When members of your own party don’t understand a bill, how can you expect the general public to? This is the problem facing Congress ahead of a major tax overhaul, now in its umpteenth form and nearly ready for a vote on the Senate floor. And while the bill is likely to pass, Americans are still feeling confused about its ramifications for their own bottom line.
What we’ve seen from politicians to date has been more of the same; TV, radio, print and digital news interviews where reporters – often bearish on the idea of tax reform, even from conservative outlets – recontextualize what’s being said to fit their own narratives.
Meanwhile, posts like the one below, which (incorrectly) claim businesses won’t be able to deduct basic expenses, have gone viral – and are working directly against Republicans’ narrative.
Having done extensive work in the political campaigns and advocacy space, we’ve seen how social media can be a force for helping the public better understand political issues. Most recently, we saw this here in South Carolina, one of the country’s most entrenched anti-tax states, which was in desperate need of roadway repairs. Until recently, South Carolina had one of the highest vehicle fatality rates in the nation at the time, due in some part to the condition of our roads.
We were tasked with helping convince taxpayers to support a gas tax increase, the revenue from which would be spent on roadway reconstruction. Other than cigarettes, it would be the first time in 30 years that a tax increase was passed in the state – no small feat.
We did it almost exclusively with Facebook ads, by reminding people of the seriousness of the problem and showing them what would come of fixing the roads, without ever mentioning money. The insight was that people needed to be reminded that there was a serious problem that was a detriment to themselves and their families that the legislature needed to show leadership on.
It took two years, but we increased the favorability of raising the gas tax among Republican primary voters from low single digits to 57%. My jaw was on the floor when I saw those polling numbers. By May of 2017, when the bill was voted on, we had dramatically reversed public opinion on both sides of the political spectrum on the tax. The law passed, and roads are now being improved across the state.
So what’s the lesson for Congress as it seeks to raise approval of the federal tax bill? A smart, targeted digital campaign can speak directly to constituents and actually bring parties together on an issue. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater post Russian Facebook scandal. The platform is still one of the best places to explain issues in a way that can be unifying, not divisive.
Congress should be focusing on what matters to voters, like spurring the economy and relief for working families across income brackets. Simple. Rather than doing that, they’re spending their time on TV, radio, and in print talking “at” people with their same old narratives across party lines. It would be wise for politicians to consider Facebook’s ability to bring people together on an issue through education, empathy and a vision for the future.