A Climate Message to Win Hearts, Minds, and…Votes

Your pocket guide to Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions' messaging memo.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards
Washington State farm family.

Photo: Susan Fahey.

The time is right to talk to American voters about climate solutions.

From destructive droughts and wildfires to dangerous heat waves and violent storms, Americans see climate disruption with their own eyes and they’re hungry for leadership on solutions.

We know that piling on more scientific data won’t cut it. But new messaging research by Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions shows that a cohesive, values-driven climate story can win hearts and minds—and it can give candidates a winning edge too.

In fact, opinion research paints a clear picture:

  • A large and growing majority of Americans say “global warming is affecting weather in the United States” (74 percent).
  • Americans of every political stripe overwhelmingly support clean energy solutions. (Including 85 percent of likely Obama voters, 83 percent of undecided voters, and 73 percent of likely Romney voters.)
  • Majorities across party lines feel that global warming should be a priority for the president and Congress.
  • Majorities favor candidates who will lead on climate and energy. In fact, when a clean energy candidate is pitted against a hypothetical “all of the above” candidate (who favors clean energy + more drilling and coal extraction), the clean energy candidate wins—including among independents.
  • And even though most Americans know that oil companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Super-PACs, lobbyists, and deceptive, anti-science campaigns, many voters haven’t necessarily made the connection between fossil fuel money in politics and stalled progress on climate and energy solutions. When they do, they want accountability.

That’s why a climate narrative works when it’s realistic about the threat and our responsibility to protect our kids, proud and confident about American climate and energy solutions, and frank about Big Oil and Coal’s stranglehold on progress.

Three core values define this story, each one particularly powerful among certain swing or independent segments of the electorate: responsibility, patriotic pride, and accountability. And the structure is a simple, memorable 3-part narrative, where each part is essential in reinforcing the others: 1) Threat; 2) Solutions; 3) Villains.

As Dave Roberts puts it, “You’ve got your problem, your villains, and your hope; none works well in isolation but together they tell a coherent, forward-looking story.”

A Powerful Climate Narrative

1. Threat: Talk about EXTREME WEATHER and protecting our KIDS. We can’t ignore all this destructive weather. Climate change is here, now, and we owe it to our kids to protect them before it’s too late. Core value: Responsibility.

2. Solutions: Talk about American INGENUITY. No one should doubt our ingenuity and resolve. We can rise to the challenge and succeed. Anybody who says we can’t, forgets who we are. Nothing should stand in our way. Core value: Patriotic pride.

3. Villain: Talk about the fossil fuel STRANGLEHOLD on our GOVERNMENT: Big Oil and Coal companies are spending millions to rig the system and protect their profits. It’s time to break their stranglehold on our progress. Core value: Accountability.

This Flaschard is your pocket guide to a powerful climate story—based on Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions’ research and messaging memo, Climate Solutions for a Stronger America: A Guide For Engaging and Winning on Climate and Clean Energy (pdf).

The experts who developed these messages recommend that we always stick to this basic structure and even this particular language. But, you can—and should—add in concrete, specific, local examples and facts—pointing to recent extreme weather events, local success stories about clean energy technologies and jobs, and the specific ways that Big Oil and Coal are buying political influence and deceiving the public. The memo is chock full of examples and sample language to help you do this, as well as tips on responding to common attacks. But the basic elements outlined here are all you need to get started.

The story is compelling—it’s been tested and it works. American voters need to hear it now—loud and clear, again and again.

Sightline Flashcards are messaging memos designed as short, scannable tools for sharing effective communications strategies. Our strategic communications team digests piles of public opinion research, transcripts from speeches, expert advice, and academic studies—from cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to political science, sociology, and psychology—distilling best practices in messaging. Flashcards often focus on values-based communication: strategies for talking about important policies or issue solutions in terms of shared values.

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