What is political persuasion? Well, most of us want to get out there and rage against the system. We want to take the battle straight to ‘them’ and bring change and all that good stuff.
By the time the first coffee of the day has well and truly settled into the first bathroom break of the morning, we usually arrive at two conclusions – One, we really need to start waking up earlier and get some jogging and stuff done. And secondly, while we are totally ready to change, perhaps the only vote we will get is from our mom.
But imagine if you kept thinking about how to get someone other than your birth-giver to back your bid to be president of the new world government you plan to set up.
That is the start of a political campaign. And when some good friends join you (who, for legal reasons, cannot be defined as ‘yes men’) and you all actually do something to get those votes – you enter the realm of political persuasion.
And here’s how you can get better at it.
What is political persuasion?
Persuasion is the art of getting someone to do what you want. Political persuasion is when someone votes the way you want.
And despite what the movies may have convinced you, very little mind-changing happens when someone is on their knees begging. You will find that real-life campaigning has very little begging on the knees. However, you should be prepared for any eventuality.
Political persuasion will more often take the form of framing your arguments, speaking to voters, and handling debates and advertisements.
How to make political persuasion work for you
Political speeches are not academic papers. You are here to convince people using facts, anecdotes, and the strength of your argument. What you aren’t here to do is cite 300 examples to support your research. Trust us – the one person in the audience who cares that much has not even attended the event.
For the rest of those actually listening to you – keeping them awake may keep your prospects afloat a lot longer than most people realize.
Now that we have the essentials out of the way, i.e., keep the audience awake (optional), let’s get into some serious persuasive tactics.
Political persuasion: Conveying values is key
“If you want to persuade, appeal to interest, not to reason.” – Benjamin Franklin
In July 2022, the mayor of Mexico’s San Pedro Huamelula, Victor Hugo Sosa, married an alligator in a happy ceremony, complete with music and dancing, and several kisses on the snout of his alligator bride. The ceremony is supposed to bring ‘abundance’ and happiness to the town. (Yes, there is a picture in the article).
Now, I am not saying you necessarily will end up having to marry some other species to win an election (or even a fellow human, if you are so inclined – no judgment). But in case you had to – how would you convey to undecided voters that you had not completely detached from reality?
Well, in Sosa’s case – he proved beyond all doubt that he respected local tradition and was willing to do almost anything to ensure the happiness of his town. If the wedding made them happy, he was happy. If the ritual bought some good luck – the finest suit was already pressed and ready to go.
There is a big difference between “I married an alligator, vote for me” and “I will do anything for your happiness – including marrying a reptile if I have to.” – even though the end result is the same.
And this was proven scientifically as well. In a series of experiments by Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg, they found that the way in which a political stance is framed influenced whether people supported it.
The takeaway here is to present your political platform in a way that appeals to the moral values of the people you are trying to persuade.
Political persuasion: Molding a candidate’s image
“The Dukasis people know their man is not a great speaker. His cadence is wrong. He sometimes swallows his words. His inflections are often off. Above all he exhibits very little patience” – Some reporter flattening the image of a man you have barely heard of. Don’t worry – you know the man who beat him – HW Bush.
Step one of developing your candidate’s image would be ensuring your candidate is never described like how the ‘loser of the 1989 Presidential election’ was damned by that journalist, who just bodied the man during his own convention.
Shaping a candidate’s image is not a quick process or an easy one. Judgments are passed at a glance, and it can be hard for a candidate to break through negative perceptions. That’s precisely why it requires careful planning from the beginning of a campaign.
The construction of a candidate’s image involves several things:
- The perception of a candidate’s personality traits.
- The ability of voters to identify with the candidate on a personal level.
- Leadership and oratory abilities displayed by the candidate.
- On a lesser scale, image is also influenced by how the candidate is treated by contemporaries, political scandals, and spiritual values.
Persuasion here involves highlighting a candidate’s winning attributes to the electorate.
FDR won his first two terms as President, and then a third, and then a fourth, not simply because he was a good leader, but also because of a carefully molded image.
First and foremost was to show that he was a man of the people. In a series of radio addresses he called “fireside chats,” he spoke with familiarity about topics that were relevant and critical.
Millions of Americans tuned in to listen, helping cement FDR’s candidacy.
While radio might be considered an outdated mode of broadcasting, it’s still possible to carry forward the spirit of those radio sessions in other ways.
Ensure every interaction your candidate has reinforces the values they seek to highlight – from the food they eat to the clothes they wear. Try to keep it as broad-based as possible and limit sudden or unplanned interactions.
Political persuasion: Identifying and targeting an enemy
When Machiavelli wrote ‘The Prince,’ It could be argued that he didn’t write it for the conniving tyrants of his age—they wouldn’t need it—but as a guidebook for good and honest rulers to take what they would from shadier tactics to stay in power.
‘Creating your enemy’ is a method of political persuasion straight from Macchiavelli’s playbook that digs deep into voter psychology.
The enemy can be a group, a policy issue, or more obviously, your opposing candidate.
When Donald Trump ran for President in 2016, he was a master of this persuasion tactic.
Take the Wikipedia entry of his list of nicknames and phrases for political opponents, media figures, ethnic groups, organizations, and foreign leaders, for example (200+ and counting).
But the most memorable were his rallying cries of ‘Build the wall’ and ‘Drain the swamp’, targeting immigrants, and the government, which was perceived as corrupt among his supporters.
The disadvantage to this particular method of persuasion is that it may alienate parts of the voter base.
How do you employ this tactic in a way that’s morally agreeable? Focus on the issues.
As mentioned before, many voters are ‘single-issue voters’. Take the issue that resonates most and identify ‘the enemy’ in that issue.
Then, reinforce it every chance you get.
If you look at any politician, or political candidate’s social media feed or interviews, you will find that they bring up the same issues and talking points over and over again.
Not because they have run out of things to say, but because repetition works.
Political persuasion: Gathering endorsements
Another method of political persuasion is getting endorsed by influencers. Endorsements can increase your trustworthiness in the eyes of voters.
We can observe the power of a political endorsement as recently as the 2020 Democratic Primary race.
“I have never seen an endorsement have as big an impact as Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden in South Carolina. 47% of South Carolina voters said it was either the most important factor in their vote or an important factor. That is enormous.”
A single endorsement shifted the momentum in the race from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden.
As we see in the example of South Carolina, not any endorsement will do. Find people or organizations who hold sway with voters and reach out to them.
Consider gathering endorsements from:
- Political Parties
- Influential locals
- Community Leaders
- Local unions
- Local newspapers
Rarely, an influential organization or individual might reach out to a candidate to endorse them. In most cases, however, gathering endorsements involves building relationships.
Most prominent organizations have a process for candidates to follow to apply for an endorsement. You might need to fill out a questionnaire outlining how the policies you are running on might align with those of the organization.
If you’re seeking an endorsement from individuals:
- Identify candidates to gather endorsements from.
- Have face-to-face meetings or phone calls.
- Present your platform to get them on board.
Advertise these endorsements on channels like social media (and alert the press!)
Political persuasion: Peer-to-peer and social persuasion
Your campaign doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Get help from existing supporters and recruit volunteers to build your base and get out the vote.
Using relational organizing, ask your supporters to reach out to their friends and family and convince them to vote for your candidate.
Our tool completes your digital organizing suite, adding to your existing text banking and phone banking capabilities. Tap into the personal networks of your volunteers as they reach out to their friends and family on your behalf.
The easiest way to utilize peer-to-peer persuasion is by asking supporters on social media to be vocal about their support and their participation in the election process.
For example, a local influencer (or even a family member) being open about their support for your candidacy on social media can encourage others to take a closer look at your platform.
In June 2018, the Democratic party saw relational organizing play a pivotal role in the House primaries. A 28-year-old political newcomer (a social democrat to boot), up-seated a 10-year incumbent.
That’s how AOC defeated Mr. Crowley with more than 57% of the votes.
Political persuasion for your supporters
When it comes to your own supporters, the biggest challenge is getting them to the polls. Persuasion techniques need to focus on showing them the importance of voting, as well as making it easy for them to do so.
Among the most important details voters need to know are:
- How to register to vote
- How to request a ballot
- Voting deadlines for early voting
- Their polling location
You must ensure that this information reaches your supporters so that they can exercise their right to vote.
The most effective tactics to get out the vote involve door-to-door canvassing, political phone banking, and texting.
The common thread is that each of these methods allows you to have personal conversations with voters, and clear up any doubts they have about going to the polls for you.
Channels for political persuasion
Face-to-face interaction (in the case of door-to-door canvassing)
Social media has its advantages, but face-to-face interaction is deeply personal. Two people having a respectful conversation door-to-door are more likely to find common ground.
“Facebook ads cannot substitute for face-to-face communication with other humans and voters,” said Ahmed Al-Rawi, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication who studies political activity on social media.
He was speaking in an article analyzing how in Canada in 2022, Vancouver’s NPA party spent big on Facebook and did poorly, while the winning ABC party concentrated on door-knocking.
“More and more people aren’t answering their phones for unknown numbers. They ignore texts. They don’t come to community events or town halls, so your best bet is to meet them where they are…it’s a really good way to measure your support level.” shares Mandi Johnson, senior campaign strategist with Crestview Strategy. She has run campaigns for more than a decade and backs door-to-door canvassing even in 2023.
Like face-to-face interactions, phone calls are a one-to-one channel of communication. What it sacrifices in terms of individuals interacting with each other in person, it gains by being able to conduct outreach at a much larger scale.
A study found that non-partisan phone calls can raise voter turnout if they are sufficiently personal – by about 3%. In terms of costs, it is competitive when compared to door-to-door campaigning.
Texting, specifically peer-to-peer texting, has emerged as a channel that’s great for encouraging people to take action. I.e., anything from clicking on a link to donate to answering a survey. For political persuasion, it means getting out to vote.
News channels and newspapers
The influence of the media cannot be understated. The majority of people rely on the news, be it on TV or online to get their political information. That means it’s important to build a good relationship with your local news organizations that will be covering your campaign.
Social media and ads
Social media is the product of a relatively new era of mass communication that also allows a degree of personalization. Coming up right after traditional news as a source of information for voters, it is almost essential when it comes to putting any voter persuasion tactic in play.
Once you have the messaging right, political persuasion comes down to being present on the channels that are frequented by the voters you’re targeting. Hopefully, this post helped you with both of those points.