Whether or not your work is directly related to politics and policy in Washington, DC, the political climate will have an impact on how your members, donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders receive your communications.
Our friends at Lincoln Park Strategies [http://www.lpstrategies.com/] recently released a poll with Third Way looking at the mindset of people who voted Democratic in 2008 but stayed home for the 2010 elections ("Droppers") and those who voted Democratic in 2008 but voted Republican in 2010 ("Switchers").
The poll found that Droppers will come home to Democrats in 2012 - they're planning to vote for the President and for Congressional Democrats.
The President and Congressional Democrats have a lot of work to do with Switchers, though, and in particular with persuadable Switchers - those 60% of Switchers who are truly undecided or just leaning in one direction or the other.
The proclivities of the persuadable Switchers should matter to campaigning nonprofits because these voters will drive political and policy conversation over the next 12 months. Winning those voters will be the key to both Democrats' and Republicans' hopes for victory, and they'll both be calibrating the dialogue to their interests.
A few key insights to be aware of and plan for:
1. Expect political conversation over the next year to revolve around three themes: jobs, government debt and government spending. Be prepared to participate in that conversation.
Persuadable switchers care about the budget deficit and are wary of government spending. They say the size of the federal budget deficit is second in importance only to the unemployment rate when it comes to our national economy. These voters care about the deficit because they're convinced it's linked to the overall economy. Sixty-four percent of persuadable Switchers think cutting the deficit will help grow the economy. Fifty-four percent say "the economy and jobs" is the one issue that will drive their vote, and just 14% say "the debt and deficit" will drive it.
Persuadable Switchers have extremely low trust in government. Sixty-seven percent of them also say that "government is almost always wasteful and inefficient."
That means that every issue will be framed in the context of whether it costs or saves the government money, whether it creates jobs, and whether it shrinks or grows the role of government.
If you work in progressive politics or at a nonprofit, your organization is probably not geared to participate in this discussion. It's vital for you to have something smart and relevant to say about the themes that will engross the public over the next year - including those segments of the public you need with you. Consider how your work contributes to employment, saves government money, makes government more effective or efficient, or leverages private-sector support
2. Democrats need to adjust their "tax and spend" brand. Republicans need to avoid being seen as beholden to the Tea Party. If you are in a position to help in either direction, there will opportunities to elevate your message and voice.
If you work in a public-private partnership that helps train and put people to work, both the White House Office of Public Engagement and their Republican counterparts will want to hear from you. The same is true if you do work that stretches government dollars or otherwise makea a government program more efficient. They're looking for examples that help them communicate their values. They have a bigger megaphone and probably a bigger budget than you do. If you can be strategic about partnering with them to meet their wants and elevate your message, you have some leverage you should consider using.
3. Persuadable Switchers are doing just fine - this isn't about their own personal situation - but they're still afraid for the future. The conversation will be big picture, and probably not all that compassionate.
Sixty-four percent of persuadable Switchers say their own economic situation is "good." Fifty-seven percent say they are "somewhat better off" than other Americans.
They say the issue that worries them most is "the value of [my] home and other investments" followed by "saving enough money for retiremetn (20%). Only 15% are worried about the job outlook for themselves or a member of their family.
But still, 65% say they don't think the economy will be back on track until "a few years down the road," and 52% say that in ten years the US will not be the economic leader of the world.
Persudable switchers are scared about the distant future, rather their own immediate future. They're worried about global competitiveness and how they'll retire. They don't feel imminently in danger.
Appealing to compassion for the immediate needs of those hit hard by this economy might a tough sell for these folks, so don't expect that the political dialogue will do so. Instead, expect the conversation to be about long-term ramifications and fears about falling behind in the world.