Capitol Hill may be the last place anyone would look for lessons in much these days. But on the assumption that experience comes from what you do and wisdom, from what you do badly, that's precisely what this posting proposes.
Here are five communications lessons to draw from the current shenanigans on Capitol Hill:
1. Don't let your biases cloud your thinking. Republican leaders are so convinced Obamacare is an abomination they made defunding it their core demand in threatening (and then the price of ending) a government shutdown. Unfortunately, at least one Republican pollster termed that a losing proposition. "By 59 to 38 percent, even those who oppose Obamacare believe a partial government shutdown is not the way to go," he pointed out. "A government shutdown divides Republicans and flips the anti-Obamacare coalition, which is why the shutdown stopped revolving around the health care law several days ago."
2. Consider the full ramifications of decisions before you make them. Closing the government turned voters' attention away from Obamacare's rocky first days. According to Pew Research, 73% of voters followed news of the shutdown closely while only 57% followed news of the difficulties in signing up for Obamacare. At least one GOP pollster argues it was "reasonable" to have anticipated this. "The plan to use a government shutdown to spark a national discussion of Obamacare," he said, "fell flat."
3. Don't assume your base of support is monolithic. Tea Party and ultra conservative Republicans hate Obamacare so much they are willing to do anything to get rid of it. But Pew Research showed that the issue split the party -- most (61%) non-Tea Party Republicans were opposed to the shutsown strategy. Other polls showed that Independents are more like Democrats on the issue. Three quarters of Independents joined 86% of Democrats in opposing a government shutdown in order to "fix" Obamacare.
4. Watch the tone of your argument. The very nature of a govenment shutdown has a negative tone to a very important block of voters. Women are more conerned than men about the economic impact of a shutdown, more likely to consider it a "bad thing," and follow news about it more closely. They're also more likely to vote than men. The GOP has had trouble appealing to female voters. The shutsown will only make that more difficult.
5. Turn the discussion to people's greatest concerns. Polls suggest the GOP is being blamed for the shutdown by a wide margin. Worse, from the GOP's perspective, the same poll shows people's attitudes toward Obamacare are improving. But there is a way out of this. When CNN asked people to pick the greatest problem facing the country, 41% pointed to "the economy," only 13% picked "the deficit." And when Pew Research asked how concerned people are about the shutdown's effect on the economy, 77% said they were "very or somewhat concerned."Maybe it's time to pick a battle people really care about.