2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] Persuade, not educate

John Molo
[OPINION] Persuade, not educate

d.r. castuciano

A shift to a culture of persuasion can be a form of collective contrition

The week’s topic was “echo chambers.” There were “reality check” posts (ie, the colored waves we see in our timelines is an illusion), or those that confidently predicted how one campaign will lose or pointed out why another was “doing it all wrong.”

I can only comment that campaign professionals are a rare breed who are adept at playing a zero-sum game. Lawyers get to appeal but in elections, when your candidate loses, that’s it. That’s why the science on campaigns is extensive and the literature is copious. 

There’s a review by Kalla and Broockman (2018) of almost 50 independent studies and several campaigns which says that campaign “action” (a call, visit, an ad, etc.) within two months of election day has “effectively zero” effect on average voter preferences. However, campaign “action” significantly ahead of election day had “a real impact on opinions.” In short, the earlier the better. But what kind of campaign “action” is helpful?   

Follow-up studies recommend shifting away from “educating” and moving towards persuasion, especially if the goal is to convert undecided voters. Persuasion works in all demographics. Constitutionalist and retired Supreme Court justice Vicente V. Mendoza would remind students that to win in court, they must “Persuade! Don’t belabor.” 

Unfortunately, effective persuasion requires something counter-intuitive: Listening. Yes, to persuade, we need to shut up (As a teacher, this is one of the most difficult things for me to do). The limits of online discourse make “listening” even more difficult. Nothing beats the comfort of an echo chamber.

Learning to listen

But if we are serious about turning this country around, listening is something we need to learn, and fast. For example, to know WHO to persuade, we need to distinguish between those misinformed by years of propaganda from the Tonis who know better but choose personal benefit. Discerning which is which requires listening, not talking. 

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Listening must be empathic, not empty. We often tell others what issues are important, instead of asking them what issues are dear to them. There’s a news clip of a group of business leaders discussing how “workers are now ready to return to job sites.” It was an eerie demonstration of how the view from sanitized boardrooms reflects a different reality from that of the man on the street. (The Social Weather Stations reports that 91% of Filipinos are even more worried to catch COVID-19 – a record high). 

Listening requires accepting the answer – whatever it is. Remember, the purpose is to persuade, not to prove who is right. That’s why the reasons behind it are more important than the vote itself. The more people feel safe that they can voice their true opinion about things, the more connected you can be. That connection allows a chance for conversion. If we talk Down, and not talk To others, we lose the opportunity for conversion. 

It helps to realize that we all have different realities that shape our world view. The “surface” reason is often driven by a deeper, more intimate one. That’s why persuasion leverages emotive factors, more than hard data. And before we dismiss one group as less rational, studies indicate that emotive decision-making cuts across economic classes. (Do we really buy bags/watches following a cost-benefit analysis?)

A billionaire investor once commented that buying “coffee drinks” is the most irrational purchase of the modern age. Value is relative. A thousand pesos might be “baon” to some but to others, it means saving a sick daughter. And if we prefer a “values-driven” campaign, then we need to account for the fact that in Filipino psychology, the foremost value isn’t “bayanihan,” it’s “utang na loob.” 

Sharing stories

If not data or facts, what do we talk about then? Studies suggest we should try sharing stories. Filipinos love to share. The more personal, the better. Stories don’t have to be about voting, or politics. It could be about a personal experience related to how they feel, which in turn informs us why they value one politician over another. It is at this point where we can share stories of our own personal experiences, and how they shaped our preferences. Through stories, we can convey commonality and hopefully a shared purpose.  

Just note: persuasion is not a survey, it’s a process. It will take more than one tweet, post, or thread, but the good news is that “inception” works. So long as we remember to converse and not condemn, we have a chance. And the result is another equally excited advocate.

At minimum, you can ask your friend to vote on behalf of others, or as a personal favor to you. If there are groups they care about that can’t vote, you can even consider asking that they vote on their behalf. The power of persuasion is that it can become infectious. 

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Once you persuade those around you, have a conversation about your actual plan to vote. Design household or community voting plans (CVPs). Go down to details like timing, transportation, and even work rotations. If you are officemates, plan to have your HR pre-approve arrangements that can maximize voter turnout for your group. Business owners can provide promotions to those who show proof of voting. The literature indicates that a critical factor in voting behavior is having a plan about how to get to the precinct and submit that ballot. In a pandemic, these logistical arrangements matter more than ever. 

This seems like a lot of work. But it’s the way to fight a troll army. It is the essence of a volunteer movement. A candidate can’t be everywhere at once but we can. We can’t talk (or complain) about “ground games” when we can’t be bothered to do it in “ground zero” – our own homes and neighborhoods. It’s better than going through another “ivermectin war” with your relatives/friends. Let the national game be handled by the professionals. This is the kind of campaign “action” where each of us can contribute. 

Long game

Persuasion is a long game and it’s clear that one side has invested millions in trolls and social media for years. Fortunately, as far as political choices are concerned, studies indicate that neighbors still listen to one another rather than online “influencers.” (They can sell shampoos but candidates are a different matter).  

We all fell for the myth of the “bobotante” and its twin: “educated voters are more rational.” Data from 2016 shows, however, that it was in Class ABC that Duterte dominated. In D and E, the gap between him and Roxas was narrower. It seems the “masa” voted more wisely.

Likewise, Duterte dominated “educated voters” while those “uneducated” were more split. We can only reflect on why any of us “educated” ever thought that voting for an avowed “killer,” misogynist, and populist was the more “rational” choice. The tragedy of 2016 fell on the “masa” who were decimated by EJKs, and then got blamed when they actually saw through him better than most of us.

A shift to a culture of persuasion can be a form of collective contrition. – Rappler.com

John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law-BGC, where he also chairs the Political Law Cluster of the Faculty. He is a past chairman of the IBP Law Journal. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the PDAF.