Sell Your Ideas? Groundbreaking!

Julie Novak has a piece up at Catallaxy Files that highlights the continuing failure of classical liberals, libertarians and similar to engage with the essence of politics: sales and marketing.

This isn’t a repeat of yesterday’s post, but a supplement. Make a case on policy issues, yes, but make it in a way that is emotionally intelligent and will close the voting sale.

Too often those that argue for freedom speak abstractly, about principles not people, in Beltway jargon rather than plain speech. At times they come across as overly intense or borderline nutty. Generally they make no overt or covert emotional appeal for their case.

There’s a reason for the cliché hearts and minds. There’s a reason that appeals to class envy continually re-emerge and gain traction. There’s a reason the Left courts the arts and scribbling community, and it isn’t just because their analytic skills are non-existent. It’s because they reach the heart side of the cliché.

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, voting decisions and political allegiance are primarily emotional, primarily driven by character predispositions. You don’t have to agree with his political orientation to see Drew Westen’s point.

There’s a massive literature on influence and persuasion, on advertising models, on activist tools, on propaganda, on visual/auditory/kinesthetic styles of communication…and very little of it seems to have penetrated the world of either Liberals or classical liberals.

A tightly-written op-ed and a graph isn’t political communication. A harping, partisan media release isn’t political communication.

And as much as I agree with Ms Novak, changing language to better counter arguments is but putting a toe in the water. It still takes a reason-over-emotion view of political communications. Classical liberals need to change language, graphics and communication channels to elicit a different emotional response.

Unfortunately, the sales and marketing thinking that has reached Liberal world seems to focus on polling – responding rather than influencing. And where poll-driven messages are positive, they seek to lead by assuming that people are stupid, not by recognising they are emotion-driven.

Look, even graphic design generates an emotional response, and it is very poorly executed in centre-right politics.

This isn’t a call to neglect argument or to lie. It is a word of support for Ms Novak and a call for political communications that not only makes a case, but takes emotion seriously.

The Left has always taken emotion seriously. Right now it’s all they’ve got. But it’s enough to shape conventional wisdom, and it’s enough to win elections.


Memo Mark Textor and Liberal HQs across the country: Perhaps it’s time to start listening to Chris Christie?

“You see, Mr. President – real  leaders don’t  follow  polls. Real  leaders  change  polls.”

Update 2

Response to comment elsewhere.

Winning elections  is one thing. Winning the decades-long policy argument another. The Liberal Party has won plenty of elections over 40 years but has still lost the policy battle and the battle for conventional wisdom. Take a long view and despite Coalition governments, ‘acceptable’ policy has slid further and further to the Left. I’m not bagging Liberal campaigning for not winning enough. The last 3 years have seen record winning campaigns.

I’m talking about governments being able to drive the change needed once elected,without losing the electorate’s trust. Have Liberals or anyone else communicated classical liberal ideas in an emotionally engaging way so when they try to do what has to be done it falls on receptive ground? No. Lots of words, lots of opinion pieces, lots of narrow casting.

Have they built policy awareness independent of the electoral cycle so governments don’t surprise the electorate and lose their trust? No. Take Workers Comp in NSW as an example. Or public sector staffing, conditions, wages or benefit levels.

This gap constantly plays into the left’s hands, so we have the same battles in election after election while Green-Left policy is normalised as the educated, compassionate, intelligent centre. It isn’t Lib election campaigning – it’s the entire centre-right comms project between and in election campaigns.

Update 3

Lest I be seen as arguing for intellectual purity.

I agree: Electoral politics is the art of the possible.

Strategic politics, however, is the art of redefining the possible.

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