During a presidential election year we hear a lot about persuasion. Candidates not only want to get their supporters out to the polls in November, but they’re hoping to persuade voters on the fence to hop over to their side.

This morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, Shankar Vedantam reported on new political science research out of Candada that suggests “if you want to persuade people you should frame your points using your opponents’ moral framework.”

So often when candidates are speaking, Vedantam explained, they use passionate arguments that resonate with the framework of their existing base. For instance in discussing ISIS, Republicans might speak passionately about patriotism; while Democrats speaking about income inequality might speak passionately about fairness. The problem, however, is that this simply reinforces support among existing supporters and does little to broaden a candidate’s appeal.

That’s why Vedantam emphasized that if you want to persuade new voters you must start by working within their framework, rather than your own.

IWF’s own social science research reinforces this theory and has helped guide us in how we speak about certain critical issues. For instance, a recent randomized controlled trial we conducted on wage equality and the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) left us with two critical findings: 1) It revealed that 74 percent of women believe discrimination in the workplace is at least somewhat of a problem; and 2) it showed that a respondent’s perception of fairness as equal outcomes – as opposed to equal opportunities – was the single best predictor of their support for the PFA. 

We realized that any conversation about the “wage gap” has to start by acknowledging that there are bad actors out there and discrimination does exist. But we also learned that convincing women not to support the PFA (a terribly flawed law that would line the pockets of trial lawyers and not actually “fix” the so-called wage gap) is to speak to women in terms of outcomes. We want all women to have the best chance for equal outcomes, which is going to mean that we don’t want to set women back by laws that will make it more expensive to employ them and reduce their flexibility and advancement in the workplace.

Still there’s one thing Vedantam – and this new research – may have overlooked. And that’s that speaking passionately is something very different than speaking at an emotional, personal level. Additional research IWF has conducted on paid leave mandates, for instance, finds that when you bring a conversation down to the personal level we are tremendously effective at persuading women to oppose these one-size-fits all, big-government solutions.

In this separate, randomized controlled trial we learned that when women receive a message that is sympathetic and explains how paid leave mandates would make it too expensive for their employer to keep them, support for the regulations drops precipitously – in fact it turns a margin of support into a margin of opposition. Even more effective is when we explain to respondents that these mandates would hurt the very people they’re meant to help, namely the poor. And the same holds true (although not as dramatic) among progressive women, who don’t already agree with our perspective.

So while it’s true that speaking passionately may actually just be a way of preaching to the choir, speaking at a personal, emotional level is a very effective way of persuading new supporters.