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Winning Elections: The Science of Trust


Guest Post by Virginia Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke)

There is a false narrative that we Democrats must be eye-for-an-eye in our resistance to conservative political success, as anything else is considered weak. However, if politics is about relationships and relationships are built on trust, then why else would we be asking any other question than: are we building trust?

We should ask about how our purpose, strategies, and tactics are working to build trust. I believe our Democratic Party must take radical immediate actions to help rebuild trust with the American people. The neuroscience of trust shows us that it is not WHAT issues we stand for, but rather HOW we stand for them as an expression of our values that builds trust in the mind. Below are the elements of trust. Everyone weighs the elements differently, but there tends to be a generational divide where older generations weigh the first three heavier, while younger ones favor the latter.

If trust has little to do with WHAT issues we stand for, but rather HOW we stand for them, we should take note of the elements above. Our party should be asking: are we significantly fulfilling these elements in HOW we execute our strategies and tactics?  Here are some thoughts I have on improving HOW we connect:

  • FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR WHAT WE BELIEVE IN – We can fight for the progressive values and issues we stand for, and play to win. Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi (similar to our Donald Trump) was eventually defeated after many years when the Left focused on the issues, excluding personal attacks. We must fight for our issues, not against Trump the person. The 2016 election showed us this only backfires.
  • BUILD UNITY ON VALUES, NOT IDENTITY POLITICS – Trust is built in HOW we fight, or our values in action. Let’s define our values and have the discipline to live them “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We must leave identity politics behind and rally around our common values as Justin Trudeau is doing in Canada.
  • BE REAL ABOUT THE MIRROR, FORGET THE WINDOW – Critically acclaimed leadership writer Jim Collins discusses in his study of top leaders over 40 years that the most successful leaders had the uncanny ability to look in the mirror in times of failure, not out the window.  We should keep our focus on how we can grow from lessons learned.
  • EVERY CORNER STRATEGY – Sincere involvement means we need a multi-year strategy of supporting candidates in every corner of the Commonwealth. In the information age, campaign dollars have a sharp diminishing return. We can get more utility by investing in our message and organizing in every community. If our purpose and values are solid and we find and train good candidates, then our message will spread.
  • EMBRACE PROGRESSIVE POPULISM – Robert Reich has it right; progressive politics can win. The people want fundamental change with real ethics reform, big money influence out of elections, Glass-Steagall reinstated, and the end of gerrymandering! The citizens are tired of establishment politics. We must be sincere about ceding power to the people as these steps are essential to rebuilding trust.
  • RADICALLY EMPATHIZE – Empathizing does not mean we must agree, but Martin Luther King Jr. was successful when he preached we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Split up Trump voters. Yes, some may be racist or bigoted, and we should aggressively condemn their actions, but many did not begin as Trump voters. Empathy is tough and we need to listen to the concerns of all Americans.
  • STOP NEGATIVE POLITICS – We are disrespecting voters when we try to scare them into voting our way. Our obsolete campaign tactics erodes trust with voters. They feel manipulated; the same feeling as we have with a bad car salesperson. We should never say anything about anyone unless they would agree with it if they were in the room. Don’t be a bad car salesperson, respect the voter enough to come to her/his own conclusion.

Let’s start building right now. With trust as the basis of our engagement, we can nurture Democratic brand champions. These champions will help us turn out the vote and win elections.


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