May 2019

Movement Messaging Project

In 2019, the Unite America Institute chartered a research project to help name and frame the growing cross-partisan movement to foster a more representative and functional government.

The goal of the project was to provide actionable recommendations for organizations working in the field currently known as “democracy reform” in order to help reach, engage, and organize those frustrated by the current political system into a true cultural movement capable of transforming American politics.

The research project included interviews with movement stakeholders and practitioners, 12 focus groups with voters in six American cities, a national quantitative survey, and neuroanalytics research to test emotional responses. It was led by communications experts Sarah Longwell and Dan Gross, and guided by a steering committee of organization leaders.

In December, the results of the project were published, including:

  • A memo highlighting the key messaging insights and determinations from the research project
  • An overview deck documenting the different stages of research, key findings, and proposed next steps.
  • A video presentation by Dan Gross & Sarah Longwell at the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers 2019 conference
  • A compilation of the underlying research from each of the four stages of research (available to Unite America partners upon request)

The key recommendations included:

  • Messaging the cause requires stating what we are fighting for, not what the movement is against. The research suggests the following frame appeals to voters across the political spectrum and well represents

“Our overarching collective goal is to put the power in our country in the hands of We the People, where it belongs, and to hold politicians accountable to put the interests of voters first.”

  • The movement needs a name to inspire action, and “Voters First” resonates well. The project tested 20+ names -- including the status quo of “democracy reform” -- and it was clear that “We the People” and “Voters First” provided the most tenable paths forward. Based on feedback we received from practitioners following the rollout, we recommend adopting “Voters First.”
  • There are two powerful ways to message the problem the movement is collectively addressing.  
  1. The corrupting influence of money in politics, leading politicians to put self and special interests ahead of voters, and resulting in a lack of accountability to We the People; and
  2. People’s simple need and desire for better voting experience.
  • The role of individual reforms is critical to the collective success of our movement, but some reforms are more popular than others and there is incredible opportunity to combine reforms in both our messaging and policies.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this project, please contact

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