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Winning back citizens’ trust with ambitious messages

Tuulia Pitkänen
Secretary General

The Social Democrats are leading in the Finnish polls and are well on track to increase the number of centre-left MEP’s from the EU’s northernmost country. Ambitious policy production and renewal of the political programmes have been key factors in regaining the political initiative.

The era of social media has simplified political messages to a minimum. Slogans, programmes and goals have to be communicated in tweets, infographics and videos that last only seconds. Political parties pay small fortunes for consultants to tell them how the average attention span of a modern voter is less than 3 seconds.

Simultaneously the social democratic and socialist parties all over Europe are struggling with declining support. Our messages just don’t seem to get through any more.

Having suffered from a lack of new initiatives and an outdated public image for a long time, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Finland has chosen not to follow the trend of oversimplification of political solutions. Instead of relying on just twitter-proof slogans, they have done exactly the opposite. The party has spent the past years organising hundreds of regular party members in policy production committees.  The committees are preparing ambitious but realistic policy proposals to change Finland and Europe to meet the vision that the SDP has for 2030.

Communication can never be the most important element of of political campaigning – vision is!

The committee recognises the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the basis for its work and aims to create sustainable solutions for big challenges such as the technological development and change of working life, the effect of humans on the globe, the future of democracy, the redistribution of global powers, economics and the unequal distribution of wealth as well as urbanisation.

The work has resulted in several high-quality programmes bringing SDP extensive positive media attention such as a tax reform proposal and a parental system renewal programme including radically equal elements, such as allocating 50% of the highly-paid leave to the father. Also, the SDP’s ambitious climate plan has made the news. Finnish Social Democrats are proud to announce that they want a carbon neutral Finland by 2035 and have outlined very concrete measures for achieving this goal.

Paradoxically, the slow and in-depth committee-work, producing long documents with realistic but ambitious solutions for the challenges of the future, have resulted in a huge change in the public image of the party. For the first time in decades, the Finnish Social Democrats are viewed as the most visionary future-oriented party. The Social Democrats are also finally taking the initiative in the public discussion.

The most efficient – and honest – way to communicate about a progressive Europe to the national audience is to find the ways to take the initiative, to frame the discussions in a Social Democratic way and to set the agenda of the discussion. This can only be done if the party has a lot to say about various topics and if the political agenda is coherent. It is especially important in the European Elections, which are overshadowed by the rise of the populist, nationalist and xenophobic political forces. The Social Democratic and Socialist parties have often fallen into the trap of trying to explain complicated things in a simplified way. Clear communication is important, but in a complex world the long-standing political initiative can only be held by the parties who understand nuances and side effects of complicated issues.

The Finnish Social Democrats aim to convince their audience with a combination of youthful and modern social media campaigning, personal meetings of voters coordinated through a smartphone application as well as the well prepared European political content and vision described above.

Communication methods are tools that are more important than ever. But they can never be the most important element of political campaigning – vision is.

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