Thursday, July 16, 2015

More on What Non-Profit Communicators Can Learn from the Gay Marriage Movement

Earlier this year I wrote about how gay marriage activists had successfully used stories to influence public opinion in the U.S. in favour of gay marriage. 

In a recent article in the Atlantic, Molly Ball wrote the idea behind that strategy.

A major factor in winning over voters was to those four state wins “was an overhaul in the message used to win over voters—from an argument about the rights and benefits of marriage to one about the fundamental human desire for love and commitment.”

This, she writes, is another lesson Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, believes other movements could learn: Make an emotional argument based on positive values. 

For years, pollsters told gay-marriage advocates that attacking discrimination and invoking the Constitution were their most resonant arguments—but over and over, these cerebral ideas proved no match for the visceral appeal of the opposition’s messages about family and faith. And the emphasis on rights convinced many voters that what gay people wanted out of marriage was fundamentally different than what they thought marriage was about.

“It was by framing the issue in personal terms that campaigners started to win hearts and minds. This is something immigration reformers have recently tried to do by making young strivers—the “dreamers”—the human face of their movement.”

The other thing gay marriage campaigners did to spread their message was to use a sophisticated persuasion campaign—a tactical innovation that many others are now trying to emulate.

“Armies of canvassers—both paid workers and volunteers—set out to have in-depth conversations with thousands of voters using ideas developed with help from the liberal Analyst Institute, a quasi-academic campaign-tactic lab.

“Rather than parroting a script, the canvassers used a few open-ended prompts (“What does marriage mean to you?”) and drew on their own experiences to have long conversations about family and faith that often turned personal—and changed people’s minds.”

Promoting a positive, emotional, personal message wasn’t the only thing that helped them win the day—gay marriage campaigners also used some sophisticated and targeted political and legal strategies. 

But changing their message to emphasize personal stories of real people created the conditions where they could show public support for the political and legal argumentsa key element in the overall, and winning, strategy.

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