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  • Linguistics

    Copy and pasted from an article by George Lakoff. If you do not know who he is, google him.

    This is an inside look at the mechanics of framing and messaging. I found the article interesting. While it obviously applies to politics there are other applications for this technique.

    Democrats are constantly resorting to disaster messaging. Here’s a description the typical situation.

    • The Republicans outmessage the Democrats. The Democrats, having no effective response, face disaster: They lose politically, either in electoral support or failure on crucial legislation.

    • The Democrats then take polls and do focus groups. The pollsters discover that extremist Republicans control the most common ("mainstream") way of thinking and talking about the given issue.

    • The pollsters recommend that Democrats move to the right: adopt conservative Republican language and a less extreme version of conservative policy, along with weakened versions of some Democratic ideas.

    • The Democrats believe that, if they follow this advice, they can gain enough independent and Republican support to pass legislation that, at least, will be some improvement on the extreme Republican position.

    • Otherwise, the pollsters warn, Democrats will lose popular support — and elections — to the Republicans, because "mainstream" thought and language resides with the Republicans.

    • Believing the pollsters, the Democrats change their policy and their messaging, and move to the right.

    • The Republicans demand even more and refuse to support the Democrats.

    We have seen this on issues like health care, immigration, global warming, finance reform, and so on. We are seeing it again on the Death Gusher in the Gulf. It happens even with a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.

    Why? Is there anything the Democrats can do about it? First, it has to be understood. It doesn’t just happen.

    The Difference Between Framing and Messaging

    Framing is the most commonplace thing we do with thought and language. Frames are the cognitive structures we think with. They are physical, embodied in neural circuitry. Frames come in systems. Their circuitry is strengthened and often made permanent through use: the more the circuits are used, the stronger they get. Effective frames are not isolated. They build on, and extend, other frames already established.

    All words are defined in terms of conceptual frames. When the words are heard, the frames are strengthened — not just the immediate frames, but the whole system.

    Fit matters. The brain is a "best-fit" system. The better a new frame "fits" existing frames, the more effective it will be; that is, the more people will think, and make decisions, using that frame.

    Frame conflict

    The activation of one brain circuit may either activate or inhibit another. A frame that fits a system will activate other frames in the system and make them stronger. Strongly activated frames will weaken frames that they inhibit.

    There are progressive and conservative frame systems. Activating the conservative frame system, weakens the progressive frame system — both individual frames for particular issues, but also the system as a whole.

    That is how framing works. There are consequences.

    High-Level, Moral Frames Matter More

    Higher-level frames, deeper in the system, have a disproportionate effect.

    The more the language of frame is repeated, the stronger the frame gets, along with the system the frame is in. And the weaker the frames of the contradictory system gets. The stronger high-level frames are, the more effective frames that fit them will be. And the less effective frames that contradict them will be.

    In politics, the high-level frames are the moral systems that define what is "right" for a conservative or progressive.

    Most Framing is Unconscious

    Frames are conceptual; they are the elements of thought. Most thought is unconscious. Words activate frames. We are rarely conscious of the frames that are activated by the words we hear. Yet those frames are there in our brain circuitry, and more we hear the words, the stronger the frames get, even though we aren’t aware of it.

    Framing is Long-term

    Framing is the establishment of permanent (or long-term) high-level frames and systems of frames with the brains of voters. Framing can be done by long-term careful political messaging, or through education (say, by controlling school textbooks).

    Prototype Framing

    An important part of framing is the establishment of prototypes: social stereotypes, prototypes (typical case, ideals, nightmares, salient exemplars). Stereotypes are used in automatic reasoning and decision-making.

    Bi-conceptual Framing

    For important domains of thought, like morality, religion, and politics, it is commonplace for people to have two inconsistent frame systems that inhibit each other. When those frames apply to different issues and in different contexts, we speak of "bi-conceptuals." When you can shift back and forth on an issue, you are bi-conceptual on that issue. That is, you can frame the issue in two ways, using inconsistent higher-level frame systems.

    Contested concepts

    In politics, the high-level frames are moral frames. There are opposing conservative and progressive moral systems. Important political concepts are "contested," overlapping in some classic cases, but diverging in content depending on the moral system. Thus, vital political concepts like Life, Freedom, Responsibility, Government, Accountability, Equality, Fairness, Empathy, Property, Security, and so on are contested.

    A major goal of political framing is to get your version of contested concepts accepted by the voters. Messaging can then use these concepts and their language freely and effectively.
    That is how framing works generally — independent of whether the frames are used in politics. In politics, bi-conceptual voters can shift back and forth on an issue, depending on how the issue is framed in terms of higher-level political systems.

    Political Messaging

    Messages use words. The words activate frames. In political messages, you have a double intention: to get voters to think using your frames and to keep voters from thinking using the other side’s frames, which contradict yours.

    Your message will be more effective if it fits existing high-level frames in the brains of voters, and less effective it contradicts such high-level frames.

    Political messaging and bi-conceptual voters

    Your goal, with bi-conceptual voters, is to activate your system of political frames and inhibit the other side’s system of political frames. Your message should therefore fit your high-level frame system, and it should not fit the other side’s high-level frame system. If it fits the other side’s high-level frame system, your message will be helping the other side, because it will tend to make voters think using their frame system.

    Why Does Disaster Messaging Arise?

    Suppose the other side has structured its messaging over a long period of time to consistently strengthen its high-level frames, prototypes, and versions of contested concepts in the brains of voters. They can now do effective messaging by using those high-level, morally-based frames in messages that evoke the existing strong high-level frames.

    Why Conservatives Consistently Win Messaging Battles

    In the US, conservatives have set up an elaborate messaging system. It starts with an understanding of long-term framing and message experts who know how to use existing their long-term frame systems. Then there are think tanks, with experts who understand the high-level frame system and how it applies to the full range of issues. There are training institutes that teach tens of thousands of conservatives a year to think and talk using these framing systems and their language and argument forms. There are regular gatherings to consolidate messaging and policy around a contemporary issue that fits the conservative moral system. There are booking agencies that book conservative spokespeople on tv, talk radio, etc. There are lecture venues and booking agencies for conservative spokespeople. There are conservative media going on 24/7/365.

    As a result, conservative language is heard constantly in many parts of the US. Conservative language automatically and unconsciously activates conservative frames and the high-level framing systems they are part of. As the language is heard over and over, the circuitry linking the language to conservative frames becomes stronger. Because the synapses in the neural circuits are stronger, they are easier to activate. As a result, conservative language tends to become the normal, preferred "mainstream" language for discussing current issues.

    This messaging system has existed and has been extended and strengthened over many years. Democrats have a few of these elements, but they are relatively ineffective, since they tend to view messaging as short-term and issue-based, rather than long-term and morally based. Democrats tend not to understand how framing works, and often confuse framing (which is deep, long-term, systematic, morality-based, and conceptual) with messaging (which is shallow, short-term, ad hoc, policy-based, and linguistic).

    This situation puts Democrats at a messaging disadvantage relative to conservatives, which leads to conservative victories. Hence the regular need for disaster messaging.

    Polling and The "Mainstream"

    When the Democrats are out-messaged, they call upon polling and focus groups to given an "empirical, evidential" account of public opinion and which language is preferred by the public. The "evidence" comes from polls and focus groups that test the normal "mainstream" language and logic, versus language and logic that is not "mainstream." This is, naturally, conservative language and logic, because the conservative messaging system has systematically made it that way patiently over years. The pollsters therefore report that the "mainstream" of Americans prefer the conservative language and logic, and the policies that go with them. The pollsters then suggest moving to right to go to where the public is. They then construct and test messages that move enough to right to satisfy the "mainstream." They also construct "good arguments." If the "good arguments" activate the conservative worldview, the conservative position will just get stronger in the brains of the voters.

    What’s Wrong?

    When the Democrats use conservative language, they activate more than the conservative framing on the given issue. They also activate and strengthen the high level, deep conservative moral frames. This tends to make voters more conservative overall — and leads them to choose the real conservative position on the given issue, rather than the sort of conservative version provided by the democrats.

    Disaster framing is a disaster.

    The "Center"

    There are bi-conceptuals of many kinds— you can have partly conservative, partly progressive views on many issues, and people vary considerably. There is no general ideology of the center. The myth that there is a single "center" is an artifact of current polling practices.
    Here’s how this works. Ask people whether they When you pick a given issue and poll on the most common "mainstream" language. It will be favored by both full conservatives and bi-conceptuals who happen to be conservative on that issue. Those bi-conceptuals may identify as "democrats" or "liberal-leaning" or "independents." With suitable framing, those bi-conceptuals should shift on the issue, while the true conservatives will not.

    Do they form a "center?"

    That is an empirical question, but they do not appear to. Change the issue and a new issue-specific "center" may appear, person-by-person.

    Such polling is rarely done, so claims about a single "center" — or a single left-to-right spectrum — should not be believed.

    The Importance of Bi-conceptuals

    Pollsters tend not to test for bi-conceptuals. They are not just undecideds, or independents, or mere swing voters. They are voters who have both relatively strong progressive and conservative high-level moral systems and apply them in different contexts to different issues. There are usually a significant number — in the US my guess is around 20% ± 3. They often determine elections. If they are given only conservative messaging, that messaging will activate their conservative frame system. If they are given progressive messages often enough over a reasonably long period, there is a good chance that their progressive moral system will be activated and strengthened.

    The directly contradicts the traditional view of mainstream pollsters. As a result, it has not been tested empirically on a large scale, though there is one solid result.


    Don’t move to the right. Start thinking longer term. Build as much of a communications system as possible. Design long-term framing for your own high level, moral system and basic policy domains. Fit your immediate messaging needs to the long-term frames. Carry on both kinds of messaging in parallel.


    Design polling to study bi-conceptuals through value-based frame-shifting. Always use batteries of questions.

    How Conservatives Change Policies Without Winning Elections

    How do conservative Republicans have a large effect on policy even when they are largely out of office? Their communication system is never out of office. That allows a conservative minority to stonewall and resist and gain popular approval for it. Their communication system intimidates Democrats into disaster messaging and policy shifts to the right. The Republicans don’t have move the country in a conservative direction by holding office. Their communications system can get the Democrats to move the country to the right by forcing disaster messaging upon them.

    The example of immigration

    The most recent example of disaster framing is reported on in an important Politico article by Carrie Budoff Brown, "Dems Tough New Immigration Pitch". It’s an excellent piece, and I will be quoting liberally from it.

    Brown reports that Democrats have taken "an enforcement-first, law-and-order, limited-compassion pitch that now defines the party’s approach to the issue." Democratic leaders are now following the advice of pollsters Stan Greenberg, Celinda Lake, and Guy Molyneux and strategist/focus-group dialer Drew Westen: Talk like Republicans.

    "The 12 million people who unlawfully reside the country? Call them "illegal immigrants," not "undocumented workers," the pollsters say." The pollster team was organized by John Podesta of the Center for American Progress.

    "When [voters] hear ‘undocumented worker,’ they hear a liberal euphemism, it sounds to them like liberal code," said Drew Westen, a political consultant who has helped Sharry hone the message through dial testing. "I am often joking with leaders of progressive organizations and members of Congress, ‘If the language appears fine to you, it is probably best not to use it. You are an activist, and by definition, you are out of the mainstream.’"

    And craft a policy with lots of Republican elements. Here is what President Obama, following the pollsters’ advice, said at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House:

    "The way to fix our broken immigration system is through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. That means responsibility from government to secure our borders, something we have done and will continue to do. It means responsibility from businesses that break the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers — they’ve got to be held accountable. It means responsibility from people who are living here illegally. They’ve got to admit that they broke the law and pay taxes and pay a penalty, and learn English, and get right before the law — and then get in line and earn their citizenship."

    Conservative Republican elements are being communicated here: Use force against the illegals ("secure our borders"); get tough ("held accountable"}; personal, not social, "responsibility"; criminals ("living here illegally"); be punitive ("admit they broke the law and pay taxes and pay a penalty"); English only ("learn English"); they’re getting free handouts ("earn their citizenship.").

    Put aside for a moment the substance of the policy, and notice that these are conservative Republican themes that fit a conservative Republican view of the world. Democrats, starting with the President, are using the language that activates the conservative Republican view of the world. Why? As Brown reports,

    "We lost control of the message in the 2007 debate," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant rights group that worked with Center for American Progress founder John Podesta on the messaging overhaul.

    "We were on the inside fighting off amendments, and the other side was jacking up their opponents and getting Rush and Hannity and O’Reilly on fire about this. We needed to do a much better job on communications."

    But the biggest factor came from Greenberg’s polls: the threat that Democrats could lose "swing districts" in elections, but could win them with this message. So the Democrats not only adopted the message, but much of the largely conservative policy that went with it.

    A major feature, however, is that the "illegals" would be legalized while on the path to citizenship. The conservative response is obvious: It’s just amnesty warmed over. The Democrats are still soft on "illegals" — a term now embraced by Democrats who follow Drew Westen’s recommendation.

    With the Administration’s lawsuit against the recent Arizona anti-immigrant law, you can bet that the Republicans will use that lawsuit to pin "soft on illegals" on Democratic candidates. And the Administration’s new "tough" right-wing rhetoric will only help support the Republicans.

    Repetition over The Long Term

    The only way progressives can avoid the disaster of disaster messaging is by regularly saying what they believe, in an effective messaging system — out loud, over and over, with the idea of changing how the public thinks and talks over the long haul.

    The Point

    Almost every day, I get a request from somewhere in the US — or various other countries — to help some group do disaster messaging. It’s sad. Reframing rarely works with disaster messaging.

    To work long-term, progressive messaging must be sincere and direct, must reflect progressive moral values, and must be repeated. Progressive framing is about saying what you believe, telling the truth, and activating the progressive worldview already present in the minds of those who are partly conservative and partly progressive.

    Framing is, of course, about policy, more than about messaging. What you say should go hand-in-hand with what you think and do.

    And, of course, the best messaging requires an excellent communications system, or it won’t be heard. Progressives have the money to build such a system. The question is whether they understand the desperate need for such a system, and whether they have the will to build it.

  • #2
    Re: Linguistics


    • #3
      Re: Linguistics

      I think republicans are prone to the same kind of thinking. the base rather than sticking to true conservative policies is all too ready to give in to more moderate opinions in an attempt to appeal to more voters. I believe the entire article could be condensed into two words Sucking Up. Of course either party could easily win a landslid if they would just listen to the people for a change


      • #4
        Re: Linguistics

        Ok the 1st 1/2 was interesting. I wasn't sure how to apply it. Then they gave a great example of how it should be applied. lets see, win elections by not being politicaly correct....... by not saying what you mean...... and trying to sound like conservatives. Nice......


        • #5
          Re: Linguistics

          Just holding up the mirror for all the free thinkers. I know I misunderstood the terms framing and messaging.

          It is obvious the repubs have an truly awesome infrastructure, and at this point I think it is likely insurmountable.

          This article does an excellent job of describing how people are manipulated into holding the opinions they hold, and the masterful way that perceptions are reinforced and built upon.

          NHmaster - You have it backwards. It isn't about sucking up to the electorate, it's about creating a system of attributes that define a given establishment and then be consistent in narratives within that structure. All the while the attributes grow stronger with each new narrative and any opposing or divergent narrative grows weaker.

          Of course everyone that watches FOX News or reads the Washington Times, Wall Street Journal is an open minded, free thinker, so there is no way their bias could ever be manipulated or fortified by the constant messaging these outlets engage in.

          I listened to O'Reilly recently ranting to Dick Morrison about the daily lies on MSNBC and Media Matters. I guess because O'Reilly says so it must be true. Too bad he can't document any instance of a lie in either case, unlike Media Matters or MSNBC can with the right wing messaging machine.

          Media Matters sprang into existence, and continues to thrive, because of the absolutely ridiculous, absurd and numerous lies that fall out of Fox News and their hosts on a daily basis.

          If the rest of the media is liberal (which it isn't, even Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanon admit it isn't), at least it doesn't engage in outright lies.


          • #6
            Re: Linguistics

            I think the Republicans, machine or not have every chance of blowing the coming elections. There are a lot of divisive issues that are tearing the nation apart. The economy, the war, illegal immigration and corruption will all have to be addressed.


            • #7
              Re: Linguistics

              I also think if the conservatves were so good at getting there message across they would not have lost the house senate and presidency. Or maybe if it wasn't for what this article says maybe the repubs would be a long forgotton party.


              • #8
                Re: Linguistics

                All I hear is this...




                • #9
                  Re: Linguistics

                  What message? Nobody has had a message since Newt Gingrich. When the best the party could put forth is McCain, a guy that may as well register as a Democrat when you look at his voting record, what can anyone expect. republicans have no message. Democrats have no message either and neither party has a clear vision for the direction of the nation. They are all liars, crooks and common thieves. Throw the Bastards Out, Every single one of them


                  • #10
                    Re: Linguistics

                    I think the "art" of language applied to promises and messages having to do with politics has run it's useful course. If there was any question of wheter or not politicians actually keep their campaign promises, democrats have answered that once and for all. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that politicians will say anything to get elected and once in office do whatever is asked of their party, not those who elected them.

                    Moving forward with our political process, I think we have evolved to the point of knowing we are hearing nothing but empty promises and lies. Many of us will no longer vote for the politician or party we believe will keep their promises, but rather vote out the incumbants who have most recently be proven to lie.

                    Staying in office will be rather simple once the politicians catch on to the trend. Don't promise what you can't make good on, and follow the will of the electorate not the agenda of the party.


                    • #11
                      Re: Linguistics

                      Look at it this way.

                      The new majority is 41. In the old days, it was 51. But now with 41 senators, the senate comes to a complete stop.

                      Any republican that says anything against Rush is quickly on the phone mending that fence.

                      Fox News and their pundits get caught in lies every single day.

                      We suffered through eight years of authoritarian rule were the slightest dissenting opinion would brand that voice unpatriotic. Now we hail a person for shouting to the president 'you like' during the state of the union address. And guess who his biggest defenders were. Fox News.

                      The republican party is nothing if not disciplined. Just as Tom Delay. Heck, Will Rodgers said "I don't belong to an organized party. I'm a Democrat".

                      How many folks now say Democrat party rather than Democratic party? Pretty effective messaging. And it wouldn't stick if the framing wasn't already in place.


                      • #12
                        Re: Linguistics

                        I know the democratic congressman I voted for has not represented my best interest but rather caved to the wishes of his party leaders. Both parties have failed to represent the will and best interest of the people. Those who refuse to see this and continue to defend either party are in my opinion misguided.

                        I watch Fox News and I can't stand when idiots like glen beck insult Unions, or shaun hannity decides who is a patriot, but there is no mistaking the truths that also come through. Last night bill o'reilly had a guest who was opposed to the arizona immigration law. The guest refused to acknowledge the problem with violent illegals and went about with his own grand standing agenda. He insisted that as a hispanic, arizona law enforcement could pull him over for questioning without just cause. Bill o'reilly stated several times that, that was not the case, but this moron refused to accept the facts.

                        I think I'm open minded enough to see both sides playing games with the truth and trying to sway people to their way of thinking. I think it is a healthy exercise in democracy to dissent, it was okay when George Bush was President, and it's okay now. IF anyone disagrees with that, I think they are no better than shaun hannity. In my opinion the democrats, along with President Obama are no better for the country than the republicans and George Bush. I will however be voting republican next election. I will send a message to my President and all the other democrats I helped elect that you cannot follow your agenda, break promises and still stay in office.


                        • #13
                          Re: Linguistics

                          Originally posted by Frankiarmz View Post
                 was okay when George Bush was President...
                          No, it wasn't. Being a patriot was drawn in very clear terms. You're either with us, or against us. And the Patriot Act was foisted upon congress right before the mid term elections, when voting against it would not be considered an act of dissent, but rather it would brand one as unpatriotic. No representative or senator wanted to defend a no vote on that bill, especially with the cabinet running around on FOX News beating the drum of war with Iraq.

                          But it was a great political move by the repubs to hand more power to the executive branch. It's a pity they were so short sighted and lack poor memory. Did anyone honestly think future presidents would take that tool out of the executive tool box?

                          When Joe Bidden announces he is not part of the executive branch, how long will it take Fox News and their pundits to cry foul and demand he be removed?

                          If dissent was accepted then why did the RNC pen up dissenters into 'Free Speech' zones during their conventions? I did not realize that our first amendment rights are restricted to penned locations.

                          Why were persons wearing anti-war, anti-Bush t-shirts removed or blocked all together from participating in the many Bush/Cheney town hall meetings? If you didn't pass the visual litmus test you were denied participation in events paid for with your own dollars.

                          ... The guest refused to acknowledge the problem with violent illegals...
                          Reports indicate that the illegals have alway been, by and large, law abiding. They are not interested in drawing any unnecessary attention to themselves. I can provide a link for you if you need one.

                          The violent illegals are associated with the drug cartels. After thirty years of the war on drugs it is obvious it has been an abject failure. But it is convenient to pin this attribute onto a illegal population that has been in decline for the past two years. Were was the outrage when the illegal population was at its highest level in mid 2008?

                          ...and went about with his own grand standing agenda.
                          As if O'Reilly doesn't have an agenda? Did he shout the guy down or call him a pin head? Would not be the first time for him. O'Reilly is not a credible source. He may entertain, but any association of O'Reilly and journalism is purely accidental.
                          Last edited by SpiffPeters; 07-09-2010, 12:48 PM.