There is an effort in the Connecticut capitol of Hartford which could have two important results: implementing a system of tolls to fill in the massive shortfall in funds needed to repair the state’s aging roads, and losing the Democrats control of the state government.
Presently, the Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature, and most information I can find confirms that either tolls or significant tax hikes are necessary to fund road maintenance. Many of the state’s roads and bridges are over 50 years old, and generally they are built to last about that long before needed major repair. This was entirely foreseeable, but, as usually happens in government, the problem was kicked down the road until it became a crisis.
The problem is that the government leadership is failing spectacularly in getting this message out to the people of Connecticut. There is a good article here from the Stamford Advocate that explains things, but you have to search a bit to find it.
If one does a bit of research, they can find some details, but that’s not what people do. People already believe “Taxes bad. Tolls bad. Government wastes money.” It’s easier to accept that narrative than to do research, so that is the mindset that most people are carrying around this issue.
How will this play out? The people in authority are well aware of the problem, and they can see that the Connecticut tolls are fiscally necessary. Democrats and Republicans alike understand the need, so tolls will be implemented. However, if the Democrats continue to fail to effectively message on this issue, the Republicans, even those who voted for Connecticut tolls, will paint the tolls, which will appear on highways in almost every part of the state, as “Lamont Tolls”. In the next election, this will be the issue for every Republican to run on, and in many tight races, it could be the difference between one side winning and the other.
Connecticut Tolls: What the Democrats should do
There is an assumption that the public doesn’t want to pay attention or doesn’t want to be educated. This is incorrect. Of course they want to be educated, but they are too busy to do a research project. They want information provided to them.
A quick Google search for “Connecticut Tolls” does bring up this anti-toll site, but it offers nothing from supporters of tolls explaining the reasons why it is necessary. Governor Lamont has an official web site. No substantive explanation of the issue there either.
Public opinion is forming on social media, in diners, in barbershops. To hold the pro-toll opinion is to hold a naturally unpopular opinion, so one wants to have facts before one speaks. On the other hand, people feel pretty comfortable saying tolls are bad. Thus, if you are pro-toll and you want that opinion to spread, you need to equip supporters with those facts. They must be accessible, quickly referenced, and easy to grasp and propagate.
In 2019, you cannot rely on a good newspaper article to sway public opinion. Press support is good supporting material, but social media is where the marketplace of ideas plays out, and social media must be leveraged in any such information campaign.
The solution can be as simple as a website or blog providing a series of articles explaining the issue as a whole and then specific detail pieces on individual elements of the issue. This allows a supporter in a social media conversation to quickly link to the facts without having to research them.
Facts really do win arguments, but they are at a disadvantage to misinformation. A lie can circle the globe while the truth is still putting on its shoes. If the truth is on your side of the argument, it must be cogently explained and easily referenced for there to be a chance of it achieving traction in the marketplace of ideas.
Of course, the Democrats don’t have to take any of this advice. After all, being a legislator is hard work and very poorly paid, so they might enjoy some time off after the next election. That’s definitely what they’ll get if they don’t get serious about their messaging strategy around this issue.
Do you have a messaging challenge? Contact Michael Whitehouse of the Crisis Control Group.