Expert view: Winning hearts as well as minds

When Hillary Clinton borrowed the observation first made by former New York mayor Mario Cuomo that "you campaign in poetry but govern in prose", she was trying to contrast her own policy experience against the visionary appeal of Barack Obama.

Until that point, she seemed to be forgetting that she was still on the campaign trail, not governing. The turnaround in her fortunes undoubtedly began when she showed a more human side by crying in public. It was also then that she started to adopt her opponent's theme of change and presented a vision as well as a programme.

Getting the emotional appeal right and framing an issue to your advantage are at the core of campaign success. In The Political Brain, Drew Westen shows that we are not the rational, calculating machines of liberal theory, choosing our political parties and causes on the basis of rational self-interest alone, but rather a complex mix of rationality and emotions. Campaigners need to appeal to our feelings and frame issues so that we come to associate positive emotions with our values. Then we can engage with the facts.

Westen claims that focus groups and polls are not sophisticated enough to provide a reliable guide to this complex mixture. He also argues that standing up for principles often plays best with the public, even if they don't share your views.

Citing Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Westen shows how the campaign on climate change was transformed partly by a rejuvenated Gore speaking from the heart rather than trying to reflect the polls. Instead of referring to global warming, he began to speak about the "climate crisis". He combined this with images of "earth, our only home" dramatically changing, together with a vision of how to turn the situation around. Not surprisingly, the film had an impact where piles of academic papers and worthy campaigns had not.

The political law of gravity works the same way for charity campaigns. We forget this at our peril. Sound evidence and killer facts are crucial, as is a well-considered solution to the issues. But without a compelling vision, no amount of 10-point programmes for change will move anyone to your cause.

Campaigning is about changing hearts as well as minds. Particularly for campaigns that aim to align public pressure to achieve government action, this remains crucial. Civil servants and ministers may be impressed by the quality of your prose but they, like supporters, also need the poetry to cut through a number of competing visions and demands.

- Brian Lamb is excecutive director of communications at the RNID.

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