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BLM: How Bad Branding Can Isolate Voters

Updated: May 10, 2021

On May 25th, 2020, America watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered right before their eyes via livestream. Quickly picked up by media outlets nationally, no one could escape the clips of a cop kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as he called out for his mother, slowly taking his last breaths.

There are no two ways about it: America was outraged on that day. On a poll conducted in June by USA Today-Ipsos Polls, 60% of Americans described George Floyd’s death as murder. However, by March of 2021, the same poll found that only 36% of Americans felt the same way they did in June of 2020. How did an issue that was so decisively outrageous to America loose so much support in less than a year?

One phrase ruined it all: Defund The Police.

Black Lives Matter finally had moderate America's attention. After all, they saw murder right before their eyes. And in all reality, many of the policies that Black Lives Matter are trying to push have merit. It is true that there is a lot of unnecessary spending that occurs in policing, and many Americans are aware of it.

For example, I remember going to see my aunt and uncle shortly after the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests had come to pass. My aunt and uncle were discussing BLM, and the notion behind “defund the police.” My family being southern military, it was exactly what you would expect. My uncle was fuming about the absurdity of abolishing the police, but something interesting happened.

My aunt pointed out that she had heard on Fox News that New York City’s policing budget was some 6 billion- odd dollars. Knowing advocates were asking for funds to be reallocated into mental health and homelessness services, my aunt believed there was possibly room for allocating money in the police budget to better fund those programs.

I agreed with my aunt, reminding my Uncle who once lived in Draper that the Draper Police do in fact own a tank. I asked him even with mass shootings, violent bank robberies, or any other crazy things that could happen, if he thought it was necessary for Draper Police to have a tank. He said no.

In reality, most Americans do agree with some of BLM’s policy platforms to a certain extent without even realizing it. They would prefer wasted tax dollars be spent on services that will help their communities. However, that message doesn’t really ring through under the banner “defund the police.”

“Defund the police,” to many Americans, conjures images of criminals running wild in the streets, stealing and looting after police departments have been disbanded, leaving them defenseless. Especially after protests that followed George Floyd’s death led to those exact things happening, America was paralyzed with fear at the idea of “defunding the police.”

This fear caused moderate America to find any excuse to justify stopping the momentum of Black Lives Matter, and when it was discovered that George Floyd was arrested nine times mostly on drug related charges, it gave way for America to start believing that there was maybe more to the story than originally filmed, giving support to the claim that George Floyd was high on meth when he was arrested. Even though that claim was proven false, the damage was already done.

This is why it is important to understand who you are trying to reach with your message. You may have a good idea, but if it is conveyed to voters in a way that will cause misunderstanding, or even worse, offense or fear, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is. No one is going to listen, and oftentimes, you don’t have an opportunity to explain or back track in the court of public opinion.

In order to ensure your ideas are heard by voters it is crucial to get to know them. What problems matter to them? What do they need and want? How should you phrase your policies so they are understood and celebrated, and what are the best mediums to spread that message? Once you can answer these questions, you will be able to develop policy platforms that are relevant and well- received, making you a better candidate, grassroots organizer or nonprofit organization.

Here at RPC we specialize in helping candidates identify what matters to voters and how to reach them through polling and voter research. If you need more advice on how to improve your campaign messaging, reach out.

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