Two years after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s passage, the urgently-needed water dollars advocates secured in that bill (and the Inflation Reduction Act!) continues to make headlines. At least a few times per week, my Google Alerts light up with a press release from some federal agency about billions going out for climate resilience or water system upgrades, or a news story about “historic” water funding.
It’s great to see this ongoing attention, but we’d love to see more stories that focus on the benefits of infrastructure spending rather than the cost. Of course, that can be difficult when so many projects are still in planning stages or awaiting grants and loans, but with some lawmakers working to cut water spending in future funding packages, it’s essential that we make a strong and emotionally resonant case for ongoing investment.
Often, the language of water infrastructure can be quite cold and technical, using terms like household, domestic or residential rather than homes or families. When we get into the topic of clean, safe water–an issue voters care about more than almost any other–things get even more complicated, with the alphabet soup of PFAS, PPB, TMDL, and discussion of exceedances, impairments and violations that audiences may struggle to connect to the health of their loved ones or their ability to safely cook with tap water, prepare a baby bottle, or bathe their children.
How to translate polling data into potent messaging
To learn what voters care and worry about on infrastructure, check out our latest national poll. We covered key takeaways from a recent webinar on Infrastructure Messaging that Taps into Voter Values.
Here are a few polling toplines we shared:
- Safe drinking water is a (bipartisan!) political winner
- Voters want to protect nature for nature’s sake
- But, they also see the value of nature-based solutions (and they prefer that term to alternatives like “green” or “natural infrastructure”)
- There is broad support for targeting spending to communities with the most need–or those living with health and climate impacts
- The term “water equity” resonates more than “water justice”
Public opinion is changeable (we can shift it through education and advocacy!), but core values like family, freedom, spirituality, and fairness tend to remain the same. With those in mind, we propose the following message building blocks for your infrastructure communications:
- Values: Public health and safety, home and family, fairness, responsibility to future generations, care for nature
- Problem: Aging infrastructure and extreme weather have left many communities with toxic taps, dry wells, boil water notices, flooded basements, and more
- Solution: Justice-focused infrastructure investments that pair engineering and technology with nature-based projects, and prioritize areas with the most need
- Call to action: Get dollars to areas living with pollution and climate disasters, and continue investing in water
Here’s a water infrastructure message guide to help you communicate about topics like stormwater and climate resilience in a way that taps into core values.
A few other relevant resources:
- Water words that work
- Wonky words and simpler swaps spreadsheet (this is a living resource: feel free to add to it!)
- Soundbites that stick
- Message development guide
- Green infrastructure image insights and library
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to strategize more about infrastructure communications and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to learn about new resources, polling, trainings, and more from the Water Hub.
Featured image photo credit: Marcela Gara, Resource Media