How to Frame a Policy Position as a Win for Everyone

Let’s say you want more renewable energy used in the United States. You want to convince people to join your position.

You’ve tried speaking with opponents and telling them how important it is to convert to renewable energy in order to decrease carbon dioxide. They tell you they don’t think anthropomorphic global warming is a big deal. You say, alright, we need to convert to renewable energy in order to achieve energy independence. They say that there’s more than enough oil, gas, and coal in the US and Canada to achieve that for a very long time, if only we could mine and transport it. You sigh, and say, alright, but what about peak oil? They say that the market has efficiently solved other resource peaks using the price mechanism and there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t solve this one.

You’re frustrated. You’re certain that you’re totally right and they’re definitely wrong. They must be dumb or malicious for disagreeing with you. Let’s say you even show them study after study, on whatever the topic is, to show that you’re right. They still disagree.

What gives?

In the current political climate, someone can’t be seen having changed their minds, particularly if they have been convinced by an opposition party. It’s political suicide and, as we’ve discussed before, we have some pretty strong feelings and mindsets that make it a pretty big challenge to tell ourselves or other people that we now have the point of view of the “other team.” Telling someone they’re wrong about politics and then explaining to them all the reasons that they’re so very wrong is a pretty ineffective way of getting folks to change their minds.

So how else might we approach convincing others to consider our idea?

To begin the answer, let’s take a look at a fascinating advertisement we ran into recently:

“What’s this?” You ask. “Glenn Beck is telling people to power their homes with solar energy?”

This doesn’t generally sound like the kind of thing Glenn Beck would do. He hasn’t been advocating for curbing carbon dioxide output. Let’s dig a little deeper.

If we go to gosolar.com, we can see the sales pitch laid out very clearly for us. Powering your home with solar will be cheaper. There are no upfront costs, and your monthly bill will be lower--what’s not to love?

But wait, there’s more! If we look deeper into the company that owns GoSolar, we can see they also sell other long-term survival gear, like long-lasting food. Here’s the pitch: you’ll produce your own energy and not have to rely on the grid. If anything goes terribly wrong--hurricane, earthquake, apocalypse, etc--you’ll be secure and fully powered while everyone else is stuck in the dark.

Now it starts to make sense: for this demographic group--which leans largely conservative--solar appeals because it’s a tool for things they really care about: cost-savings, independence, preparedness. These appeals probably go a lot further than appealing to doing one’s part to be green.

What’s the moral of the story? If you want to get someone on board with your idea--political or not--you’ve got to pitch the idea in terms of the stuff they already know they care about.

Some people don’t like this. “They’re advocating for solar for all the wrong reasons.” Or, “it’s just wrong that they don’t understand the truth.” It can feel important sometimes for folks to hold a position for the same reasons we do, and another path can feel like compromising our morals.

Assuming that we’re 100% right and our opposition is 100% wrong: just keep in mind that we’ve tried before to convert people to “the truth,” and tried to get them to feel the same way about our reasons that we do. We’ve done it a lot. It hasn’t really worked.

There’s a saying in the sales business that applies well here: “do you want to ‘be right,’ or do you want to win?”

That’s up to you.

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Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.