Political Persuasion: Tradition and New Tech

Blog Post
Monday, April 08, 2019

New Hampshire Institute of Politics Executive Director Neil Levesque joined the latest Facing the Future program to discuss the institute, the New Hampshire primary, presidential candidates and more.  

“We are operating here nonstop,” Levesque said. “We have more presidential campaign activity on this campus of Saint Anselm College than any other campus in the United States.” The college is in Manchester.

“It’s really the hub for New Hampshire politics,” he said. “It’s not unusual that when we get into presidential cycles there could be a candidate here almost every single day.”

Levesque said New Hampshire, which has the first presidential primary in the nation, has a prominent role in the presidential election process because “the people here in the state take it seriously.”

“The folks really test the candidates out,” he added.

Candidates like former President Obama and now President Trump had a “rockstar”-like impact when it came to crowds. As a result, they often stuck to larger venues and had less of a focus on traditional grassroots, face-to-face campaigning.

Levesque, however, said it has been a different story for most candidates: “I think that right now what we’re seeing is there are so many candidates running . . . they are actually going out and doing a lot of that traditional campaigning . . . it says a lot about the potential future of the New Hampshire presidential primary.”

Dante Vitagliano, co-founder of Pinnacle Campaign Strategies, joined the show to discuss campaign strategies, voter priorities, fiscal policy and more.

Vitagliano said that the radically changing campaign environment, where a lot of innovation is taking place, still requires the basics like good messaging and grassroots campaigning.

“Retail campaigning and face-to-face interaction . . . that is absolutely the best approach,” he said. “In many cases, the tech tools that you use are more geared to motivation and mobilizing.”

Vitagliano also said that voters and volunteers are frequently more motivated by a negative prompt, as opposed to a positive one.

“In many other aspects of marketing, the ‘be part of the winning team’ is more persuasive,” he said. “The threat of losing, of your side losing . . . the threat seems to be a more powerful motivator than being part of the winning team.”

Vitagliano shared that in analyzing large-scale field-survey data, there are evergreen issues that always seem to rise to the top in terms of importance for voters. Budget and fiscal issues, he said, “don’t always maintain an evergreen status.”

He said it can be difficult for people to visualize the danger of unsustainable fiscal policies and that can impact where they fall on the list of voter priorities.

“When fiscal issues were tied to a particular crisis . . . the turmoil got enough play in the media that the voters then understood ‘This is an important issue . . . now we need to tailor our thinking to have a position on that issue,’ ” Vitagliano said.  

“When it’s framed as a cut, or slashing budgets and removing resources or taking things away, I think you’re in a losing battle,” he said, suggesting that it is important to reframe the conversation to be about solving problems.

Hear more on “Facing the Future.” I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, elected officials and candidates for public office. Past broadcasts are available here. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or through RSS.