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Leading Public Opinion: The Challenge of Persuasion at Mass Scale

Antonio Lambino's picture

In yesterday’s OP-ED page of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman suggests characteristics of what non-extremist factions of the American polity want in a leader.  I was struck by the high levels of communication capacity these criteria demand.  According to Friedman, the following are among the required traits of desired leadership:  1) the ability to persuade constituents and 2) the ability to lead, not merely read, public opinion.  Not only do these two things require expertise, they are inextricably linked.

Sanumaya’s Tale

Sabina Panth's picture

Sanumaya lives with her five children and frailing mother-in-law in a rural village in Nepal.  Her husband, Gopal has left for United Arab Emirates as a labor migrant.  Last year, the hybrid seeds sold in the local market had led to crop failure, bringing the family to near bankruptcy.  To save his family from destitution, Gopal borrowed money from the local businessman and set off overseas.  In the meantime, Sanumaya joined a local women’s savings and credit group, from where she takes out loan money to do animal husbandry.  The meager income Sanumaya earns from her business is barely enough to sustain the family.  Gopal has not sent home any money yet.  He’s probably saving it to repay the local businessman.  Fortunately, the ancestral home that Sanumaya and Gopal inherited has a lush backyard, where Sanumaya grows vegetables and lets her goats roam about freely. She hopes to sell the goats someday and make some money.

You Are Not So Smart As Me

Naniette Coleman's picture

Haunting is supposed to be reserved for bad movies and Halloween, none-the-less I have been haunted for several weeks now. You have heard my rants about the importance of translating academic work for use by pragmatists and practitioners.You may have thought that I was finally putting this topic to rest. You thought wrong. I have yet another installment to share.

"If we miss the MDGs, who will punish us?"

Antonio Lambino's picture

You’ve probably heard that leaders from around the world have just completed a three day high-level summit  on the Millennium Development Goals in New York.  It’s been a decade since the international community signed up to the MDGs, and two thirds of the way to the 2015 deadline.

In a blog update posted from NY a couple of days ago, World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala cites statistics suggesting progress on various MDG priorities, such as gender parity in primary education, reducing maternal mortality, and access to safe drinking water.  But Ngozi calls for more action, less talk, and points out that behind the statistics are people who continue to suffer from lack of the most basic needs.  Among the various examples she provides, one in particular caught my attention: “Action is about saving lives – (e.g.) a Tanzanian woman who hears on the radio about bed nets at the local clinic.  ”

This example highlights a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition for attaining development outcomes:

SMS Gateways for Public Accountability

Sabina Panth's picture


Last week, I attended a presentation on Strengthening Good Local Governance in Indonesia: Lessons from a Demand-Driven Approach.  The $62 million 5-year USAID-funded program focused on both the supply (strengthening core competencies of local administration) and demand (strengthening institutions to ‘lobby’ for good governance) in the context of the recent “big bang” decentralization in Indonesia.  The presentation featured various tools and instruments for good governance.  I was particularly struck by ‘SMS gateways’ - a new e-governance tool that has been used to strengthen public accountability mechanisms in local governance.

Let's Get Loud: Mobilizing the Silent Majority

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Ideally, governments and other decision makers should consider public opinion and let it guide them in designing policies that benefit the general public. Problematically, sometimes the opinion of the public simply cannot be heard. Sometimes this happens when a very loud minority drowns out the voices of the silent majority. In such cases, the opinion climate in a society may seem to be more radical than it actually is.

Nixon famously used the term "silent majority" when he appealed for support to what he perceived as the majority of American voters who did not publicly oppose the Vietnam War. He saw this group outclamored by a small but noisy minority that did protest. This was actually a clever strategic argument on Nixon's part. Noelle Neumann's Spiral of Silence, which we have introduced here on this blog, posits that most people would follow the majority because they don't want to be isolated in society. If one opinion is heard more and more often, it may be perceived as majority opinion, even though it isn't. And then, if it's become almost ubiquitous, it might be perceived as majority opinion and people may change their own opinions to fit this "opinion climate." This way, over time and with a lot of help from the media, a minority opinion, for instance an extreme political opinion, may actually become the opinion of the majority.

More Connected: Reaching Outside Of Academia to the “Real World”

Naniette Coleman's picture

Content aside, “Connected” is an interesting book. No, I am not talking about the artwork and nifty font choices on the cover, or the academic action photo on the dust jacket - complete with indecipherable brilliance on the dry erase board behind Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. Yes, these may be the calling cards of a good eye-catching best seller but what I am referring to is a bit more subtle.

 


Whilst discussing “Connected” with my supervisor and colleague, Sina Odugbemi, we noted the wide-ranging appeal of their endeavor as indexed by a write up in the back.  Beneath the academic action photo of the authors is something peculiar for an “academic” text, mention of their popular media chops. Although some within the academe might look down on Christakis (Harvard) and Fowler (UC San Diego) for mentioning that their research has been “featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, the Today show, and The Colbert Report, and on the front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today” the mention of these largely non-academic news outlets raise interesting questions about public service oriented research and how it might be better introduced to the “real” world. Is it possible that in order to gain relevance with larger audiences that researchers need to (gasp) translate and market their work to audiences whose primary sources of information are not, well, primary sources? Is it possible that translating academic pieces for use by popular magazine, newspaper or popular TV show will get the writer a step closer to solving the problems about which they are writing? 

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