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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 09-Jul-08


Wednesday 09-July-08

Influencing politicians

I have, on occasion, had some interesting conversations with people whose jobs involve a significant degree of interaction with politicians and who regularly express frustration about how to change their minds. To get to the root of this thorny problem, as with other persuasive situations means figuring out how the political mind works.

The stereotypical politician has high control needs and an ego to match and there is often a lot of truth in this. Reality is, however, more complex and politicians may also be fired up about achieving lofty social goals. In a harsh political environment, however, every politician must be actively concerned about their reputation, both with the voters (and the intermediary media) and with other politicians whose support they need both for achieving higher goals and also for basic political survival.

Influencing politicians often means getting them to use their power to enact, create, change or block laws. A politician's power is largely in their ability to influence other politicians, and your goals may need to take this into account.

At it's most basic, there are two simple things that a politician needs: to look good and (particularly) not to look bad. These needs can be influenced a simple carrot and stick approach, although some subtlety is needed in their application..

Even more fundamentally, politicians need to be re-elected, and anything that makes them look good to their electorate is music to their ears. If they can be seen as a strong battler or championing popular causes, then they will likely support what you are proposing.

Mud sticks, and politicians know this well, and they can be very risk-averse, carefully scanning any proposals for potential reputational damage. Who is to blame if things go wrong (as they often do in political spheres where there are so many fingers in the pie) is thus a critical question to answer.

The best proposal you can offer, therefore, is one where the politician gets all the glory whilst someone else carries all the risk. You can also use this in reverse, showing the personal risk in actions you do not want the politician to take, or where they will get little credit.

One final negotiable you can use with politicians is power itself -- something that politicians can never get too much of. If you can show that an action will result in the politician gaining power, or at the very least not losing it, then they are more likely to support your cause.

Your comments

 Couldn't be any further from the truth!

-- M.W.

Dave replies:
Splendid! A difference of opinion. Would you care to explain further? I'm always open to having my own mind changed. If you have experience or evidence, I'd be delighted to hear it.

Well, I suspect M. W. is a politician him or herself, because there's a lot of truth in your template, David, in my experience. I worked with politicians for years in my previous career, albeit mostly at a local politics level, and your framework rings true to me. I do suspect M.W. is a politician.

-- Phil Dourado

A very successful local politician once listed the three jobs (i.e. duties) of a politician:

1) to get elected
2) to get elected
3) to get elected

and, he continued, if there were a fourth duty it would be to get elected.

Can't say he wasn't honest.

Not much point for a candidate to be skilled, loyal and hard working if he or she can't win an election.

Ironically those that are so cynical of politicians expect so much from them, as if appointees and civil servants are above nepotism and corruption.

The dilemma of democracy is that the electorate have only themselves to blame for bad leadership, non?


Dave replies:
There seems to be a common apathy about electorates, borne of individual thinking. 'What can I do? I only have one vote.' Many have difficulty thinking collectively. And they often know so little about who they are voting for. It is not uncommon for the 'better person' to be standing for a party with whose national policies you do not wholly agree...

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