rage. That is the battle we are losing and the battle that Citizens United made far harder, along with the decrease in media voices.
@eric: “Purge” is actually in use for the act of removing voters from the rolls (and caused a big dust up in Florida), not denying them the vote when they show up at the polls without an id. Since it’s a technical term for a specific act, the pushback would be that Democrats were lying about what’s happening. I do like the way it sounds, though.
@Mnemosyne: that is my point…it is not the rhetoric this time but the substantive argument. Even “liberals” do not see that big a problem with this….This is the Pauline Kael notion that i dont know anyone without a photo id. You need a pithy response…something like: “you are aware that older black folk dont have photo ids cause they dont need them where they live? here are the numbers….Now that you hear that, can you see why these laws are arising in states with histories of discrimination and why these laws are violations of the civil rights act? and that is why the same people pushing these laws want to do away with the civil rights act. lets be clear these people are not trying get right of affirmative action laws, they are trying to get rid of the civil rights laws that allowed so many african americans to participate in the american dream.” You can leave out the “racist fukcs” part
@mistermix: then say they are “effectively purging” the rights of Americans that have been voting this same way for 20, 30 40 and 50 years.
You are right that they will squeal and that is precisely my point as to why we will never win the naming battle.
@Mnemosyne: “IMO that’s what we should be saying—conservatives are trying to prevent American citizens they don’t like from voting.”
I like “voter prevention laws”. “Suppression” sounds too abstract, even elitist. And “to prevent” is a lot more definitive than “to suppress”.
@FlipYrWhig: “What about “voter harassment”?”
I like this one too.
@slim’s tuna provider: Exactly, Voter “Screening” would imply to many that it has a legitimate purpose, no matter how annoying.
@BrianM: if you are naming it then go with “violating constitutional right to vote” but that still ignores the rejoinder and that is “it is so simple to get a photo id” or they are just college kids…..
“Voter screening”? And this is an example of one of the smart people you met at NRN.
Shoot. After having an ongoing fight with my wingnut neighbors on this very topic, they would devour the term “voter screening”. They’d love it, and make it their own!
“Let’s screen these voters using their ID!!”
You don’t even have to go that far. Depending on the age of the person you’re talking to, you can say, “So when your grandfather/father stopped driving and gave up his license, does that mean he also shouldn’t be allowed to vote anymore?”
Also, too, people need to be made aware that there have always been some ID requirements for voting, which is probably what they’re thinking of, but these laws are tightening those requirements so that only a limited number of IDs are acceptable. It used to be that you could bring, say, your picture ID from work and a recent utility bill to prove that you were who you say you are and that you live where you say you do, but those are being eliminated with the new laws.
So, again, ask your questioner, “Should there be only one acceptable form of ID, or should there be multiple ways that voters are allowed to prove their identity? Because with these laws, you can now be turned away from the polls if you bring your passport and a utility bill, because that’s not acceptable ID anymore.”
I think voter purge perfectly describes what the Republicans are doing.
Some other synonyms for suppression or suppressing:
@BrianM: I like this one.
This is just awful. I would never do this to someone who worked for the government.
I don’t like this at all. The voter suppression laws are blatant attempts at discriminating based upon wealth, age and race. It’s discrimination; not screening. These laws absolutely do rise to the level of some Jim Crow voting laws and there’s no reason to say otherwise to avoid hurting racists’ feelings.
I’ve had my right to vote stripped by a confluence of modern voting technology and poorly trained (but well intending) elderly volunteers. This was a low-volume election and I’m a very well informed voter, yet there was no way for me to get a non-provisional ballot without appealing to some election official somewhere in my city.
This was far more likely to happen in my precinct in a city with high poverty and little funding for training poll workers than in a nearby suburb full of whiter, richer, better educated and more conservative people. This is in a fairly liberal state: electronic voting reforms instituted after Bush/Gore already disenfranchise a large number of people in a discriminatory way. Now you’ve got Republican Secretaries of State and Governors that are way overrepresented after the 2010 wave who are going much further and targeting specific populations without any legitimate rationale (e.g. accepting gun permits but not student IDs). Call it what it is.
Here’s what to do to stop voter suppression via these sorts of laws: fund a massive effort to study the electorate in a swing state with particularly egregious laws. Canvas every voter exiting the polling place in a huge sample of precincts and pair that with phone surveys asking about voter registration and attempted early voting. Then crossreference that with age, race, wealth, etc data and rigorously test whether new voting laws disproportionately impact different populations. Finally, put a number on it: what would the final tally have been if everyone who was eligible to vote and wanted to vote voted in the election?
I get tired of this.
How come Black folk and Latinos don’t need ‘ different phrasing’?
How come Black folk and Latinos understand when it’s said : VOTER SUPPRESSION.
no elaboration needed.
I don’t view conservative policy as explicitly pushing for run away health insurance costs, high fuel and food prices and higher costs for higher education. This level of misery usually gets taken out on incumbents. Republicans were victims of this in 2006 and 2008.
The conservative solutions are pretty ineffectual, but that’s different than saying liberals are losing to conservatives because those things exist.
Even when those things were more affordable, in the 1960’s to the early 1990’s, you still had white working class voters happily voting to get at hippies and blacks. It’s more than voting about financial insecurity. Whatever it is that drives not-rich-folks to vote Republican is a lot more than just being insecure and blaming other people for their problems, because they were doing it before the modern era of economic insecurity came about.
I don’t think anyone has a really clear prescription to solve problems of higher college costs, higher healthcare costs and the like. Citizen’s United will make things harder, but it isn’t the cause of not fixing these problems.
If people did have solutions, they’d have proposed it and it’d be getting a shot, at least at the state and local levels.
Health care costs, for example, aren’t just because evil insurance companies keep jacking up premiums. The hospitals keep investing in infrastructure, to keep up with the Joneses, the medical devise makers keep pushing newer gadgets to hospitals because they need to make more money, and the cycle goes on and on, with everyone contributing in some way to higher costs. Insurance companies happen to be a convenient whipping boy for a problem they are only partly contributing to.
Republicans didn’t do too much branding to get voter suppression laws passed. They did enough to make sure it’d get by the SCOTUS and the DoJ, but otherwise they just did it and figured it isn’t something that’d generate enough voter backlash to hurt them.
If we want to overturn these laws, it’s not about messaging. It’s about beating the snot out of Republicans come election day.
Pick issues that’d get people off their butts to vote. This isn’t one of them.
(a) the problem is, a lot of these actions actually are voter suppression. By sugar coating it one buries the importance.
(b) the democrats did a poor messaging job because they let the focus being on the individual mandate, rather than hilighting all the ways the law would help those same individuals.
The exact same thing has happened in Mass: they spent four years going, “MANDATE! PENALTIES! IT’S LAW! YOU CAN DIE EVEN IF YOU’RE YOUNG!”* and have only lately gotten around to saying, “Oh, uh, and by the way you can get affordable insurance through the state and here’s all the ways you’re protected from the insurance companies in exchange for the mandate.”
Democrats seem to have this problem where they think the benefits of their programs are self-evident, and all they have to do is hack through all the Orcs to deliver paradise to the people. Wrong, kids. Massive amounts of your constituents are under informed. Including the ones who voted for you.
(*Postscript: I say this because it was the message of the state’s own advertising campaign, not because the media filtered it that way.)
Dog whistles don’t need branding.
Voting rights aren’t like gun ownership rights. Voting is not something people will make a fuss about, if it gets incrementally harder to do, unlike the steps required to buy a gun.
After the 2000 Florida recount, the lack of interest in tens of thousands of people Kathy Harris purged from the voter rolls, sort shows this isn’t a big issue for the masses. If the 2000 Presidential election didn’t get people’s interest in voter registration/suppression, I don’t know what will.
Maybe a consistent media campaign by liberals can push the issue and get people mad enough to care, but I’m not much into knowing how to structure marketing campaigns to do it.
Simply put, these laws are “obstructing democracy”. Use that phrase and you will get a response of “how?” Then come back with the question “Which is worse, one vote being cast by a person who shouldn’t have voted or one thousand people qualified to vote but aren’t allowed to because they don’t have easy, free access to a specific form of ID?”
If the person responds, “One fraudulent vote” walk away because that person is unreachable.
@rikyrah: We were raised in the real America white folks are just now visiting.
When I get into one of these “whats wrong with showing ID at the polls” arguments, I have two rebuttals. First, in California you have to show ID in order to register, showing it at the polling place is redundant. Second, as a longtime poll worker, I know the routine, voters are asked to give their name and address, and required to sign the roster before they are given a ballot. How many people are going to try to inpersonate a voter under those circumstances? What if the person has already voted? What if the person votes absentee? What if the person shows up later in the day?
I also point out that my 91 year old father no longer drives because he is legally blind. This WWII veteran should have to shag his butt down to the DMV to get a photo ID?
@feebog: We should keep in mind there’s two different attempts going on here. Voter ID laws are one branch, and purge of voter rolls is a different one.
All the theoretical debates about voter ID fraud are not going to do anyone any good when legitimate voters can’t vote, ID or no ID, because they’ve been illegitimately removed from the rolls.
@feebog: “How many people are going to try to inpersonate a voter under those circumstances?”
The evidence mustered thus far appears to point to: none.
Stealing any major election in this manner would require a conspiracy on par with the Soviet Union concealing its small pox weapons program. You’d need to keep hundreds of people quiet at great risk to everyone involved. They’d either have to be total true believers or incredibly well compensated: anyone exposing the program after-the-fact would get immunity from prosecution and a huge book deal.
Alternatively, you could have a few poll workers in one-sided, low-population precincts forge signatures for people who don’t show. Or you could cheat at the counting/tabulation stage. Both of these are much more feasible and of no interest to Republicans.
Very timid, and basically a surrender to right wing framing about how, while regrettable and inconvenient, there’s a need for “screening”, otherwise the bad (brown) guys hurt our freedumbs. Bonus points for dissing public servants.
Steve Almond would approve of this messaging.
Ivan Ivanovich Renko
@rikyrah: Because white people aren’t the targets of voter suppression– and white people don’t really give a flying fuck about what happens to those people.
This is a long discussion about how to get white people to even notice that these things are happening, much less give a shit.
“Republicans are rigging the election” is the best narrative because it’s clear, straightforward, and accuses the Republicans of doing something everybody already believes “both sides do”. Also too, it’s true.
Describing it as “rigging elections” (a) ties it in to gerrymandering which is both well known and despised, (b) establishes motive for the effort: Republicans aren’t trying to disenfranchise low-income voters (sadly, who cares?); they are trying to steal votes which surprises nobody, and (c) it hammers upon the moral of fairness. That last part is powerful.
@mouse tolliver: Yes, I like “voter purge.” It’s precisely what they’re doing in many cases.
@Ivan Ivanovich Renko:
Sadly, yes. And I say that as a white person who really does give a shit about this, but often despairs of getting the message across to other white people unless I can prove to them that Disenfranchisement Hurts White People, Too.
40+% of the country doesn’t vote Republican. 20+% of the 50-ish% who do vote, vote Republican.
He’s got this exactly right. The Republicans are willing to challenge every person in a predominantly Democratic area, as it will make things look like a clogged cattle shoot.