Spitfire Strategies

A Lesson for Democrats in Election Results: Don’t Forget the Vision

From Maryland to Colorado, Democrats lost big this month. Before the polls were even closed, the postmortem began. Why, pundits and pollsters asked, did so many Democrats lose, even in states where progressive ballot initiatives passed on issues from higher minimum wage to guaranteed paid sick leave to background checks for gun ownership?

The media documented Democrats’ perfect storm of challenges this election cycle. From an unpopular president to a stalled Congress that the Party got pegged with, Democrats were up against a long list of obstacles. Progressives across the county added to their list of electoral woes by forgetting one of the most important parts of their message: the vision.

While specific economic initiatives, such as increases to the minimum wage, were generally popular with voters, commentators agree that Democrats failed to share a broad vision for sustained economic growth. This created an acute problem for Democrats with middle-class voters who, absent visionary messaging from candidates, failed to see how policies designed to address poverty would benefit them.

Anyone who is versed in Spitfire’s approach to messaging or the Smart ChartTM knows that the vision statement is a core element of any compelling message. The vision statement reflects what your audience cares about and paints a picture of a brighter tomorrow.  The vision statement gives the audience hope.

Hope is a powerful incentive to get a person to take action. The stronger the hope, the more likely the action, because a sense of possibility enhances one’s desire to help. Hope emerges when someone feels in control and empowered. People want to feel as though they can make a difference and that their actions could contribute to a positive outcome.

Remember back in 2008, when President Obama was first running for office and, as Sarah Palin so eloquently put it, talked a lot about that “hopey, changey stuff”? Those messages – that a new day was around the corner and that voters had the ability to change their circumstances – really resonated with people; it got them to the polls.

This time around, Democrats across the country spent millions of dollars on sophisticated data to micro-target likely voters. In doing so, they missed the bigger picture: Politics is about leadership; it’s about making a personal connection with voters and getting them to believe in your vision for a better future.

Although the mid-term elections were a painful blow to everyone in the progressive movement, there is a silver lining: Americans are on board with progressive issues. They believe that working parents should be given every opportunity to take care of their families, that women should have the right to make their own medical decisions and that protections should be in place to ensure smart gun laws.

Americans believe in this vision; candidates just need to share it with them. 


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- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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