To change this situation, the country needs to think of itself as a progressive nation, and to believe that it elected a government for the express purpose on enacting progressive reform. And yes, language matters, because as long as America thinks of itself as either conservative or moderate, then any piece of moderate or conservative legislation can be justified as the will of the people. So, while the opportunity for massive progressive gains were made apparent by the Rasmussen poll, it isn't enough. The American people don't just need to like progressives and progressivism, they need to self-identify as progressives themselves.
One effort to achieve this change comes from the Center for American progress, which is running a television advertising campaign to brand progressives is a positive light. They have been working on this for some time, and the ads they put together show positive results. According to data I have seen, after watching three of the following four ads, nationwide progressive self-identification leaps from 10% to a whopping 46%, including significant gains from every other ideological self-identification group:
National ideological self-identification after watching three ads. October 11-17, 964 RVs, MoE 3.1. Numbers before watching ads in parenthesis
Progressive: 46% (10%)
Moderate: 24% (41%)
Conservative: 21% (32%)
Liberal: 9% (18%)
Enormous movement like this indicates two things. First, the ads are pretty good. Second, in terms of ideological self-identification, America is a gooey, mushy, wavering mound of gelatinous glop that chooses to identify with any of these terms more out of fashion and perceived identity than any actual coherent set of beliefs. There is clearly huge potential to move ideological self-identification numbers if a campaign to do so is effective and widespread enough. Here is one of the ads from the campaign currently being run in select media markets around the country:
Of all of the four ads, this was my favorite. It features a combination of visuals and words that place the term "progressive" in a historical continuum of a literal march toward future progress, featuring matches both for women's suffrage and for civil rights. It lists most of the major progressive accomplishments of the 20th century, from national parks, to women's suffrage, to the New Deal, to Civil Rights, and closes with the most fundamental progressive value of all: seeking the ideal of society in a future that has never been achieved, rather than in a past era of idealized, former greatness. The choice of music, "America the Beautiful," is also key, given the song's key line "crown thy good with brotherhood," which emphasizes the fundamental progressive value of shared responsibility. Really, this is an excellent thirty-second branding spot for the term progressive, defining the term about as well and with as much emotion as I can imagine any ad could in such a restricted time frame.
The other ads are decent, although they all contain flaws that this ad lacks. Still, they are probably necessary for the overall contrast campaign with conservatives. I have included them in the extended entry.
Unlike the ad featured on the front page in this post, all three of these ads define progressive in direct contrast to conservatives. Taken together, they do a good job of expanding on the accomplishments of progressives, and other explaining how progressivism contrasts with conservatism. In particular, I think the clever visual "pro" and "con" in the final two ads, which are a variation on the Mac vs. PC campaign we have all seen by now. Just like in any political campaign, it is necessary to have not only an introduction ad, but also to have contrast and issue ads. One type of ad will not do the job on its own.
However, each of these ads also has flaws. The first ad uses a voice over actor that I have often heard in commercials for the NRCC, and the overtly conservative campaign for Miller High Life. That seems like a strange choice to me. I also wonder about the use of a popular culture reference in the second two ads, which rely on a parody of an existing advertisement campaign. That always has a short shelf-life, doesn't show a huge amount of creativity (something that progressives should be defined by), and also relies on corporate messaging. I mean, even if Apple is generally viewed as a progressive company, do we really want progressives to be defined by that company? Seems dangerous to me.
But overall, even these ads are decent, and the numbers certainly show that they work. I hope to see more of them around the country. Building a sustainable, progressive governing majority requires a country that views itself as progressive, and these ads are a step in that direction.