August 19, 2010
Dems retreat on health care cost pitch
By Ben Smith
Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and the deficit and instead stressing a promise to "improve it."
The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by FamiliesUSA.
The Herndon Alliance, which presented the research, is a low-profile group that coordinated liberal messaging in favor of the public option in health care.
Implementing Health Reform: A Communications Perspective
August 19, 2010
By Lake Research Partners, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and The Herndon Alliance
Challenging Environment (Slide 4):
Straightforward "policy" defenses fail to be moving voters' opinions about the law.
Public is disappointed, anxious, and depressed by current direction of country - not trusting.
Voters are concerned about rising health care costs and believe costs will continue to rise.
Women in particular are concerned that health law will mean less provider availability - scarcity an issue.
Many don't believe health reform will help the economy.
Strategic Recommendations: The "Do Nots" (Slide 24):
Don't assume public knows the health reform law passed or if they know it passed understand how it will affect them
Don't list benefits outside of any personal context
Don't barrage voters with a long list of benefits
Don't use complex language or insider jargon
Don't use heated political rhetoric or congratulatory language
Don't say the law will reduce costs and deficit
Herndon Alliance Statement on Politico Story
Our research reaffirms that the more the public hears about the specific reforms in the law, the more they like it. The strategy of informing and educating the public about the law continues to be the right strategy. The Politico story (Aug 19, 2010) is wrong when it says groups supporting affordable health care for the American people are dramatically changing their strategy. There is no reason to do so — our research reaffirms that the more the public hears about the specific reforms in the law, the more they like it. And our research finds that there is a need to cut the political flak and give real information to the public. Americans are tired of the partisan spin that many opponents continue to throw at the health reform law. Hard-working people are thinking about the economy and just want to know how the law will help them and their families. That is what the President and the administration have been doing — it is the approach we support.
Comment: The conclusions and recommendations presented during the Families USA conference call were based on polls and focus groups conducted by Herndon's research partners. In spite of Herndon's positive spin, the research confirms that the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress face a very "challenging environment" as they attempt to sell the benefits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Their recommendations for communicating the benefits of reform might best be characterized as "keep it simple, stupid," relying heavily on personal anecdotes. Don't confuse the public with the actual policies that are now law, and certainly don't claim that the law will reduce costs or the deficit.
Many will remember that these are the same partners that pushed the message of choosing your own health plan, while actively suppressing any references to single payer or Medicare for all. They seemed to have the view that the message was of prime importance and policy be damned. Obviously they haven't changed.
This next time, let's first define optimal policy (single payer) and then develop a message that fits. As Herndon states, we "need to cut the political flak and give real information to the public."