- Daniela Busciglio is the owner of DFB Consulting, a science-based political consulting firm in Oklahoma City.
This past spring, applied linguistic scientist Daniela Busciglio was offered a tenured teaching position at University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island. She was a non-tenured linguistics professor at University of Oklahoma at the time. A true academic who had spent the past decade immersed in the trenches of research while earning her master’s degree and Ph.D., Busciglio finally hit the mother lode of academia: a position and salary guaranteed for life.
Then Busciglio did something that shocked even herself. She turned the position down.
“Every move in my life had been calculated,” she said. “I’m a great planner, I’m a logical person and I like making my parents and mentors proud. Accepting the offer would have been the next smart thing to do.”
A shift in values, sparked by the 2016 presidential election, she said, caused her to think twice.
Like many Americans, Busciglio, 36, watched the presidential debates on TV with interest and amusement. Her academically trained mind, however, noted the key words and phrases that Republican candidates used to connect with their voter base. Also, she became aware of the unorganized and unintentional way in which Democrats typically conveyed their viewpoints.
“Most Republican issues are yes or no issues,” she said. “Are they for abortion? No. Are they for gun rights? Yes. With Democrats, there’s a lot of gray. There are many Democrats who are for abortion in the instance that a woman has been raped, for instance, and they are for gun rights so long as there are gun restrictions as well. Democrats often have long-winded explanations that, quite frankly, people get bored listening to.”
While Busciglio doesn’t consider herself a political expert, she does consider herself a language expert, and in 2016, she saw a desperate need for Democratic candidates to better express themselves verbally.
“The Republican Party is very smart,” Busciglio said. “They have put a lot of money behind research to discover the key phrases, terms, body language and actions that appeal to their voter base. To win elections, Republican candidates use that information to their advantage. This is where Democratic candidates fall short. They may have political consultants, but they don’t have science-based political consultants.”
Strong messagingBusciglio is one of only handful of recognized cognitive campaign consultants in the nation. For more reasons than one, the East Coast native decided that Oklahoma was where she wanted to set up shop. DFB Consulting was the result, she said, of a personal and professional awakening.
“I felt a strong desire to contribute to the community in a way that my research couldn’t,” she said.
She left her teaching position at OU and began offering her services pro bono to female progressive candidates.
“People today view progressiveness as a bad word,” she said. “But the establishment of the United States of America was a progressive move. Candidates today talk about holding true to our values when, in fact, all they are doing is helping us lose sight of our values. Somehow, in the past few years, we have become a nation that is a scary place to live, where most of us believe the government is not for us and where equal rights don’t exist and kindness is forgotten. These are our roots and our values, and they are being left behind.”
Busciglio said progressive women, regardless of their political affiliation, tend to enact policies that have a direct positive impact on their communities.
That belief is held by the Oklahoma nonpartisan organization Sally’s List. The organization’s mission is to recruit, train and help elect progressive women to public office in Oklahoma. Devyn Denton, who is running for House District 39, said the support she has received from both Sally’s List and DFB Consulting has made all the difference.
“I am her biggest fan,” Denton said of Busciglio. “If you asked me to speak in front of a room of nurses, I would have no problem — I’ve done that almost all of my life. But to speak as a politician in front of hundreds of people? I had no idea where to start.”
Busciglio told Denton to start by forgetting the notion that she had to become a politician to be elected.
“I think Americans have had enough of politicians,” Busciglio said. “I want today’s candidates to know who they are and why they are running and then to speak from the heart … strategically.”
Denton, who has been a teacher, nurse and volunteer firefighter, said she realized through her time spent with Busciglio that what she really wants to do is what she has done all her life: take care of Oklahomans. She has already made history by being the first African-American woman to run for House District 39.
Fellow Sally’s List-endorsed candidate and Busciglio client Katelyn Dockery, who is running for House District 54, said Busciglio helped her better express herself verbally.
“She asked me why I was running and what my values are,” Dockery said. “We then focused on strong ways I could express those values.”
Positively politicalOne method of powerful campaigning, Busciglio said, is to speak positively.
“When Nixon said, ‘I am not a crook,’ for example, all that people took away from that was that this guy was a crook,” she said. “Don’t tell people what you’re not; tell them what you are. Use positive, active voice.”
The human brain is biologically wired to picture the very things that we hear, even if what we hear is said in a negative context, Busciglio said.
“If I tell you not to think of an elephant, the first thing you do is picture an elephant,” Busciglio said.
When candidates express their hopes and values sufficiently and with confidence, she said, the message packs a powerful punch.
Busciglio continues to offer progressive women candidates free consultations and will offer workshops on cognitive-based communication in October and November.
She hopes her efforts and the support that Sally’s List offers will eventually yield equal representation, both nationally and in Oklahoma, where women comprise 51 percent of the population but only 12.8 percent of the Legislature.