Whew. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but it’s been an intense election season in the U.S.
And if you haven’t noticed … I hope your visit to rural Mongolia has been enjoyable and productive.
Wherever you may happen to live, watching political campaigns is a fascinating — and sometimes nerve-wracking — way to see the art of persuasion in action.
Now that we’re (thankfully) just about wrapped up with the U.S. election, I thought it would be interesting to look at how political persuasion works, how it’s being used, and how it entwines itself through our daily lives.
We’ll start with the most powerful force in political persuasion … and in lots of other persuasive arguments.
Unity is the granddaddy
The phenomenon that Robert Cialdini calls Unity (you could also call it group identity) has always been one of the most important forces in politics. It’s why we have political parties.
“The kind of candidate I vote for” quickly becomes, for many, “who I am.”
Unity comes from beliefs, and beliefs shape nearly everything we perceive. What we pay attention to, the weight we give different arguments, and the lens we use to interpret what we see all come from beliefs.
By the way, that isn’t just true for political campaigns. It’s how the human mind works — and if you imagine that you’re one of the special few who’s immune to bias, you’ll be that much more vulnerable to it.
When I first got online, we thought that connecting human minds across the globe would make it virtually impossible to lie, manipulate, or distort, because the collective would automatically swoop in and correct the distorted information.
I’ll just wait here for a moment while you finish laughing.
Instead, the web created massive, loose tribes of belief (at times you might call them gangs), armed with their own beliefs and — sadly often — their own facts.
Your content may have nothing to do with politics — maybe you write about healthcare, or finance, or parenting.
But all content is informed by beliefs. The more clearly we can see our own worldview, the better able we’ll be to attract like-minded audiences and serve them well.
Stories are more powerful than anything (except Unity)
The most interesting political ads for me are the stories about “people like us” who have particular challenges and difficulties — and who illustrate the candidates’ positions on different issues.
Even when they’re told very simply (remember Joe the Plumber?), they’re powerful.
Stories cut through the clutter of platform, politics, and pontification, and get to the root of why we bother voting at all.
A well-crafted story can move us to laughter, astonishment, tears, or anger (all the Facebook reaction icons!) — sometimes within the span of a minute or two.
Where do we find great stories?
The best way to find great stories is to listen to your “constituents” — the people who read your blog, listen to your podcast, watch your videos, and buy your products or services.
The dance between listening and speaking (Get out and vote!)
Good politicians (oxymoron?) listen to uncover what’s not right, so they can speak to it and maybe even improve things.
Good content creators are listeners as well. We make a point of going where our customers are, listening for problems, capturing snippets of language, and trying to understand the deep ideas and values that move our audiences.
But there’s also a time to participate, and not just listen.
So: If you’re a U.S. voter and you haven’t already done it, please vote today!
There aren’t any perfect candidates (in any election, anywhere), but most people reading this have the tremendous good fortune to be able to weigh in on the laws that govern us.
Did you vote? Let us know in the comments! In the interest of keeping some shred of civility, please refrain from mentioning your candidate … or that other one you can’t stand.