The Importance of Political Messaging for Advocacy Campaigns

Political punditry does not age well. It has been nearly two years since the last presidential election, and political pollsters, pundits, critics, and self-named experts are still convalescing. Everyone is re-thinking their political messaging. This up-and-coming linguistic innovation is largely reactionary to the shortcomings of establishment fortune-tellers, and possibly signals a shift for political audiences— based on age and income.

GOTV and Voting Restrictions

Thanks to the access of information that the internet has provided, political discussions have become more readily accessible to everyday people regardless of income, space, age, and even interest. However, this ease of access has also made information necessary for voting impractical to find. This, along with the many voting restrictions passed by states, can make even the most efficient political messaging to GOTV campaigns meaningless. Voting restrictions imposed by red legislatures along with weak political messaging from blue ones make political engagement all the more difficult.

Projects During My Fellowship

Here at Phone2Action, we seek to drive action. Our partners do too. At its core, that is mostly what politics is: who can drive the highest volume of action? The “Who” in this case, is only a form following the function of “How,” and the how is through messaging. This summer, I’ve had the joy of following different congressional campaigns throughout the primaries. I focused on messaging, relevance, social media presence, and even color schemes for the sake of finding patterns of action that could be presented to our partners as effective strategies for driving action on a specific issue. In attempting to facilitate advocate engagement, my projects centered a lot around gathering information necessary for an everyday person to become a regular voter. This includes decluttering and separating registration deadlines, locations, times, and restrictions.  

The result is mostly a collection of tweets and quotes that resonate with political audiences along with spreadsheets that simplify the process of becoming a propensity voter. The most effective, action-driven messaging was brief, contextualized, timely, and personally relevant to the audience it was targeted to.

Political Lessons Learned

Take Hillary Clinton’s July response to James Comey’s use of a personal email account for official business: “but my emails”. This 3 word tweet earned her nearly 700,000 likes. In itself, the phrase has no meaning and it is completely dependent on the immediate context in which it was used. It is humorous, somewhat vague, but relevant, poignant and effective.

In Parkland, Florida, student activists leading the March for Our Lives movement used simple price tags to highlight the amount of money that is given by lobbyists to Florida politicians. By themselves, they have no meaning. The numbers are not in themselves a complete thought, or even a sentence. It is context that gives those numbers power. Very soon after that, students from all over the country began to measure out the monetary value of the gun lobby to the kids in schools. No more were they emotional children. With data, they were activists with a plan.

As it goes with most things in America, young people are defining the present of effective messaging. Messaging that drives action for young people are single verb phrases, dependent clauses, numbers, self-deprecating humor, and short-phrased responses to criticism. The pattern, through the eyes of a 20 year old aspiring political hack, is effectively “bottom-line” messaging. It is not always a clear message, but it is short, direct, and possibly up for interpretation. TL;DR – context is king.

About the Author

Azhalia Leal is a 2018 Civic Tech Fellow, and a third year University Student in Dallas, Texas. Her path to advocacy around social issues began with her role as the Director of the Central American Minor Program with Refugee Services of Texas. From that role, Immigration Policy as well as Latino Politics have been the main interest and focus of Azhalia leadership efforts. In the future, Azhalia hopes to be admitted to and graduate from law school for the purposes of working in a Congressional office.

Learn more about our Civic Tech Fellowship Program from Phone2Action’s cofounder, Ximena Hartstock.   

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