How to make effective political arguments

How to make effective political arguments

Stanford sociologist Robb Willer finds that an effective way to persuade people in politics is to reframe arguments to appeal to the moral values of those holding opposing positions.

Based on new research by Stanford sociologist Robb Willer, there’s a way to craft messages that could lead to politicians finding common ground.

“We found the most effective arguments are ones in which you find a new way to connect a political position to your target audience’s moral values,” Willer said. 

While most people’s natural inclination is to make political arguments grounded in their own moral values, Willer said, these arguments are less persuasive than “reframed” moral arguments.

To be persuasive, reframe political arguments to appeal to the moral values of those holding the opposing political positions, said Matthew Feinberg, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto, who co-authored the study with Willer.

Their work was published recently online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Such reframed moral appeals are persuasive because they increase the apparent agreement between a political position and the target audience’s moral values, according to the research, Feinberg said.

Different moral values

In all cases, messages were significantly more persuasive when they fit the values endorsed more by the target audience.

“Morality can be a source of political division, a barrier to building bi-partisan support for policies,” Willer said. “But it can also be a bridge if you can connect your position to your audience’s deeply held moral convictions.”

Values and framing messages

When asked to make moral political arguments, people tend to make the ones they believe in and not that of an opposing audience – but the research finds this type of argument unpersuasive.”

most participants crafted messages with significant moral content, and most of that moral content reflected their own moral values, precisely the sort of arguments their other studies showed were ineffective

“Our natural tendency is to make political arguments in terms of our own morality,” Feinberg said. “But the most effective arguments are based on the values of whomever you are trying to persuade.


5 thoughts on “How to make effective political arguments

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I think what you mention is the most important. We can’t just keep pushing back with hostility because it only increases their determination.

      We have to understand and sympathize with their views too so we can establish common ground. Only then can we truly converse.

      We complain that they’re not listening to us, that they don’t respect our side, that they don’t care about our issues, yet that seems exactly what we’re doing as well. It’s not a simple black and white issue, but standardization tries to make it so.


      1. david becker

        You’ve made come critically important points and i have to agree with you- unless we acknowledge the others views why should they acknowledge ours.
        It can seem like a daunting challenge to get to the point of even agreeing to disagree. I thnk the egotism behind the pain care issues reflects a more troubling problem of civic society. Since we are all free to think and do was we want- why should we try to get along or be respectful?
        And so whether its a President, a person in pain, a chiropractor= no one really has to listen and have much regard for anyne else. We can try and hope that there is enough civility left i our world that we can rise above the self centered egotism and develop a more communitarian and other regarding society.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. david becker

    “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letter

    Liked by 1 person


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