Democrats love to quote facts in defending their positions or countering Republicans’ claims. They’re convinced that building a persuasive argument depends on assembling the greatest number of facts to support their case. Democrats come to the public debate armed with piles of statistics and are shocked when Republican voters reject them. It drives Democrats crazy that Republicans are not only unconvinced by facts, but will use unproven or faulty data and fake news to defend their positions.
Perhaps the most obvious example of faulty or partisan logic is the Republicans’ rejection of President Obama’s citizenship. According to an August 2016 NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, 72% of Republicans doubt that President Obama is a United States citizen. President-elect Donald Trump was one of the greatest promoters of that birther fiction. Republicans’ absurd claims ranging from Obamacare death panels to the rejection of the science of climate change drives Democrats nuts.
If Democrats use facts as the basis of persuasion and Republicans refuse to accept those basic facts, how can Democrats fight back? Democrats traditionally counter by piling on more facts, thinking the bigger the pile the more persuasive the argument. Republicans simply ignore the data pile by filtering out anything that defies their partisan opinions.
A great deal has been written about why and how Republicans think differently from Democrats. The short answer is that facts alone are insufficient to influence Republicans or public opinion in general. Why Republicans filter facts through their own frame is the subject for a future article.
Storytelling is a proven tool of persuasion.
Storytelling is a proven alternative to purely fact-based persuasion. Facts are used to appeal to the mind. Storytelling is aimed at changing hearts. Storytelling is as old as civilization itself. The Bible teaches through a compilation of various stories. Throughout history, stories have been used to record historical events, educate, entertain and present moral imperatives.
As a political communication tool, storytelling techniques can be far more compelling and effective than a stack of dry facts. George Lackoff, a cognitive scientist that has written extensively about liberal messaging compares using facts vs. stories. “Just speaking truth to power doesn’t work. You need to frame the truths effectively from your perspective,” according to Lackoff.
Harvard Professor and longtime political organizer, Marshal Gantz puts storytelling in perspective. “Families, faiths, cultures and nations teach through stories. Because we can identify empathetically with protagonists, we experience emotional content that can move our hearts to act, not only learn lessons informing our heads how we could act,” says Gantz.
Storytelling isn’t a rejection of facts but rather creating narratives based on facts. One of the primary training tools used by the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 was utilizing the art of the story. Their instructions to volunteers was to tell their own personal story about why they supported Obama. They left it to the individual to explain what drew them to supporting him. The result was often a passionate personal account of their commitment to candidate Barack Obama. A volunteer door knocker that showed up at a voter’s front door, with a moving personal story, proved to be a powerfully persuasive tool for Obama.
Storytelling has been used effectively to both attack and defend Obamacare. The critics have used stories describing how they lost their doctor, suffered increased costs or claimed various injustices resulting from Obamacare. The Tea Party very effectively attacked Obamacare by creating a narrative based on those personal stories.
The reverse stories in support of Obamacare featured individuals telling moving experiences of Obamacare saving their lives. There were stories told by beneficiaries that were able to gain affordable health insurance for the first time. Many stories have featured people that tell passionate accounts of Obamacare preventing personal bankruptcies resulting from healthcare costs. Obamacare rallies in four Iowa cities on Saturday featured speaker after speaker telling their stories about how Obamacare positively changed their lives.
Democrats should develop persuasive stories on every issue that is under attack. Imagine a video of Iowa police officers and fire fighters describing how the Branstad/Reynolds administration are robbing their families of the long established health care coverage negotiated with the state. Imagine a video of Iowa college students telling how Republicans are stripping their right to vote by requiring unnecessary new voter ID cards. Imagine a video of women telling why defunding Planned Parenthood will deny them access to their local health care clinic. Imagine a video of Iowa middle school students explaining how their schools fired their favorite teachers because Republicans won’t fund their school.
If Democrats use compelling stories, they can influence public opinion and resist the Republicans’ destructive agenda.
by Rick Smith