Democracy depends on our ability to choose our political views. But the language we use to talk about political issues is deliberately designed to be divisive, and can produce up to a 15-point difference in what we think about those issues. As a result, are we choosing our views, or is our language choosing them for us?
This week, Your Undivided Attention welcomes two Jedi Masters of political communication. Drew Westen is a political psychologist and messaging consultant based at Emory university, who has advised the Democratic Party. Frank Luntz is a political and communications consultant, pollster, and pundit, who has advised the Republican Party. In the past, our guests have used their messaging expertise in ways that increased partisanship. For example, Luntz advocated for the use of the term “death tax” instead of “estate tax,” and “climate change” instead of “global warming.” Still, Luntz and Westen are uniquely positioned to help us decode the divisive power of language — and explore how we might design language that unifies.
CORRECTIONS: in the episode, Tristan refers to a panel Drew Westen and Frank Luntz were on at the New York Public Library. He says the panel was “about 10 years ago,” but it was actually 15 years ago in 2007. Also, Westen refers to a news anchor who moderated a debate between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis in 1988. Drew mistakenly names the anchor as Bernard Kalb, when it was actually Bernard Shaw.
Drew Westen is a Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University. He has advised a range of organizations, from U.S. presidential campaigns to the Democratic Caucuses of the U.S. Senate and of the House of Representatives, and has been a frequent contributor on political and psychological issues on radio, television, and in print, in venues such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN. His book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation influenced campaigns and elections around the world. It was described by President Bill Clinton as one of the most significant books in politics. Today, Dr. Westen is working on a follow-up his 2008 book The Political Brain, about how to talk with voters' on the issues they care about.
Frank Luntz is a globally-recognized political and communications consultant, pollster, and pundit. Sir David Frost called him “the Nostradamus of pollsters” and he's a winner of The Washington Post's coveted “Crystal Ball” award for being the most accurate pundit. He pioneered an “Instant Response” focus group technique that has been profiled on outlets from 60 Minutes to the BBC. Dr. Luntz has written, supervised, and conducted more than 2,500 surveys, focus groups, ad tests, and dial sessions for more than 50 Fortune 500 companies and CEOs in more than two dozen countries and six continents over the past 30 years. He's the author of three New York Times Best Sellers, including Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear. In the past, Dr. Luntz advocated for the use of the term death tax instead of estate tax, and climate change instead of global warming. Luntz current focus is transcending polarization.
Drew Westen's 2008 book about role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation, which influenced campaigns and elections around the world
Frank Luntz's 2008 book, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the tactical use of words and phrases affects what we buy, who we vote for, and even what we believe in
A 2007 panel between multiple 'Jedi Masters' of political communication along the political spectrum, including Frank Luntz, Drew Westen, and George Lakoff