This piece was originally published in the November 5, 2021 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending? Subscribe to What’s Trending? here.
There’s no avoiding it: Tuesday was a tough night for those of us pushing for progressive policies. As someone who worked on the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race, I know firsthand the national spotlight we shine on these off-year races can be both illuminating and unforgiving.
Many people have shared their thoughts on what happened. There is both wisdom and over-ascription in these analyses. But What’s Trending? readers will know that one of the most politicized topics in the Virginia race, critical race theory, surfaced on Facebook much earlier than it surfaced in campaign ads or on the debate stage.
Social listening can provide helpful, real-time insight into the narratives people are ingesting and responding to and may even serve as a proving ground for potential messaging strategy.
Read on to learn more about how topics like critical race theory and inflation are performing on political social media. And in case you missed it, check out our latest edition of What’s Trending? here.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING ON SOCIAL
It was a tough week for progressives on Facebook. Only one post — a photo of President Biden the First Lady departing the White House for Rome — made it into the top 10 political posts.
Several top posts from conservatives celebrated the conservative “Let’s Go, Brandon” chant. Others touched on the supply chain and gas prices.
Following this week’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, conservative messaging has been much discussed. In particular, conservatives appear to have found a pair of powerful attack messages: a culture-war argument that uses “critical race theory” as a vehicle to stoke parental concerns about race and education and an economic argument that focuses on inflation and the rising cost of goods.
In the chart below, we can see that neither message appeared overnight. Both saw significant spikes in engagement more than six months ago and have had a steady drumbeat driven by conservative pages ever since. This extended, consistent messaging on Facebook, doubtless echoed on other media, helps increase the salience of these issues for voters over time. It also raises an important question: When does a message become loud enough to counter?
We also, of course, need to continue being proactive as well as reactive.
The Build Back Better Act, signature legislation chock-full of wildly popular policies, only briefly out-performed CRT and inflation in terms of Facebook engagements toward the end of September. When the BBB Act passes Congress, progressives will need all hands on deck to amplify a unified message about how it will help Americans.
A final note: The conservative rallying cry “Let’s Go, Brandon” has reached massive engagement levels in recent weeks. While it’s a meme, not a potential wedge policy issue like CRT or inflation, memes are a powerful tool to advance a message. Progressives, take note!
Thanks for reading,
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This newsletter is written by me, Alex Witt (@alexandriajwitt), a progressive political staffer and Dolly Parton enthusiast (she/her), and CAP Action’s fantastic team of designers, data analysts, and email strategists.