E.g., 12/17/2014
E.g., 12/17/2014

Immigrating from Facts to Values: Political Rhetoric in the U.S. Immigration Debate

Reports
October 2009

Immigrating from Facts to Values: Political Rhetoric in the U.S. Immigration Debate

Voters’ brains connect words, phrases, images, values, and emotions, and these connections — known as networks of association — influence their receptiveness to political messages, often far more strongly than facts and rational arguments. To reach those who have not yet made up their mind on a particular issue, advocates and leaders need to understand the associations a term such as “immigrant” spark in the mind of the electorate and strengthen positive associations while weakening negative ones.

Successful messages use “everyday language” (rather than the often-inaccessible language of (activists),  avoid euphemisms such as “undocumented workers,” and emphasize values and principles rather than trying to swamp voters with a litany of facts and figures. While the messages may contain language that can often feel uncomfortable to some advocates, an issue such as immigration will require multiple different messages that point toward the same policy — because messages that are not true to the messenger’s values will neither be, nor come across as, sincere; and not all advocates or their constituents share the same networks or values. Voters can respond to a nuanced position as long as it encapsulates their core values, addresses their ambivalence, and appeals to their pragmatism and desire for leadership. These lessons apply to countries on both sides of the Atlantic, not just the United States.

Table of Contents 
  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Dissecting a Political Message
  4. Common Messaging Mistakes
  5. How to Develop Strong Messages on Immigration
  6. Empirical Case Studies: Messages That Work in the United States
  7. A Comparative Analysis: Effective Messages Across the Atlantic
  8. Conclusion