RALLY’s Hot Take: It’s About the Stories, Silly

By Samuel Garrett-Pate and Salman Akhtar

South Bend, the Pacific County seat, is on the Willapa River. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Yesterday our friend Nina Shapiro at the Seattle Times reported on a seemingly strange turn of events in ruby-red Pacific County, Washington: Conservative Trump voters who enthusiastically backed the President’s proposals of a border wall and aggressive immigration enforcement have suddenly begun to reconsider their support.

Why? Because the friendly bilingual educator at the local school, who lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade and regularly worked with the local police chief, got picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a post-office parking lot. Or, they knew the hard working mother of two who was deported after trying to sell a piñata online.

This isn’t unique to Pacific County. Reporters across the country have found Trump voters who previously supported his anti-immigration platform suddenly dismayed to find out that their neighbor down the street, whose kids played with theirs after school, disappeared. Or because their favorite little shop in town had to shut down when the owner was hauled off by ICE agents one day.

We saw a similar thing happen earlier this year as voters’ attitudes toward President Trump’s immigration ban shifted at relative light speed. It wasn’t because people who were previously supportive of banning Muslims from entering the country suddenly understood the constitutional implications of a travel ban based on religion. Rather, it was because they turned on their televisions to see a five-year-old boy separated from his mother and read about an 80-year-old detained for hours on end and recognized the absurdity of banning people — people who reminded them of their families, neighbors and friends — from entering the country based solely on their religious beliefs.

Our RALLY Hot Take:

1. We win with stories, not facts. As we’ve written on Medium ad nauseum and advised clients for years, *facts* about hot-button issues like immigration, terrorism, gun control and LGBTQ issues don’t change hearts and minds. Stories about people to whom your audience can relate, told within a values frame that they identify with, do. We did this in RALLY’s work to overturn Prop 8 and move public opinion on marriage equality, which we helped achieve by shifting the marriage debate from a question of legal rights and tax benefits to one of love and human dignity. And we’ve leaned in to this strategy in our work on behalf of DREAMer Daniel Ramirez Medina, in which we’ve worked to educate people about Daniel’s humanity — he’s a young father who was brought to this country when he was a child. He works hard to support his son and had to spend his 24th birthday in detention, away from his family. Our communications work on his behalf focused on his story, rather than the legal issues related to arresting a DACA recipient.

2. Get personal. At a national level, it’s easy for your target audience to get lost in the abstract. Telling hyper local stories about people they know and love will always be more impactful. Campaigns that encourage people to share their own personal — often difficult — stories with the people in their lives can end up transforming our culture. Think about how the coming out movement has been a catalyst for gay rights and now trans equality. Or more recently, how a few actresses sharing stories about Harvey Weinstein led to the #metoo movement, which has now led to women and men sharing stories in state capitols and newsrooms, in corporate offices and on factory floors, helping to weed out sexual harassers and raise the bar for what each industry is willing to tolerate.

3. Don’t Lose Faith. Election outcomes can often seem like the final say in the moral judgement of our communities — but the reality is that people are complex. Values and perceptions are always changing, and the opportunity to move audiences is more ripe than you might think. There was no election this week in Pacific County, WA, but that doesn’t mean that perspectives aren’t shifting like they did in Virginia and beyond. Drive at your audiences with emotional, personal stories and you may be surprised at the results.

RALLY is proud to stand in solidarity with our immigrant friends, family, coworkers and communities. We’re here for this fight, we’re invested in it, and we’re not going anywhere until we win.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm that takes on sticky political and social problems and finds ways to push them forward. Samuel Garrett-Pate is a Senior Account Executive in RALLY’s Los Angeles office, and Salman Akhtar is an Account Executive in RALLY’s Seattle office.

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