A campaign’s success can rely on how credible the messaging and framing are seen by those who hear it (Polletta et al,. 2011). This success relies on many things, one of which is whether the chosen messenger or storyteller is a trust worthy or legitimate person to speak on such an issue? Campaign actors need to think carefully about who is telling their story and who is listening, as this context will affect the salience of the message or story (Ganz, 2011).
Often it can feel like the decision of who is a campaigns messenger is a lower priority in developing a campaign. However I think the changing political landscape of 2016 has highlighted the importance and influence a messenger can have on the credibility of the campaign and its’s success (Nef, 2013).
For example, the Brexit leave and Trump’s US election campaigns highlight the changes in the political landscape. The campaigns brought to light how people are growing tired and sceptical of the establishment (for more on this here are Brexit and Trump anti-establishment).
Despite many accusations of both campaigns telling false facts and lies, both leading messengers (Nigel Farage and Donald Trump) were seen by many as credible storytellers, who were in touch with ordinary people. For example this extract from a YouGov poll below shows that whilst opinions are divided about Nigel Farage, many people believe he ‘stands up for ordinary people’.
The anti-establishment trend coupled with the acceptance of post truth politics, where ‘objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’, highlights the political landscape in which we campaign, is rapidly changing. I think that with the post truth description and examples above in mind, it’s important for campaign actors to select their messengers carefully. Whilst I am not suggesting that campaign actors dip their toe into the post truth pool themselves, they can learn from it so they don’t appear to be illegitimate challengers, but rather they can effectively engage people (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989).
For example, they can make the decision to take a step back from being the lead voice in their communications and use people who are placed in the situation at hand to be the messenger. People who have the legitimacy and authenticity to speak about issues from personal experience. So, when speaking about climate change, they could use a person experiencing flooding to speak out about how it affects them or a person who is on a zero hours contract to speak about the hardship that creates. Then the campaign actor can not only use the truth to appeal to people, but also credible messengers to deliver that truth in a salient way.
So as campaign actors we have a decision to make. Are we going to use more authentic voices and messengers to tell true stories that have the potential to appeal to emotion and personal belief? Or are we going to continue to present true facts and hope it will carry enough credibility by itself?
*This blog has been written as part of my MA in Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster, for more information about this course please follow this link http://www.westminster.ac.uk/MACampaigning.
Gamson, W. A., & Modigliani, A. (1989). Media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power: A constructionist approach. American Journal of Sociology, 95(1), 1–37. https://doi.org/10.1086/229213
Ganz, M. (2011). Public Narrative , Collective Action , and power. Accountability through Public Opinion: From Inertia to Public Action, 273–289. https://doi.org/10.1596/978-0-8213-8505-0
New Economic Foundation. (2013). Framing the economy: The austerity story, 38. https://doi.org/978-1-908506-44-3
Polletta, F., Chen, P. C. B., Gardner, B. G., & Motes, A. (2011). The Sociology of Storytelling. Annual Review of Sociology, 37(1), 109–130. https://doi.org/doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-081309-150106