Thursday, January 10, 2013

Changing your vocabulary to convert your opponents

Last week Mark Pack, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, pointed us to an article on Slate about the way gay rights activists in Maryland and Maine have changed their tactics and won referendums to bring in same-sex marriage in those states.

The article is by Nathaniel Frank, who writes:
After the losses in Maine in 2009 and California a year earlier, LGBT advocates knew they needed to craft an effective [message]… 
For decades, gay advocates had framed their arguments in terms of equal rights and government benefits, often using rhetoric that was confrontational (“We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”) and demanding (“We deserve equal rights now!”). Third Way, a centrist think tank working in the coalition with Freedom To Marry, began to unpack exactly how straight people reacted to such tactics. The group found that when straight people were asked what marriage meant to them, they spoke of love, commitment and responsibility. But when asked why they thought gay people wanted to marry, they cited rights and benefits. Tapping into anti-gay stereotypes, they suggested gay people wanted marriage for selfish reasons while they themselves wanted to express love and commitment. 
The gay rights coalition’s response was the “Why Marriage Matters” campaign. Its message was “love, commitment, family,” with no mention of rights or benefits. On the surface, it looks like any garden-variety public education campaign, a little vague, a little sappy. But … it signaled a sea change in the way gay advocates pled their case. This was a way to invite straight people to empathize with gay people, to reassure the majority that gay people wanted the same things that they did, and to shift focus from minority rights to points of commonality. The year Why Marriage Matters rolled out, 2011, was also the year that a slew of polls first showed majority national support for same-sex marriage.
I was reminded of Mark's post when I came across a press release from the Association for Psychological Science in my day job:
Public opinion on environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, and toxic waste seems to fall along increasingly partisan lines. But new research suggests that environmental messages framed in terms of conservative morals — describing environmental stewardship in terms of fending off threats to the “purity” and “sanctity” of Earth and our bodies — may help to narrow the partisan gap. 
A study from researchers at UC Berkeley has found that while people who identified themselves as conservatives tend to be less concerned about the environment than their liberal counterparts, their motivation increased significantly when they read articles that stressed the need to “protect the purity of the environment” and were shown such repellant images as a person drinking dirty water, a forest filled with garbage, and a city under a cloud of smog ...
“These findings offer the prospect of pro-environmental persuasion across party lines,” said study co-author Robb Willer of UC Berkeley. “Reaching out to conservatives in a respectful and persuasive way is critical, because large numbers of Americans will need to support significant environment reforms if we are going to deal effectively with climate change, in particular.”
The idea is the same: you keep your views but change the language in which you campaign for them in order to win people over.

But in Briain at least, the idea that Conservatives do not instinctively care for the natural world shows how far that party has strayed from its philosophical roots.


Nick said...

Have you read Drew Westen's The Political Brain? It covers similar topics to this, particularly the idea of how the framing of narratives and messages can activate different (positive and negative) networks in the brain.

I'm in the midst of reading it, and it'll likely generate a blog post or two next week, but I thought it might mesh with some of your interests.

Louise Ankers said...

I'm also very interested in psychology of politics, as my own blog posts keep on ending up there.

I'm reading a very old book right now, Human Nature in Politics by Graham Wallas, which was written in 1908.

I'm also going to get the book mentioned in the comment above. Thanks for that.

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for the comments: I am interested in Graham Wallas too and will look for The Political Brain.

The psychologist I got to comment on this story at work referred to Petty and Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model.

Anonymous said...

DO get The Political Brain. It was published in the USA by PublicAffairs in 2007 by a Democrat who was fed up with the Democrats winning the arguments and losing the elections. And do recommend it to others. If more of us read it, we might start winning more instead of wondering why we have the best policies but the other parties still win.

Jo Hayes said...

Sorry, that last comment was not Anonymous, it was me.