September 16, 2018

Patterns of political persuasion

This is the introduction to a multi-post series on political persuasion. Other posts in the series are linked below.

Politics, we keep hearing, is partisan, emotional, “tribal” and generally devoid of rationality, with voters who are essentially impossible to persuade. There’s much truth to that — but it can’t be the whole story! Election outcomes are not all foreordained. Campaigning and other political persuasion do actually influence political outcomes.

How does this influence work? While a complete exposition is obviously beyond the scope of this blog, I think we can cover substantial ground. 

0. Let’s start by acknowledging a central truism — voters’ views are generally some combination of:

In recent elections, the change orientation has usually been dominant.

1. Changing people’s minds and feelings outright is very difficult, and it’s rare that you get to pitch at a tabula rasa. So if you’re trying to influence somebody’s heartfelt beliefs, your best chances are usually to:

That part of the framework was spelled out in an earlier post on modifying beliefs.

2. Many negative emotions can play into voters’ desires for change. The most broadly applicable is surely fear. But while fear is a hugely powerful motivator, it’s an unreliable one.

Along with fear, the other key negative political emotion is outrage. In practice, “outrage” equates roughly to anger hot enough that somebody is motivated to act on it”. So if you want quick results, “outrage” is where you should look. But outrage can also be characterized as “anger at outrageousness”, where outrageousness is:

Those points are spelled out across several posts, with subjects that include fear, outrage, or negative emotions in general.

3. People worry not only about their own emotions, but also what they believe the feelings of leaders and other powerful folks to be. The respect/disdain spectrum is important here; Hillary Clinton was punished by her “deplorables”, Mitt Romney by his “47%”. Even more important, I think – and certainly more connected to practical consequences – is the judgment as to whether leaders and “elites” care about the same things voters do.

That’s spelled out in a post about accusations of recklessness or insufficient caring.

4. Identity-based politics have been around for all of recorded history. If nothing else, identity-based nationalism is central to a large fraction of all war efforts. The patrician/plebian distinction dates back to the beginnings of ancient Rome. The Sunni-Shiite split started upon the death of Mohammed.

Identity is also huge in modern democracies, be it in terms of race, religion, region, gender, class or other divisions. Some reasons are almost immune to persuasion, for example:

But actual identity-based persuasion is also important, in multiple ways.

5. Indeed, I believe that a political version of the layered messaging model could be based on a consequences chain like:

Identity + Biography –> Priorities + Abilities –> Results

The basic idea here is:

6. There’s yet one more major theme in political persuasion we could discuss, namely hope. But these days, it’s hard to think of anything say about that topic. 🙁

Related links


4 Responses to “Patterns of political persuasion”

  1. Patterns of outrage | Strategic Messaging on September 16th, 2018 3:10 am

    […] This post is part of a series focused on political persuasion. Others in the series are linked from an introductory overview. […]

  2. Accusations of recklessness or insufficient caring | Strategic Messaging on September 16th, 2018 3:11 am

    […] This post is part of a series focused on political persuasion. Others in the series are linked from an introductory overview. […]

  3. Fear, anger, loathing, shame and disgust | Strategic Messaging on September 16th, 2018 3:14 am

    […] This post is part of a series focused on political persuasion. Others in the series are linked from an introductory overview. […]

  4. can't stop thinking about my ex on October 10th, 2022 7:24 am

    can’t stop thinking about my ex

    Strategic Messaging – Marketing isn\'t just a conversation. It\'s a debate!

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