Does an impending Supreme Court Decision threaten Democratic fundraising?

Does an impending Supreme Court Decision threaten Democratic fundraising?

Janus vs. AFSCME looms large for liberal spending groups

By: David Huguenel, Vice President at Jamestown Associates

Any day now, the United States Supreme Court could finally hand down a potential landmark decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, a legal case that could have long-lasting effects on public sector unions and their ability to collect mandatory membership dues from government employees. If the ruling comes down against the unions, it could prevent them from dumping millions into Democratic campaigns, considerably dialing back their political capital.

Most of the conversation regarding the potential ruling has centered on the ramifications for unions such as AFSCME, SEIU, and teachers’ unions, whose millions and millions in political spending have made them a financial force in the realm of politics. The bottom line is that without compulsory membership dues filling their coffers, it’s unlikely that these groups will remain the goliaths of political spending they’ve become over the past decade, and that has them scared.

But they’re not the only ones who should be afraid. Democrats – who are, by and large, the major beneficiaries of unions’ millions in political spending – also stand to lose a great deal. Since 1990, a whopping 93% of all public sector donations have gone to Democratic candidates and causes. Understandably, most pundits have focused on the impact that an unfavorable ruling towards AFSCME might have on Democrats’ fundraising abilities in future elections.

However, a ruling that would strip these unions of guaranteed dues may have other important consequences that have yet to be discussed – namely, the potential resurgence of private sector unions as a main hub of Democratic fundraising.

In 2016, public sector and teachers’ unions outspent building trades and industrial unions by over $32 million. But just ten years prior in 2006, private sector unions outspent public sector unions by nearly $5 million. In fact, private sector unions outspent their government counterparts every year as far back as 1990.** It wasn’t until 2010 that government unions’ spending skyrocketed past their private sector cousins.

As the Supreme Court deliberates Janus vs. AFSCME, the important question isn’t simply whether Democrats will suffer if public sector unions are no longer able to involuntarily siphon money from their members. Smart observers will also be mindful of whether or not the Democratic party will be able to readjust its messaging in order to appeal to private sector unions who, unlike public sector unions, rely on a strong economy for the health of their membership. This will be especially interesting to watch play out in swing states that voted for Obama in 2012, but swung for Trump in 2016.

One thing is for sure – Democrats will have a lot of work to do to court those private sector unions. While public sector unions and their members wear their hatred of President Trump like a badge of honor, private sector building trades and unions have been warmer to him, meeting with President Trump in 2017 to discuss infrastructure and taking the time for a photo op. One can also safely assume that many of the blue collar workers who make up these unions are receptive to Trump’s "America First" policies like the recent steel and aluminium tariffs, and his tough talk on China. But this support for Trump is far from the first time that private sector unions have been vocal supporters of Republican candidates who spoke to issues important to them; in 2013, for instance, NJ Governor Christie received the support of many of the state’s private sector union leaders.

Equally concerning to Democrats should be the voting habits of actual private sector union members. Trump’s victory in 2016 was due in large part to his success with blue collar workers, a once-reliable block of votes for Democrats. Winning them back after losing out on their public union cash cow may prove a daunting political task.

But Democrats not only need to find new ways to court these voters; they also need to appeal to their union leadership. Will they be willing to meet in the middle? If recent history is any indicator, probably not: after their bitter loss in 2016, the Democrats have largely dug their heels in the mud, making it clear that grabbing sanctimonious headlines is a higher political priority to them than adopting practical, common-sense fundraising practices and making necessary political recalculations in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Is this sort of financial virtue signaling the hill the Democrats’ really want to die on? The answer hinges on whether or not the Supreme Court rules in Janus vs. AFSCME to allow public sector union members to opt out of paying dues to unions that they don’t want to belong to. If they do, buckle up – a sudden and unexpected resurgence of private sector unions and their political muscle should usher in a new paradigm for upcoming elections. 

*For purposes of this article, spending totals for public sector unions also include spending by teachers' unions. Private sector unions refer to total spending specifically by building trades and industrial unions. Information was collected on

**Public sector and teachers' unions outspent building trades' unions by $342,404 in 1998 and $359,300 in 1994, meaning spending was all but tied.

Jamestown Public Affairs – Advocacy. Strategy. Political Insight.

Rethinking the Millennial Stereotype

Rethinking the Millennial Stereotype

Narcissism. Selfies. Avocado toast.

To take the stereotypes at face value would be to assume that the vast majority of Millennials are lazy, entitled cultural and political liberals, obsessed with trivial social media fads, head-in-the-clouds leftwing politics, and leading la-di-da lives of leisure.

But for influencers and advertisers to take the Millennial stereotypes at face value would be for them to miss a number of messaging opportunities that look increasingly more lucrative with each passing year. Shifting cultural perspectives and political and economic realities are changing how America’s young people view the world and respond to certain types of advertising, and these dynamic changes are opening up new opportunities for influencers and advertisers who have the eye to recognize them and the preparedness to seize them.

In fact, cultural trends indicate that the Millennials and post-Millennial Gen Z generation may be more conservative – and thus, more receptive to conservative-minded messaging – than ever before. The Millennial entrepreneurial spirit and “startup culture” lead to the direct creation of the sharing economy, which has already revolutionized entire sectors of the economy through technology. And Millennials are more conservative than previous generations were at their respective ages, indicating that, as they age, Millennials are indeed growing more conservative at a higher rate than those generations that came before them.

Among the youngest Americans, the evidence is even clearer: eight-in-ten Gen Z’ers identify as “fiscally conservative,” and at least one study has proven that it’s not just talk. Gen Z’ers are already practicing fiercely fiscally conservative values, including saving for retirement and viewing skyrocketing college tuition costs with a deep skepticism not found in their generational predecessors. From a cultural standpoint, regular church attendance among Gen Z’ers doubles that of Millennials; sobriety among these young people is up, and sexual promiscuity is down.

Do these cultural and political shifts toward more-conservative attitudes and behaviors mean that all Millennials and Gen Z’ers are now MAGA-hat-wearing Republicans? Of course not. But they do mean that the stereotypes about these generations don’t paint the whole picture, and that a bevy of exciting, new, and profitable opportunities await those advertisers and influencers who are ready, willing, and able to reach younger audiences in creative new ways that speak to their latent conservative sensibilities. As America’s youngest generations mature and come of voting, marriage, and homeowning age, it’s likely that these trend lines will only continue, and that the Millennials and Gen Z’ers may find themselves more openly interested in messaging that speaks to the conservative attitudes they didn’t even know they had.

Jamestown Public Affairs – Advocacy. Strategy. Political Insight.

The Top Five Ways Companies Can Turn Tax Reform Into Good PR

The Top Five Ways Companies Can Turn Tax Reform Into Good PR

This week, Americans filed their tax returns under an old, outdated system for the very last time.

While public opinion of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 remains underwater, the tax overhaul has enjoyed consistently positive growth in public opinion polling since President Trump signed it into law just before Christmas.

Plenty of that positive growth can be attributed to smart public relations decisions made not just by Washington, but also by the business community. To this day, taxpayers remain open-minded about the new law, giving influencers, opinion makers, and businesses across the country a strong public relations opportunity to capitalize on the legislation’s growing popularity and help define what tax reform means for American voters, consumers, and audiences.

Here are the top five ways firms can capitalize on tax reform in 2018:

  1. Pay it forward. Only days after the bill became law, dozens of major companies announced new raises and bonuses for their employees as a direct result of the historic legislation. In the months since then, countless other firms have followed suit, while others have announced the repatriation of jobs and capital investment to the United States, generating positive earned press for those companies, and garnering them favorable recognition across the country.
  2. Tell your story. By directly informing customers and stakeholders how they intend to pass the benefits of tax reform on to them, firms can win goodwill and stand out from the pack. Small or modest changes in products and services often go unnoticed by consumers; firms that take the time to communicate these changes to customers stand to gain stature and praise in the public eye.
  3. Put your money where your mouth is. Firms that pass the benefits of tax reform on to their employees and customers also have an opportunity to benefit from incorporating their story into any and all paid advertising. The central tenet of paid media is for firms to demonstrate why their product matters to consumers and why it will improve their lives. Passing on savings and benefits or expanding your business to accommodate consumers’ needs are game-changers, and if firms are spending advertising dollars, they should make sure they’re spent on a guaranteed winning message.
  4. Stay on message. Consistency and repetition are key to hammering home a message. Firms that keep up the goodwill by reminding consumers at every opportunity that they are making sure customers, stakeholders, and the public share in the benefits of tax reform will slowly, over time, make a positive impact on how those audiences view their firm.
  5. Share your success. Companies often try to outsource poignant storytelling to paid actors or spokespeople with embarrassing results; consumers can smell a phony from a mile away. Some of the most effective, powerful messages conveyed by companies to the public are told and carried by real people – the folks who had a real, meaningful experience as a result of the tax overhaul. The companies brave enough to tell those stories will reap the benefits of honest advertising and a winning message.

Jamestown Public Affairs – Advocacy. Strategy. Political Insight.

“Roseanne” Gives Advertisers A Blueprint For Connecting with Everyday Americans

“Roseanne” Gives Advertisers A Blueprint For Connecting with Everyday Americans

Two unmistakable trends have plagued television in the Trump era.

The first is that the election of President Trump so incensed coastal elites in Hollywood and New York that it now seems that everything on television – from ad campaigns to the tone of cable news to the very content of TV shows themselves – is tinged with self-righteous anti-Trump political messaging and obviously forced virtue signaling. 

The second trend is a direct result of the first: the hard-left television turn has alienated large swaths of everyday audiences. Today, a whopping 75% of Americans say that they watch television to get away from politics. But Hollywood's insistence on blasting American audiences with liberal messaging has only intensified, creating a disconnect that's led to an across-the-board ratings downturn, leaving television and advertising executives wondering how to best reconnect with American audiences and win back their attention.

One television show is bucking this trend:

"'Roseanne' Revival Premieres to Massive Ratings"

"ABC Boss Admits 'Roseanne' Return Ratings Were a Big Surprise, Even To Them"

"'Roseanne' Revival's Huge Debut Stuns Hollywood, Prompts Soul-Searching"

Those are just some of the headlines that broke last week describing the massive and unanticipated ratings success of ABC's revival of the blue-collar every-family sitcom "Roseanne." The show, which details the everyday exploits of the fictional but all-too-real working-class, Midwestern Conner family, was praised in its heyday for its realistic depiction of working-class life, and returned to network television last week to jaw-dropping ratings.

Once again, the preferences of working-class Americans are giving a great deal of badly needed shock therapy to blue-state coastal elites – and offering them a blueprint for how to best reconnect with everyday Americans in this age of politically oversaturated content. 

While "Roseanne" doesn't run from politics – like millions of Americans, the show's lead character is a self-identifying Trump supporter – it doesn't condescend to audiences or lecture them about why their values or beliefs are wrong. Unlike the self-congratulatory liberal speeches of the Oscars, which led to their lowest ratings in history this year, the political commentary in "Roseanne" is secondary to the family values and warmhearted comedy at the center of the show. The Conner family really does come across as an everyday American family, and no matter their political beliefs, the show treats them with respect and love.

That can hardly be said for the other politically charged content audiences to which audiences are subjected these days.

As they prepared for the 'Roseanne" reboot, ABC wisely advertised the Conners as a "family that looks like us [and] lives like us," and the network successfully delivered a television revival that feels like us. The show's heart-on-the-sleeve Midwestern working-class values and warm, funny, family-centered message proved irresistible once again to American audiences, more than 20 years after the show ended its initial run in 1997. 

Interestingly, this resonated not only with the broad swath of middle-America swing voters who helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency, but with coastal audiences as well. When compared with the premiere of the "Will and Grace" revival, a nakedly anti-conservative program, the ratings for "Roseanne" blew them out of the water in cities such as New York and Los Angeles. This incredible success is expected to drive up the show's already strong advertising rates.

Producers, programmers and advertisers stand to gain from ABC's breakthrough by following their lead, toning down the liberal virtue signaling and focusing on producing content that connects with audiences' hearts. Just because everything seems political these days doesn't necessarily mean everything should be political, and in an era of pervasive politicization, advertisers have a real opportunity to reconnect with audiences by respecting their values and leaving their liberal politics out of it. 

Jamestown Public Affairs – Advocacy. Strategy. Political Insight.

What DC Issue Advertisers Are Doing Wrong.

What DC Issue Advertisers Are Doing Wrong.

Washington, DC is one of the nation’s most expensive media markets, and for good reason: the demographic is high-earning – and more importantly – it contains the vast majority of our nation’s influencers. The nation’s leading influencer – President Trump – is a noted television consumer, and so corporations and causes have taken to the airwaves in droves in efforts to reach him with their message.

But in the mad dash to connect with the most powerful man on earth, a great many of these advertisers skip over two of the most important components of effective advertising: clear messaging and high-quality production.

Some issue advertisers struggle because their advertising fails to effectively speak to the President, Congress or average, everyday Americans. These ads are bogged down by wonky jargon and inaccessible, industry-specific information that’s immensely difficult to grasp in thirty seconds. While well intentioned, they come across about as effectively as the videos that open those boring industry conferences that people only attend for the open bars – not as serious efforts to educate outside influencers and change minds.

No matter the audience, effective ads organize and present information in a clear, concise and creative manner. Rather than trying to demonstrate the importance of their message through raw facts and figures, great ads have a built-in sense of passion and poetry that compels audiences to connect with the message and feel a sense of urgency. Striking that balance when crafting an ad campaign can make all the difference.

Too frequently, DC-based issue advocacy campaigns are also hobbled by poor production. President Trump was the executive producer and host of one of the most successful reality television shows in history, “The Apprentice,” which was nominated for several Emmys during its run. He understands how good production happens and what it looks like – which was why, when it came time to shoot the ads for his Presidential campaign, our team hired the crew that previously lit him on “The Apprentice.”

Interest groups understandably don’t want to blow the budget on fancy film shoots, but if a qualified prospective employee walked into your office with a wrinkled shirt and disheveled appearance, followed by one who is equally qualified but dressed far more professionally, which candidate would you be inclined to hire? The same is true for advertising; advertisers and interest groups can have the best message in the world, but if they don’t take the production process seriously enough, the power of that message will be severely undercut.

Today, advertisers have an unprecedented opportunity to cut out the middlemen in $4,000 suits crawling the streets of DC and get their issue and their message in front of the most important influencer in the country. But to best communicate their message, they are going to have to put their old practices behind them and instead focus on clear messaging and serious production.

Otherwise, they run the risk of their media buy running dry and their message falling on deaf ears.

Jamestown Public Affairs – Advocacy. Strategy. Political Insight.