A study out recently suggested that people could be persuaded to change their attitudes to same-sex marriage as the result of a 22 minute conversation with a gay canvasser.
It’s the type of research any issue campaigner is fascinated by. How to win someone over to support your argument.
Sadly those particular research findings have been discredited, but it got me thinking what does the evidence say about who the most effective individuals we can use to persuade audiences to support our campaign.
Here are a few studies I’ve come across;
- People are persuaded by people like them. Studies of field organising in election campaign has shown that if you want canvassers similar to the target population your trying to reach, I suspect that their is something in this for all those looking to persuade.
- The public have high levels of trust in academics and experts. They consistently perform well as the most trusted spokesperson in the Edelman Trust Barometer (incidentally in the study, NGO spokespeople also perform well, but those figures are dropping).
- Celebrities have a mixed impact. They don’t have the affect that you’d expect amongst the general public, although when asked the public think that they’ll be effective at persuading others, but they can be effective at gaining access to decision makers who believe they represent public sentiment.
- Change.org have proven the power of the personal stories of their petition starters, while the personal testimony to engage action is at the heart of the community organising approach of Citizens UK. The Story of Self, Us and Now is a effective tool to use, because research shows the human brain has a natural affinity for remembering facts and statistics when presented in a narrative construction (a story to you and me!).
- Whoever says it, make sure they say it again, and again and again. Its an age old adage from the marketing industry, but a good reminder to campaigners who get bored of the same message quickly. Those working on housing issues found it took a year of repeating and repeating the same core message to see the polling move.
This is my short list of studies, but please do use the comments box below to add others you know about.