Progressives really try to get along. It is in our nature. It is time that we quit smiling and get serious about our planet.
Some of the best pollsters have known for years that progressives can and should talk about climate change (see Mark Mellman on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” [5/09]). Mellman calls the polling that suggests one shouldn’t talk about global warming, a “politically naïve, methodologically flawed and factually inaccurate.”
Sure, if you talk about any subject in a clumsy fashion you will turn people off — just look at how Obama and major progressive politicians managed to turn a winning political issue, health care reform, into an unpopular one! [see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“]
Much of the climate language that gets tested is truly lame. But the fact that poor messaging fails is not an argument for not doing messaging on the subject at all!
Science-based (dire) warnings are an essential part of good climate messaging — along with a clear explanation of the myriad clean energy solutions available today and the multiple benefits those solutions that deliver, including millions of jobs, energy security, competitiveness, and especially clean air and improved public health. Recent research supports that view (even though many in the media misreported the story).
Ironically, many people think the failure of the climate bill proves that talking about climate change doesn’t work — because they don’t realize that the messaging campaign built around the climate bill was based on not talking about climate change! Those still confused on that matter should read “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?”
Nearly $200 million was spent by enviornmental, progressive, and business groups in 2009 and 2010 to sell a climate bill. The vast majority (but not all) of that messaging was built around ignoring the climate message and instead talking about clean energy jobs, energy security, and the threat from China. Worse, the progressive political leadership (again with exceptions, such as Sen. John Kerry) also generally either refused to talk about climate change or they seriously downplayed the subject. That includes, most importantly, President Obama and the entire White House communications team [see “The unbearable lameness of being (Rahm and Axelrod)“].
Even worse, as I’ve reported before, multiple sources confirm that the WH comms team shut down an effort by the office of the president’s science adviser, John Hodren, to mount a strong defense of climate science after the Climategate emails were hacked in late 2009. So not only was the WH – the preeminent bully pulpit in American politics — failing to deliver a clear, positive message on climate science, they weren’t even responding to a strong, negative message by the disinformers. That’s a lose-lose strategy. As they say, you can’t beat a horse with no horse. Is it any wonder that they had trouble mustering moderate Senate Democrats to support a climate bill last or to defend EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases this year?
As Ezra Klein wrote last June after Obama’s failed post-BP-disaster speech:
To expand a bit on a point I made on Rachel Maddow’s show, I’m just not sure how you do a response to climate change if you can’t really say the words “climate change.” And that’s where we are right now: The actual problem we’re trying to solve is politically, if not scientifically, controversial. And so politicians, rather than continuing to try to convince the American people that we need to do something about it, have started talking about more popular policies that are related to solving climate change. You see this in Lindsey Graham’s effort to argue for carbon-pricing from a place of purported climate-change skepticism. You see it in pollster Joel Benenson’s memo that tries to persuade legislators to vote for a climate bill without ever using those words. And you saw it in Barack Obama’s speech last night, which was all about clean energy and grand challenges.
I have spent as much time as anybody reading all of the polling and messaging memos, and talking to leading experts in communications. This is certainly a complicated subject and nobody has figured out the best winning message – probably because there is no one-size-fits-all message, particularly in the face of the most well-funded and sophisticated disinformation campaign in human history. That disinformation campaign complicates all messaging — and all message testing — since it is so pervasive and well-designed.
Because of the importance of this topic and its complexity, and because I continue to hear otherwise highly informed people get this so wrong — including the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger — I will be doing more posts on it. (more…)