Political Table Talk



   Want to show Uncle Trumper that his views have real, negative consequences, but don't want to fight over turkey and gravy? Here at DGB we are fans of evidence-based strategies.  We turned to social scientific researchers and want to share some of their knowledge on what actually works to get people to change their political views.  


    Shaming doesn’t work.  Yes, we all want to grab our racist uncle and tell him ‘shame on you’ and ‘look what you did,’ but this is not going to get them to change. In fact, that is the kind of better-than-thou attitude many people find condescending and will immediately reject. Social psychologists often say people who feel threatened are not conducive to change. So let’s talk about what does work.


    Personal stories work.  You know how politicians always talk on the campaign trails about a specific person they met with, the challenges they told them about, and how they plan to help them?  Well that is because personalizing a situation in a story is more effective than discussing an issue in the abstract. The problem is that your uncle doesn’t care about some unknown person in a different state whom he’s never met. However, your uncle is more likely to care about how this affects people he knows and likes. Instead of arguing that revoking ACA is a bad idea, tell him about someone in the family with a pre-existing condition and how they are worried they will lose their access to treatment. Give him concrete examples of people he loves who will be affected. Once you’ve told the story, he may go on and keep saying, ‘but ACA is bad’ or ‘the republicans won’t take away the pre-existing conditions clause.’ That's when you can reply, ‘but you understand why Cousin Molly is so worried because if she does lose her coverage, her health is at risk.’

    You’re probably thinking, ‘nah that won’t work,’ but researchers have tried a similar strategy and have found it to have positive effects - even when the people are not personally related or acquainted with each other. In a recent experiment published in Science, David Brookman and Joshua Kalla found that a canvasser talking to a person about transgender rights did not change the minds of those they talked to. But when they sent canvassers that revealed to the person that they themselves were transgender and told them about their personal struggles, the person was able to change their views about transgender rights. They even went back three months later to see if their attitudes had changed back, but they did not. And this was in Florida!

(By the way, if you’re thinking ‘wasn't that research fraudulent?’ the answer is no; the fraudulent study was revealed by the researchers constructing a different fully transparent study.) 

Based on this information, it may make sense for you to think up two or three examples of people who will be impacted by changes the new administration promised and focus the conversation around that. Also remember that at the table your uncle may not have an epiphany and instantly change his mind, but he might go back and think of the issue in a way he didn’t before. Helping people put themselves in other's shoes is one way toward the progress we all want to see.

We hope this helps you in your dinner conversations, and here at the DGB we wish you a happy holiday!