Any political operative worth his or her salt will concur: In the world of politics, words are everything.
How an issue is framed plays a huge role in whether the public supports that measure — or, at least, what respondents tell a pollster they’ll support.
A 2015 Reason-Rupe poll asked young people if they support socialism, and 58 percent answered in the affirmative. Support for capitalism was lower. But then, when asked if they support a free market economy, which — like capitalism — requires private ownership, 72 percent responded favorably, though few would be able to distinguish the two. If that’s the case, why aren’t Republicans using this term more often?
A recent Reuters-Ipsos poll shows that 70 percent of Americans support “Medicare for All.” But what if it was described as “Medicare for None,” which is a more accurate definition. As soon as you start allowing non-seniors to get onto the Medicare rolls, it will no longer be a program exclusively for seniors. This means access to care for the elderly will be considerably diminished, since they’ll be competing for doctor time with tens of millions of other Americans within the same program. We already know that support for the program plummets after posing follow-up questions such as whether you’d support Medicare for All if it eliminates all current insurance programs or leads to less access and higher taxes.
The term “illegal alien” indicates quite clearly that the person crossing the border without permission is committing a criminal act. To deflect from this inconvenient truth, the open borders crowd labeled the term racist and uses the more innocuous euphemism “undocumented immigrant.”
In their efforts to legalize those who cross improperly, liberals conjured up the term “comprehensive immigration reform,” which, in essence, is amnesty.
No one would believe that legislation entitled “The Illegal Alien Amnesty Act” could ever pass Congress. Yet, incorporating amnesty in a bill called comprehensive immigration reform gets Congressional members from both sides of the aisle to sign on.
A CBS News poll from mid-November found that a majority — 59 percent of Americans — oppose building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But a Harvard Harris poll didn’t find such strong opposition to a border barrier. It found that 54 percent of Americans support “building a combination of physical and electronic barriers across the U.S.-Mexico border.” Funny how just the word “wall” changes everything — perhaps because it is so deeply associated with a president whose poll numbers are under water.
“Same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage” had a tough time gaining traction. But once advocates switched to calling it “marriage equality” the concept gained momentum. It’s hard to say the evolution of public opinion corresponded to the name change, but one could make the case that it’s not coincidental. At the very least, it shifted the debate from one of policy to a legal matter that was settled by the Supreme Court in 2015 under equal protection arguments.
Liberals used to squirm if they were tagged to what was once described as a “tax increase.” So, now you are more likely to hear them talk about “revenue enhancements” or “monetary investments.”
Progressives slide by being able to support “late-term abortions” as part of women’s health priorities. But conservatives score when they more aptly describe the procedure as “partial-birth abortion” or, in some cases, “infanticide.”
Years ago, no politician in sight would sign on to a bill that provided early prison release for violent criminals and drug pushers. But now that it’s termed “Criminal Justice Reform,” even the most conservative administration in a generation signs on.
And speaking of elected officials, if they’re smart, they will stop referring to themselves as “politicians,” and instead will adopt the designation “public servants.”
You don’t need a focus group to realize that these words, like so many others, really do matter in shaping public perception.
Steve Levy, former New York state assemblyman, Suffolk County executive, and candidate for governor, is now a distinguished political pundit. Levy’s commentary has been published in such media outlets as Washington Times, Washington Examiner, New York Post, Albany Times, Long Island Business News, and City & State Magazine. He hosted “The Steve Levy Radio Show” on Long Island News Radio, and is a frequent guest on high profile television and radio outlets. Few on the political scene possess Levy’s diverse background. He’s been both a legislator and executive, and served on both the state and local levels — as both a Democrat and Republican. Levy published Bias in the Media, an analysis of his own experience, after switching parties, with the media’s leftward slant. Levy is currently Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Government, a fiscally conservative think tank. He is also President of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm. To learn more about his past work and upcoming appearances, visit www.stevelevy.info. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.