Besides top conservative leaders, the Western Conservative Summit also hosts dozens of smaller, more policy-driven workshops that take place throughout the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, Allen Fuller, director of Principles That Matter, and Beverly Hallberg, president and founder of District Media Group led a workshop called “Moving the Middle: Why Moderates Aren’t Listening to Conservatives.”
Especially in this politically divisive era, it’s so incredibly important to work on reaching out to others who only see a caricature, not a conservative.
Principles That Matter is a project of the Centennial Institute that “seeks to better understand modern American culture and relate solutions to citizens based on the successful principles that are the foundation of American Exceptionalism.”
“It’s more and more important for conservatives to think about people who are not like us,” said Fuller. We can and should celebrate that there is now someone in the White House who is pushing conservative ideas but Fuller cautioned that if the nation had gone the way Colorado did, the presidential election would have turned out very differently.
The workshop was very data-driven, using numbers and surveys to better understand the largely silent group unaffiliated voters in Colorado. There are over 1 million unaffiliated voters in Colorado. But the majority of those are swing or liberal-leaning, so often in order to win in Colorado, conservative candidates must not only win the hearts of swing voters, but a portion of liberal-leaning unaffiliated voters as well.
And we can win the middle. Conservatives can win, not by changing our principles, but recognizing that how we talk about those principles can either alienate or attract.
When surveyed, the majority of moderate voters agreed that the federal government today has too much control. Almost two to one agreed that the federal government’s role in people’s lives has gotten out of control and needs to be reduced.
Clearly, their values and ideology often align with the right or center-right, but when asked how they vote along party lines, that conservative alignment seems to disappear. Many self-described conservatives or moderates go on to say that they vote for both parties equally. There is a huge gap between values and behavior. And it means that conservatives are losing hearts and minds, not just election votes, somewhere along the way. Why?
A Gallup poll has found that 70% of all of our decisions are based on emotion. But conservatives have and continue to frame our arguments in logical terms. Even if we’re true, we don’t necessarily win hearts saying so. As Arthur C. Brooks writes in his book The Conservative Heart, “We must make our coalition the undisputed moral champion of fairness and compassion in American politics.”
Fuller outlined three important ways to win over the moderates who agree with us in ideology but are hesitant to cast a vote for conservatives.
1. Create a contrast.
There is a huge chasm in outcome between conservative and liberal ideas. We have to highlight that difference clearly and make voters understand that conservative principles are responsible for the so much of American opportunity and success.
2. Use micro moments.
Micro moments are opportunities to meaningfully connect with others. These happen all the time. The left knows how to do this. As liberal Rahm Emanuel once said, “never left a good crisis go to waste.” It’s important as conservatives to not take advantage, but to be aware of when people begin to tune in to key issues, when they are open to hear your message.
3. Recognize the people.
Get to know the middle and the values they hold most important. For example, when surveyed millennials have less of an interest in rebellion and revolution and tend more toward problem-solving. If we gear our message towards problem-solving, then they will be more open and likely to listen.
President Ronald Reagan was an ideal example of this kind of outreach. We should be inspired by Reagan’s ability to combine conservative principles with an emotional message. He communicated his conservative principles, but he was also able to connect to unaffiliated voters on an emotional level.
So many people think that if they educated others, they would be swayed to your side. But sometimes they just think you’re condescending. And that’s assuming you even get that far. In our sound-byte media age, it’s so difficult to get beyond the surface disagreements and into the fundamentals of a deep policy discussion. Conservatives should always stand by our core principles, but we must also learn to communicate them authentically and meaningfully to unaffiliated voters.