“So what? It’s a life!” Insulting voters intelligence is a losing proposition.

BY: B. Keith Plunkett

Contrary to an assertion I made a few weeks ago, I think Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment may fall short. Some of the most recent polling indicates the “No” votershave caught up to the numbers enjoyed by the YesOn26 crowd.

In the earlier piece, I commented that YesOn26 seemed to be well-organized by virtue of the fact that they had done a good job tapping into the conservative religious base across the state. I still believe the group ofsupporters was well organized. However, If the initiative fails, it will not be a result of poor organization, but rather poor message planning and a lack of a long-term communication strategy, a distinct difference. Just because you have something to say, doesn’t mean you can easily say it.

It’s difficult to maintain a simplistic message in the face of such an emotional movement from an opponent. That is what the pro-life forces have attempted to do and why they have left the public, and those who might potentially influence the argument in favor of the initiative, without the information they need to make the leap. Supporters haven’t been given enough positive answers to relay to others.

If the initiative doesn’t make it by the voters, It will be the result of a major faux-pas in any campaign, be it in politics or business. The Pro-26 leadership allowed the competition to define them, and had little or no response ready to address concerns outside of legalistic or religious matter-of-fact statements.

Many questions about the initiative have gone unanswered, or worse. In some cases the questions were openly mocked, belittled or just flat out ignored. Any campaign has to work from more than the premise that they will win “because.”  They should have been asking, “how do we convince everyone?” Instead, It appears that YesOn26 began to believe some of their own hype, and got lazy when it came to convincing the public that wasn’t already on their side.

Campaign organizers started out on fire, and looked to be headed toward a landslide victory. They garnered support from Lt. Governor Phil Bryant, whose political star is definitely on the rise. But since money and resources began pouring in from outside the state in the past few weeks, initiative communications have gone somewhat dormant, withering in the face of questions, and downplaying any concerns as illegitimate.

When the YesOn26 star OB-GYN Doc, Freda Bush, openly shrugged off a life-of-the-mother question as a decision of God on state-wide radio, and there was no attempt at explanation, it became clear that little background planning had been done outside of logo development, grass-roots organizing and enforcement of religious correctness.

When genuine concerns were raised over the cost legal challenges would have on a poor state like Mississippi, they were met with cries about the worth of a life. They should have instead been met with a message that had been prepared months earlier that understood the financial problems our state already faces are nothing to take lightly.

Acknowledge the argument against you first and foremost, let people know you heard the question. Many times, if not most, the Pro-26 messengers didn’t do this. The result was a public who felt they were being railroaded into an all or nothing vote. When given the ultimatum of being either for or against with no more information, the public began to reject the movement as too vague and holier-than-thou.

And with good reason, the message IS vague. Much of the details of this very important amendment will be left to work out by the legislature. For the general public, that doesn’t inspire confidence.

In-vitro fertilization, ectopic pregnancies, birth control, rape, incest, all of these stumbling blocks could have been prepared for. They should have been prepared for with more than a reference to God, and a nod that we’ll all go to hell otherwise. That message won’t play. It hasn’t played.

Did YesOn26 promoters not think those type of questions were coming? Poor planning.

When we all wake up on Wednesday morning there will be few surprises. The science of politics has just about taken all the fun out of it. But, Personhood could be one of them. It could go down in Mississippi political history as one of the most well-intentioned yet under-planned campaigns ever. Organizers didn’t accept that there could be shades of gray. As a result, they very well could lose the battle.

Even if the Personhood Amendment passes, our state, and initiative supporters had better get ready to show a little humility and gather their forces to address the onslaught of negative questions and messages that will happen as a result. Those won’t end anytime soon.

Personhood supporters should be ready to do more than thumb their nose. This battle will be with us long past November 9. With legal challenges, it will be with us for a decade.

We Mississippians will all be associated with this and will be called some pretty nasty things. Regardless of how any of us vote on this we’ll be tied to it for a long time to come. And the argument will no doubt continue across coffee tables, in Sunday Schools and in gatherings across the state.

So far, the simplistic reply to everything has been, “so what? It’s a life.” That’s underestimating the opposition and insulting voters intelligence, and that is always a bad idea.

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