“When people are voting against their interests, more interest-based arguments don’t help.”

Do you wonder why Democrats have gone from a significant victory in 2008 to looking at big losses in Congress in 2010? Do you wonder what it is the Republicans know and what the Democrats need to learn to avoid losing in 2012?

I’ve referenced author George Lakoff in my postings several times, and he has another message for Democrats that could help stop or maybe reverse these trends.

It’s about morale systems – not interest-based arguments.

In the conservative moral system, the highest value is preserving and extending the moral system itself. That is why they keep saying no to Obama’s proposals, even voting against their own ideas when Obama accepts them. To give Obama any victory at all would be a blow to their moral system. Their moral system requires non-cooperation. That is a major thing the Obama administration has not understood.

Lakoff’s solution is:

It is morality, not just the right policy, that excites voters, that moves them to action — that creates movements. Legislative action must come from a moral center, with moral language repeated over and over.

What should be avoided, besides policy-wonk and pure-policy discourse? Again, the answer comes from Neuroscience 101. Offense not defense. Argue for your values. Frame all issues in terms of your values. Avoid their language, even in arguing against them. … Don’t list their arguments and argue against them using their language. It just activates their arguments in the brains of listeners.

Don’t move to the right in your discourse or action. That will just strengthen the conservative moral system in the brains of swing thinkers. Frame your arguments from your moral position.

In addition, beware of the same pollsters and focus-group-dialers who missed Scott Brown’s moral message to the swing-thinkers in Massachusetts and claimed that Martha Coakley would win so handily that she could go on vacation. Just because a message plays well in focus-group-dialing doesn’t mean it will win elections.

Finally, Democrats need a truly effective communication system. They need unified, morally-based framing of issues. They need to train spokespeople all over the country in using such framing and avoiding mistakes. They need to organize those spokespeople. And they need to book them, as conservatives do, on radio, TV, in civic and religious groups, in schools and universities. This is doable, but this late, it will take resolve from the top.

The Obama campaign promoted progressive morale values and won the elections. The Obama administration has resorted to policyspeak and interest-based arguments and has been losing or barely winning.



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About Andy Hailey

Vietnam Vet, UT El Paso Grad, Retired Aerospace Engineer, former union rep, 60’s Republican now progressive, web admin, blogger.

2 Responses to “When people are voting against their interests, more interest-based arguments don’t help.”

  1. Mark Adams says:

    This is like what Drew Westen says in his book ‘The Political Brain: the role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation’.

  2. ep3 says:

    Uh no. This is about obama as KY. If he had came into office actually doing change, the rich would have gotten mad and us rabble would have banded together and there would have actually been change in a direction the rich ppl don’t want to go. So we get this nice looking guy who makes us throw out our common sense about fixing real problems and we get corporate giveaways that are called reform