The subject of money in politics exists in a unique place within American political discourse. Virtually all Americans, across party lines and demographics, recognize that there is something fundamentally wrong with our democracy today. And yet, while 91 percent agree that money in politics is a problem, only 9 percent believe that we can reduce its influence in the next few years (Global Strategy Group).
Plainly stated, the greatest challenge to addressing the problem of money in politics is the public’s cynicism and hopelessness. The aim of this guide is to overcome that obstacle.
In our efforts to move Americans from cynicism to action, we must reach new audiences, and with new messages. From members of the emerging New American Majority—communities of color, women, and young people—to Democrats and Republicans alike, the opportunity exists to make new allies and strengthen the diversity and impact of a growing movement.
It is no surprise that polls show widespread frustration with a political system that most Americans do not think represents them, and that support for solutions to reduce the political influence of big campaign donors has held steady for years (Democracy Corps). Americans sharing this belief are as diverse as our nation itself, and our strategies and messages must reflect that.
To our advantage, voters already understand the connection between their frustration toward dysfunction in the political system and money’s outsized role in it. They understand that big-money politics limits the people who run for and win office, limits the policies they consider, and threatens our democracy as a whole.
It is up to us to connect voters’ kitchen-table issues to the overriding issue of money in politics. We must make connections to their lives, and connections to their futures.
We have won the debate about the nature of the problem. Now we must win the debate about the achievability of meaningful solutions.
To that end, this message guide has two core objectives:
- Synthesize the findings of recent major message research to help advocates understand and use the most persuasive message frames to move people from cynicism to action.
- Demonstrate opportunities for connecting the issue of money in politics to other issues of democratic engagement, such as voting rights and redistricting reform.
The major message research projects on which this guide is based were undertaken over the course of 2014 and 2015. These include focus group and polling research conducted by Lake Research Partners (LRP) for the Democracy Initiative and Demos; polling, focus groups, and online research completed by the Purpose Institute; framing analysis and ethnographic study undertaken by the Topos Partnership; and polling and focus group work prepared for the Women Donors Network. It also draws upon research on redistricting reform that was done by LRP and Hattaway Communications.
In all cases, the researchers have done outstanding work assessing public attitudes in order to inform our movement’s efforts to more effectively communicate solutions and to move the public toward action. While specific findings and recommendations vary among the four research projects, it is a testament to the clarity of the path forward that their results reach, and reinforce, several similar conclusions.