Arguing politics with this family doesn't seem fun. Credit: Blue Mountains City Library / Flickr Creative Commons
You're gathered around your family’s holiday table, about to dig into turkey or squash or pie, when your uncle starts arguing about politics.
Do you pretend not to be annoyed by views you consider outrageous? Or do you take on the fruitless task of trying to win him over?
According to research by Robb Willer of Stanford and Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto, you actually might actually be able to do some effective persuasion this holiday season.
Willer and Feinberg say, first, it's crucial to acknowledge that liberals and conservatives often have different moral values. Liberals value equality and tolerance, while conservatives embrace tradition and social cohesion.
Therefore, if you really want to convince your uncle to change his views, make sure your argument rests on morals that he holds dear.
In their study, Willer and Feinberg reframed the issue of gay marriage, for example, so that it would appeal to conservatives. Essentially, they said that homosexual Americans are proud, patriotic Americans who contribute to the economy and military. That's an argument that’s consistent with the conservative values of patriotism and group loyalty. Willer says that once the idea is framed this way, “conservatives are significantly more supportive.”
The reframing worked for other issues as well. Liberals were more likely to support increased military funding when the military was presented as an institution that offers opportunities to the poor and minorities, allowing them to achieve on a level playing field.
So why don't more holiday dinners end in peace and harmony? Willer notes that it’s extremely difficult to set aside your own beliefs and connect with someone with different moral values. “It’s like setting aside your own mother tongue,” he says.
But successful persuasion means thinking like someone else, and letting their priorities become yours – if only for a few minutes.
“I actually think [the fact that] our families provide social networks across party lines is one of the ways out of our current partisan dilemma," says Willer. "We do come into regular contact with people we love who have moral and political commitments than our own.”