With members still divided on what went wrong for the party in the 2014 midterm elections, the House Democrat in charge of honing messaging for the next two years is trying to build consensus around a revised communication strategy.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the two-term chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who was selected by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to run a new "Democratic Policy and Communications Committee," is asking every member to fill out a seven-part survey in advance of the caucus' scheduled retreat next week in Philadelphia. "Before we meet in Philadelphia to discuss our goals for the next two years, I would like to get your opinion on what you believe our focus should be as we craft our message," Israel wrote to colleagues in an introduction to the survey, a copy of which was obtained by CQ Roll Call. "Below is a series of questions that will help the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee get a better idea of what’s important to you and your constituents. This is an informal survey that will be shared anonymously with outside experts in the development of messaging."
In a phone interview on Thursday afternoon, Israel said he planned to share the findings of the survey and members' responses at the retreat during a special presentation on messaging he'll be moderating.
"I just feel that you can't stand up on a stage and tell people what you think the message should be," Israel said. "You have to reach out to them ... and make sure your message is based on collaboration."
He explained that he crafted the seven questions posed to members based on conversations he's had with lawmakers since November.
The survey asks members to identify "the top three policy areas you believe House Democrats should be focusing on this Congress," and to describe "in one sentence ... what House Democrats stand for."
The third question asks, "What do you believe could have been done differently last Congress when it came to House Democrats' messaging?"
"The diversity of our districts often results in different priorities or positions," the fourth section of the survey reads. "Putting aside what we may disagree on, what three issues do you believe can unite all House Democrats in messaging?"
The fifth section requests that members assign a letter grade to 20 major issue areas to signify which is the most critical to focus on in terms of messaging, from health care to education, voting rights to tax reform.
The sixth portion of the survey requests that members pick from 11 broad policy concepts the "two or three" that "best describe the most important messages for our Caucus." Choices include "an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few," "a strengthened middle class" and "standing up to special interests trying to rig the game."
"Any comments, criticisms, suggestions?" the survey concludes.
Seeking input from members could have a positive effect at a time when younger rank-and-file lawmakers want to have a stronger say in matters important to the caucus and the future of the party.
But it also could further expose intra-party fault lines.
Many members feel that the House Democratic leaders, including Israel, put forward a "one size fits all" message that was difficult for vulnerable incumbents and candidates in tough races to communicate or tailor to their specific districts. Post-election, there are hard feelings that might not dissipate anytime soon.
Israel emphasized to CQ Roll Call on Thursday that this is just the beginning.
"We still have a long way to go before we crystalize a message," he said. "This is the first step in an ongoing effort to develop message based on the input we get from the caucus."
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