How to Convince People who Disagree with You about Politics

Just finished reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Well researched and compelling read for anyone curious about why we get stuck on our opinions, the morality of liberal and conservative views, and how we got here, both from a political and an evolutionary standpoint. It dives into deep detail about our psychology and why we primarily seek out reinforcement for our deeply held views, why we fall into “group” dynamics, and ultimately how do we craft narratives to break out of that trap.

Some learnings:

  • “Our intuitive and moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth.” We most naturally look for ways to validate and reinforce what we already thought was true, not necessarily to find truth.
  • If you want to change someone’s mind about a moral or political issue, talk to their deeply held intuitions and pre-conceived notions first. “If you ask people to believe something that violates their intuitions, they will devote their efforts to finding an escape hatch—a reason to doubt your argument or conclusion. They will almost always succeed.”
  • When tested, Liberals score higher on “openness to new experiences,” conservatives score higher on “tried and true.” And birds of a feather tend to flock together. If you are shopping in a Whole Foods store (new), there’s an 89 percent chance that the county surrounding you voted for Barack Obama. If you are eating in a Cracker Barrel restaurant (traditional), 62 percent of those in the county surrounding you voted for John McCain.
  • Surprisingly, your genetic predispositions explains up to 50% of why you hold certain political views, a much higher % than being raised in a conservative or liberal environment.  Further, “self-interest does a remarkably poor job of predicting political views.”
  • In order to tell an impactful story, you need to invoke at least one of the core moralities that we deeply care about. There are 6 core moralities: Caring, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sacredness. Liberals consistently score the highest on Caring and Fairness and relatively low on the rest.  Conservatives consistently score pretty equally at mid levels across the board.
  • This makes it easier to create stories which will resonate with Conservatives than Liberals because they care more about more moralities.
  • Libertarians are basically Liberals who view “liberty” as the most important morality. Yet “People with libertarian ideals have generally supported the Republican Party since the 1930s because libertarians and Republicans have a common enemy: the liberal welfare society that they believe is destroying America’s liberty (for libertarians) and moral fiber (for social conservatives)”
  • “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.” We learn and remember through narrative and stories, and evolved to remember through storytelling before we had writing and other storage mechanisms.
  • “If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness. As a first step, think about the six moral foundations, and try to figure out which one or two are carrying the most weight in a particular controversy. And if you really want to open your mind, open your heart first. If you can have at least one friendly interaction with a member of the “other” group, you’ll find it far easier to listen to what they’re saying, and maybe even see a controversial issue in a new light.”

So, what does all that mean?  To successfully talk politics to people who have strongly held beliefs, we need to 1) tell compelling stories that 2) invoke at least one important morality and 3) talk to existing intuitions to open the user up to hearing more.

4 thoughts on “How to Convince People who Disagree with You about Politics

  1. Great post Russ. I am buying the book now (and sharing the post).

    I’m almost done with Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s less about politics but sounds like a nice compliment to this book.

  2. Great post Russ. This strikes at the heart of the current environments challenge…lack of civil discourse between opposing views. Thx for sharing!

  3. Since 1972 when George McGovern was the preferred candidate of young Americans, youth have failed to show up at the polls to support their candidates. How are you going to change that?

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