Some years ago, I used to work in the training field and learnt loads of really interesting stuff about how people think. Without getting too scientific, lots of people make decisions based on logic (weighing up the evidence before coming to a conclusion) whereas others make decisions based on emotion (how something feels to them) It’s all to do with brain makeup and how people use the left and right side of their brains more. Now I admit that doesn’t sound very interesting for a political blog until you start linking in to certain key political issues and in particular the rise of UKIP.
In this country, most politicians in most parties are logical thinkers and you can tell that by the way they speak. So for example, they will talk about facts and figures and talk in detail about policies to try and address the issue. Problem is that many people in the population don’t think like that and that is because they are emotive thinkers – they decide due to their emotions such as what makes them happy, sad, angry, anxious etc. without using any particular logic or reason and many politicians don’t understand that.
So let’s take a controversial subject such as immigration – generally recognised as one of the top 3 issues raised in public polling. We have all heard people on the doorstep who say that “There are too many foreigners, they take our jobs, my kids can’t get a house, they use up our NHS” etc. etc
Mainstream political thinking when faced with a resident like this is to spout facts & figures at them, examples in other countries, argue with them or find some way of ending the conversation quickly. However, this is usually a bad idea and doesn’t actually address what the voter is saying and more particularly, HOW they are saying it. This then leaves parties such as UKIP who cleverly use emotional connections with the voter such as fear and anxiety to their advantage and ultimately are currently picking up more of their votes.
The reason is that the overwhelming majority of the public are either not interested in politics or only have a passing interest and therefore are simply not interested in detailed analysis of policies. Obviously some people are and that is why parties look for serious and detailed policies but for others, it doesn’t matter and they don’t care about any policies, it is what they feel that counts.
So for something like immigration, I think there are 3 ways that the mainstream parties can improve on this issue without getting involved in policy arguments:-
1) Be willing to listen to a resident who raises immigration and in particular listen to their story and WHY they are concerned. Is it jobs? Is it housing? Is it worry about family security? Have they read something negative? Even if their views are based on complete myths or exaggerations, it is real to them and they have one vote just like everyone. Let them get any anger out of their system and just listen without trying to argue with them even if their views are uncomfortable listening..
2) If they allow, acknowledge their experience and agree (if you can) that this sounds terrible and accept why they therefore feel as they do, Acknowledge that there have been bad examples of immigration which have been in the news and that those examples also make you feel angry, sad, upset or whatever emotion they have put to you.
3) Once a common emotional bond is established, that’s the point to then share the positive aspects about immigration. Not in some meaningless facts and figures way but talking about real people that they know. So, did they know that the following people were immigrants or came from immigrant families? (there are many examples – here are just some)
– Winston Churchill (grandparents from France/America)
– Prince Philip (Greek) – therefore meaning Prince William and Prince George have immigrant ancestry.
– John Lennon (Irish parents)
– Dame Helen Mirren – well known for playing the Queen but in fact had Russian parents and real birth name is Russian.
Even William Marks (from Marks & Spencers) was actually a Polish immigrant
You can also have TS Eliot, the composer Handel, Andrew Strauss who captained England cricke, Mo Farah and of course the numerous footballers at Premier League football clubs – all of whom contribute massively to British society. So it’s fair to say that whilst there are some “bad” immigrants, there are also some very good ones and most people (apart from a few BNP supporters) would accept that point.
Ah – but it is not those people they say, it’s those others who come into the country now – what about them? They just take our benefits and housing and there are too many etc.
Well, an emotive argument to use at this point would be to give specific examples in the local community of people who are immigrants and contributing such as specifically naming my local doctor (Indian) and dentist (South African) and try to get them to agree he or she are good people in the area. There are probably immigrant teachers, business leaders, faith groups, sport teams or others in their friendship circles where they can think of positive role models. I even had someone in Old Dean who was very angry about immigration who then realised that they were good friends with their next door neighbours (a Pakistani couple) and actually it wasn’t so bad after all!
At that point, the debate is redefined and you have got people emotively thinking of particular immigrants as positives and real examples of friends rather than them immediately thinking of immigrants as terrorists or in some way, threatening their way of life.
Of course, this doesn’t work with everyone but it does work with lots more than you might think- the question is whether any of the mainstream parties will try this approach and start talking publicly in “the language of the pub” or just carry on coming up with soundbite policies instead.