How to Steal the Populists’ Clothes

The continued electoral success of populists in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and in the United States shows that while their policy proposals may be fanciful, their mode of conducting politics is effective. To win at the ballot box, mainstream politicians should apply three lessons that populists have mastered.

.. Rather than complaining about populist successes, established political parties should take a page from the populist playbook. Three lessons, in particular, cry out for attention.

The first lesson is to connect to the people you wish to represent by learning about them and winning their trust.

.. The complacent assumption that people will always vote along party or class lines is obsolete.

.. After a decade of economic malaise, voters are skeptical of mainstream politicians who offer rote promises of growth and improved standards of living. In the eyes of disenchanted workers, those in power have simply been feathering their own nests. Even in many of the world’s strongest economies, workers are earning less in real terms than they did ten years ago.

.. the twin threats of automation and outsourcing have made employment more precarious, and sapped workers’ bargaining power.

.. Who is to blame for this state of affairs? Those who vote for populists clearly hold establishment politicians responsible

.. Contrary to popular belief, recent research finds that technology is not the primary driver of labor’s declining share of income. Rather, the worsening plight of workers is due to

  • lost bargaining power and union density,
  • welfare-state retrenchment,
  • offshoring, and the
  • growth of the financial sector as a share of the economy.

the effective tax rates “paid by the world’s 10 biggest public companies by market capitalization in each of nine sectors” have fallen by nearly one-third since 2000, from 34% to 24%.

since 2008, personal income-tax rates across all countries have increased by 6%, on average.

Against this backdrop, the emergence of populist parties and politicians should come as no surprise. When a majority of people becomes poorer, there will be stark consequences at the ballot box. And yet, in one country after another, the political establishment has been remarkably slow to recognize this.

.. Meanwhile, the populist presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, proposes giving every Brazilian a gun so they can defend themselves. To the elites, this sounds (and is) preposterous. But for Brazilians who worry about their own safety, he is at least showing that he understands their top concern.

.. Before winning the French presidency and a parliamentary majority last year, Emmanuel Macron .. sent volunteers across the country to listen to voters’ concerns.

.. populists is to use simple, intuitive messaging to signal your goals. Yes, slogans like “I’ll protect your jobs” and “Make America great again” sound simplistic. But where are the sophisticated alternatives?

.. In the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, the Remain campaign, phlegmatically led by then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, argued that leaving the European Union would result in lower GDP, lost trade, and disruption to the financial sector.

.. Such arguments completely missed what concerned most voters. By contrast, the Brexiteers promised to “take back control” of the UK’s borders and claimed – falsely – that the National Health Service would enjoy a windfall of £350 million ($490 million) per week.

.. Academics, pundits, and political, business, and civil-society leaders have been far too slow to articulate new economic and social policies that have broad-based appeal.

.. it takes a commitment of time and energy to understand the plight of the electorate and to frame solutions in a clear, simple way.

.. The third lesson from the populist playbook is to be bold.

.. people are seeking a transformational vision of the future, not slight improvements. After 30 years of pragmatism and incremental change, it is time for a new tone.

.. Recall that in 1945, Winston Churchill, having delivered victory for Britain in World War II, lost the general election.

The winner, Clement Attlee, promised what was effectively a new social contract for war-weary Britons still living under rations. His government went on to provide free universal health care, unemployment insurance, pensions, decent housing, and secure jobs in nationalized industries. And all this was done with the national debt still at 250% of GDP.

Trump Seems Much Better at Branding Opponents Than Marketing Policies

Donald J. Trump, the master brander, has never found quite the right selling point for his party’s health care plan.

He has promised “great healthcare,” “truly great healthcare,” “a great plan” and health care that “will soon be great.” But for a politician who has shown remarkable skill distilling his arguments into compact slogans — “fake news,” “witch hunt,” “Crooked Hillary” — those health care pitches have fallen far short of the kind of sharp, memorable refrain that can influence how millions of Americans interpret news in Washington.

 .. Mr. Trump is much better at branding enemies than policies. And he expends far more effort mocking targetsthan promoting items on his agenda.

.. The word choice is memorable. But it’s also the repetition that’s important. In its simplicity and consistency, that message is textbook marketing
.. Marketing research also suggests that the more we’re exposed to a belief or a brand, the more likely we are to believe that others share or use it. And so by repeating the slogan, Mr. Trump also feeds the notion that Mrs. Clinton is widely believed to be crooked.
.. Psychologists have another term for what Mr. Trump does here that is so effective. He “essentializes” Mrs. Clinton and his other opponents, like Lyin’ Ted Cruz.

.. This is the important difference between using a descriptive verb (“Ted Cruz tells lies”) and a noun label (“Lyin’ Ted”). Such minor manipulations of language, psychological research shows, can convey much more deep-seated, stable and central characteristics about a subject. And these labels preclude other identities.

.. The only thing you need to know about Marco Rubio, according to Mr. Trump’s branding efforts, is that he lacks stature. And that’s a deeply embedded quality that the man can never change:

.. But the affirmative case for the Republican alternative? None of his language has stuck. When Mr. Trump has tried to brand his party’s health care reform efforts in a positive light, his messages have largely taken the form of unmemorable promises about “better” or “great” health care in the future:

.. If any word kept coming up — and this one’s not from his Twitter feed — it was his reference to the House bill as “mean.”
.. debates over whether the ban should be called a ban.
.. Mr. Trump for the most part hasn’t done that. He has used the tactic to promote himself: He is, above all, “a winner.” The endless repetition and emotional simplicity seemed to work during the campaign as he promoted the WALL (not a fence!). But now that he’s president, what if he cheered the Republican health plan as doggedly as he scorned “Crooked Hillary”? What if he devoted as much effort to defining the stakes of tax reform as he has spent branding his antagonists in the news media?

.. One possibility is that these subjects just don’t interest him as much. Or perhaps it’s much harder to condense the case for complex policies — codified in hundreds of pages of legislation and legalese, devised through countless compromises and trade-offs — down to the size of a hashtag. Either way, one of Mr. Trump’s most remarkable skills hasn’t proved an asset on Capitol Hill.