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The Framing Challenge. Trish Hennessy Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Why can’t progressives connect?. Neurological science findings. Reason vs. emotion – which one wins?. Research on emotions. Thinking = processed feelings

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the framing challenge

The Framing Challenge

Trish Hennessy

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

neurological science findings
Neurological science findings

Reason vs. emotion – which one wins?

research on emotions
Research on emotions

Thinking = processed feelings

Emotions affect decision-making

Important finding for framing

how framing works
How framing works

Every word and idea exists within a frame.

Surface frames touch surface emotions

Deep frames tap into deeply-held values, principles, beliefs--morality.

-- George Lakoff

Rockridge Institute

it s not about spin
It’s not about spin

Spin taps into surface frames

Not enough to use better words

Need to re-hardwire how we think

it s not about the issue
It’s not about ‘the’ issue

Federal poll post-sponsorship scandal

it s not about the issue1
It’s not about ‘the’ issue

Federal poll post-sponsorship scandal

Stop laundry list approach

it s not about the issue2
It’s not about ‘the’ issue

Federal poll post-sponsorship scandal

Stop laundry list approach

People vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, identity

it s not about the issue3
It’s not about ‘the’ issue

Federal poll post-sponsorship scandal

Stop laundry list approach

People vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, identity

They rarely vote for a single issue

it s about values
It’s about values

…and Conservatives are better at messages that tap into their values than progressives are.

conservative frame
Conservative frame

Father knows best

progressive frame
Progressive frame

Nurturant parent family

the power of repetition
The power of repetition

Repetition tricks the brain into believing myths and false statements are true

-- Norbert Schwarz

University of Michigan

staying out of their frame
Staying out of their frame

Negating the frame reinforces the frame

-- George Lakoff

Don’t think of an elephant

putting it to the test
Putting it to the test

Case study: Income inquality



Middle class

what canadians think
What Canadians think
  • Canada is a middle class nation
  • Middle class is as much a state of mind as it is an income category
  • Middle class is the holy grail
  • Aspirational notion
summary of focus groups
Summary of focus groups

Sketchy, stereotypical view of rich/poor

Gaze is on the middle class

Middle class proxy for the good life

Sense of middle class struggle, worry

No anger toward rich

Some anger toward poor


Middle class rationality helps them disengage

Talking about people they don’t know

A spectator sport (explains online newspaper comments)

empathy blocks myths
Empathy blocks/myths
  • Family influence (children learn to be poor)
  • Vicious cycle (poverty a way of life, a choice)
  • Bad decisions, (too many kids, big TVs)
  • Lack of work ethic, education
  • Stubborn myth: Some people choose to be poor & won’t be helped
  • Can never eliminate poverty
conservative frame dominates
Conservative frame dominates

Poor people need ‘tough love’

We need rich people to succeed

Reward the winners, punish the losers

growing gap reframe
Growing gap reframe

The rich and the rest of us

The majority vs. the elite few

We put the promise of prosperity on trial

use of repetition
Use of repetition

Our message box:

The rich are getting richer

The middle is being squeezed

The poor are getting left behind

use of emotion fact
Use of emotion & fact

Focus group gut check:

What would it be like to live on $23,000 or less (poorest 20%)

holding the lens on worry
Holding the lens on worry

Struggle helps middle disconnect with poverty

Affirming the struggle, and showing commonalities, helps tap social responsibility

Solution: We’re in it together

triggering moral outrage
Triggering moral outrage

Highlight contrast between rich/poor (CEO and the teller inspiration); show absurdities


Canadians don’t like that poverty exists in Canada and, within limits, they support moves to reduce it

best defense a good offense
Best defense a good offense

It’s time to move away from critique and move towards change that feels do-able.

make the case for change
Make the case for change

Hold lens on what and why before solutions

avoid impossibility theorems or try to
Avoid impossibility theorems(or try to)

Solutions are brief, focused, pragmatic

Example: complexity of poverty

the quiet limits of facts
The quiet limits of facts

We use big numbers to shock but know numbers alone don’t move people

a serious challenge
A serious challenge

Trust issues with government

another serious challenge
Another serious challenge

People are disengaged, ill informed

the apathy trap
The apathy trap

Canadians think they want rational, reasoned political leadership but respond emotionally

“Conservative fear frame” keeps getting tapped


get excited about your democracy
Get excited about your democracy

“I Am Canadian” ad writer:

  • 30% of the people are with you
  • 30% are against you
  • 20% are in the middle – the deciders
show don t tell
Show, don’t tell

Human stories that tap into emotions, values

emotions message
Emotions, message

The ball’s in your court