Winning the message war: A handbook for Iowa progressives

Katy Siddall is messaging director of Progress Iowa.

A progressive group is encouraging Iowans to use their voice to call for change, and providing polling and research as a resource. Progress Iowa, a statewide research and advocacy organization, released a comprehensive handbook with message recommendations based on the research they’ve conducted during the past year. 

The handbook, Winning the Message War: A Handbook for Iowa Progressives, summarizes the best of 88 different messages Progress Iowa poll tested during the past fourteen months. Progress Iowa hopes the handbook will be a resource for activists, elected officials, and other organizations who want a winning message when they speak out about the policies impacting their communities. 

Winning the Message War and an additional twenty-two message guides are publicly available at

“If progressives take nothing else from our handbook, I hope they remember to lead with values and speak out for what we believe in,” said Katy Siddall, the Messaging Director for Progress Iowa who led the research conducted by the organization over the past year. “Iowans of all backgrounds are facing unprecedented attacks from legislators committed to the Trump playbook. They need to know who’s fighting for them and how. Progressive messengers need to be explicit and keep our values front and center.” 

Progress Iowa message research provides helpful insights into strategies that persuade Iowans. The group spent the last year sharing their findings with activists and legislators across the state, conducting trainings and briefings to empower progressive Iowans. 

“This is exactly what Iowa progressives need right now,” said Senator Pam Jochum of Dubuque. “Developing our message based on research is critical to creating wins for Iowa families. We need to build long-term change in Iowa, and we need to empower everyone willing to use their voice to make it happen. By sharing these message recommendations, it gives us the opportunity to have a united voice.”

“Progress Iowa has been a strong support and partner for working families in Iowa, and their message expertise is exactly what we need,” said Charlie Wishman, President of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO. “Every progressive activist, organization, and elected official who wants to start winning again should read every word of this guide and put it to good use.”

“The messaging developed by Progress Iowa has been integral to our communications work in our coalitions and in our advocacy efforts,” said Connie Ryan, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. “Our advocates and Iowans of all backgrounds want to speak up for their communities and all Iowans. This research will help us all tell the story about the state and country in which we want to live.” 

The findings in Progress Iowa’s polling are consistent with results from their 2022 exit poll with Public Policy Polling. Their polling and message research show Iowans agree with progressive values and policies.

“We need to tell our story, share our values, and we need to do that together to work toward common goals,” said Iowa Representative J.D. Scholten of Sioux City. “Progressives across Iowa are fighting tooth and nail to help their communities. This handbook is a wonderful resource and reminder: to talk about our values and tell our fellow Iowans exactly what we’re fighting for.”

Winning the Message War: A Handbook for Iowa Progressives and Progress Iowa message guidance are available for public use. Iowans are encouraged to utilize the guidance for every level of advocacy and contact Progress Iowa for more information on trainings and upcoming message research. 

Click here to access the Handbook!

Progress Iowa is the state’s leading progressive communications hub. We provide resources to activists, elected officials, and progressive organizations, and we educate Iowans about public policy. Most importantly, we help progressives deliver a winning message. Our team gives advocates, leaders, and elected officials the tools they need to stand up for our values. 

We prioritize a research-based approach to message development. We utilize social media analysis, examine local media, and conduct polling to develop our messaging materials. During the last 14 months, we polled Iowans to measure the effectiveness of 88 distinct messages. You can read our most successful results in 22 separate guides, available online to the public at

The polling we conducted with GrowProgress provides insight into strategies every progressive in Iowa should consider, whether you have a megaphone at the state Capitol, a social media account, or an email for your representatives. 

With research backing up our message recommendations, we help Iowans tell their story in the most effective way possible. Whether you are writing a tweet, letter to the editor, or if you are an elected official delivering remarks at the state capitol, we want our guidance shared widely. Our research proves that our messages work and will shift Iowans toward more progressive views if we take these lessons to heart. 

Here’s what we learned: 

Iowans respond to results.

Tangible results matter to Iowans. We want specifics about how the policy you’re fighting for will impact us. When we talk about specific deliverables, like broadband funds, child tax cuts that saved parents thousands, local grants saving small businesses, and increasing child care through the American Rescue Plan Act, Iowans respond favorably.

While this advice seems obvious, we all see messages caught up in vague generalizations and negations of the other side. Focusing on specific goals and bragging rights takes discipline. But that discipline pays dividends, drawing an audience that is listening and agreeing with you. 

Iowans respond well to messages that invoke freedom.

Not only do we relate culturally, but the current state of affairs inspires many to fear the loss of freedom and things we rely on, like financial freedom thanks to Medicare and Social Security, which Republicans hope to chop and privatize. The overturning of Roe v. Wade made this fear more real and personal. Our research confirmed legislators willing to deny Iowans the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to abortion will likely suffer lower approval numbers. 

Iowans understand that conservative politicians and policies sell us out to corporations.

And it isn’t just in theory. Corporate greed messages work because that greed is hurting every family in Iowa. Corporate greed makes our tax system less fair because they don’t pay what they owe. Meat monopolies bully and shortchange our farmers. The price of milk, diapers and other staples skyrocket because of price gouging.

Early in 2022, Iowans told us that Governor Kim Reynolds is best described as a corporate sellout (as opposed to being defined by her corruption or extremism). Further polling showed the effectiveness of the corporate greed message frame extends to other sellouts who hold office.

Our winning messages beat the Republican message – by double digits.

We know President Donald Trump did a great deal of damage to Iowa, leaving us with MAGA Republicans committed to his policy playbook. But our results echo the findings from Progress Iowa’s 2022 exit poll, in which a majority of Iowans agreed with progressive policies. 

Working with our pollsters at GrowProgress, we were able to put our messages side by side with those coming from the right. In our opposition message research, we didn’t shy away from our values or try to co-opt theirs. We said what we believe. And we defined the opposition as “MAGA” or “Trump” Republicans. This language avoids the term “extreme,” which can alienate Republicans who might be receptive to our message. Our messaging creates space for Independents and Republicans to connect with progressive values. 

Our winning messages prove that progressive values are popular.

Background checks for gun safety. Public funds for public schools. Support for working families who drive the economy. The list of the good we want to do as progressives can seem never-ending. But with so much at stake and a good deal of work to do, moving the needle further is critical. Even when it’s difficult.

To push persuasion further regarding gun safety and education, we poll-tested a variety of angles and current events. By invoking the need for an honest education and common sense gun laws, our messages were able to draw even more people to already popular stances.

The bottom line: our research points to several winning strategies.

We need to stand up for what we believe in. We need to define the opposition as corporate sellouts and get specific. Most importantly, we can win.

Click here to get the full Handbook!

Top image: Progress Iowa logo.

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  • I appreciate this work, and am grateful to those who contributed to it...

    …and of course I hope/assume that it will help with winning elections in the future. Thank you, Progress Iowa.

    I have to add, however, that it was disconcerting to skim the Handbook and see so many specific concerns mentioned, from diabetes to guns to child care to grocery costs to abortion to schools and others, but see no environmental concerns except for two very brief mentions of drinking water.

    I am absolutely not questioning the results of the research. And of course there is no point in trying to argue with political reality. I grew up, however, in a state where clean water, public lands, outdoor recreation, and related concerns were pretty fundamental to the culture, and the contrast with Iowa struck me when I skimmed the linked materials.

    The research results reinforce that I am living in a state where my top values do not seem to be shared by many if not most of the other voters. (Not even climate change?) It’s a sad feeling.