A Brief Primer on Political Persuasion

Some political volunteers, though enthusiastic about their candidate, can unwittingly put-off a potential supporter or lose a chance to convert the supporter of another candidate due to a lack of knowledge of the basics political persuasion. There are hundreds of sophisticated techniques of persuasion, but this primer seeks only to lay down a basic set of rules that you can follow to be more effective and avoid development of counter-productive habits.

Rule 1: BE LIKABLE: If the source of a persuasive message is liked, the message is more effective. Dress well. Be hygienic. Don’t be loud, rude, pushy, overbearing, or confrontational. Smile. Be friendly. We can’t all be beautiful, but anyone can be nice and maybe crack a joke or two. Use a steady, deep tone of voice with women, a higher pitch for men. If possible, use a person of opposite gender to interact with a target.

Rule 2: LISTEN: Don’t do all the talking. In fact, do as little of it as possible. Ask questions about what is important to the target and listen carefully to the answers. Express interest in the target as a person. This helps you identify preferences and affiliation information which can be used persuasively and to make friends. Always affirm what the speak says, though you needn’t always agree, and, if appropriate, paraphrase the speaker to indicate you understood.

Rule 3: BODY TALK: Be aware of the target’s body language and your own. Maintain an open and attentive attitude, good posture, and full orientation toward the target. Mirroring the body language of the target can be an effective technique of persuasion or may be used to open the body posture and attitude of the target by mirroring and then leading their body postures.

Rule 4: NEVER GO NEGATIVE: Don’t argue. Being combative, argumentative, or condescending will get you nowhere. Watch your language for phrases such as "you don’t know…" "you are wrong…", "your candidate can’t/won’t/never", etc. Such language only creates resistance to persuasion by prompting the target to argue the contrary and possibly to dislike you. Just present your side, political disputes are never settled by arguing, only by convincing.

Rule 5: DISSONANCE IS YOUR FRIEND: Riding one’s self of inconsistency is what ultimately persuades people to change their minds. This seldom happens on the spot; especially if some existing conviction to the contrary exists. Look for compatibility between the affiliations, goals, beliefs, morals, and priorities of the target and the candidate. Conversely, look for inconsistencies with political views you wish the target to change. If these inconsistencies are pointed out, the target can begin the process of convincing themselves to change.

Rule 6: EMOTION GOOD / LOGIC BAD: Many, perhaps most, people do not need or want logic based reasons to support a candidate. Learn to recognize those who make decisions intuitively and provide the sort of persuasion they respond to:
glittering generalities (grand and positive words and phrases),
positive associations (ties the candidate to positive things in target’s mind),
personal connections (finding connection between the target and the view or candidate),
social proof (demonstrate the depth of candidate’s support),
esteem elevation (imply that the target is a good/quality person for supporting candidate),
moral values and virtue (tie target’s convictions to the candidate),
reciprocity (give the target something so that they feel beholden), and
authority (sources the target trusts which accepts what you want the target to accept)

Rule 7: BUILD FRAMES: Advanced Technique: Practice creating issue frames which place political choices in a context which makes it more likely that the target will want to agree with you. An example of such a frame is Dean’s standard response to his Bush tax cut repeal being called a tax increase. He will generally say something like, "Do I think that people will trade a tax cut they never got for a balanced budget, universal access to healthcare, and all the other great things that we can do with that money, instead of giving most of it to people like Ken Lay? You bet I do." Understanding people’s priorities and situation helps you create effective frames. Learn to recognize frames, deconstruct them and use the materials to build your own to become a highly effective advocate.