Reflections on Dr. Frank Luntz testimony before the U.S. Senate Democrat's Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.
“It is not what you say, it is what people hear,” is a quote by Dr. Frank Luntz that I often cite to make the point that do not fall in love with your message, but to make sure you have gotten proper buy in from the receiver of your message.
So what do the public think about climate change? How do we engage and inspire the public to support initiatives to reduce CO₂ from the atmosphere?
Throughout the years, when I have wanted to take the pulse of the American public perception, I always asked: “What does Luntz’ research say about this?”
The reason is that Luntz’ strategic words and messaging have influenced American Politics for the past 30 years.
Luntz trailblazed into the political scene as the pollster and strategist to the Independent Presidential Candidate, Ross Perot and the success of this campaign divided the voting block and paved the way for Democratic Candidate Bill Clinton to win the presidency. From there, Luntz was one of the key strategists behind “The Contract of America,” the campaign in 1994 that galvanized a Republican tsunami ushering in for the first time in 50 years a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Luntz did not stop there and has been behind several key phrases and messaging that have influenced American policy and political campaigns. In recent years, he is most known for changing the phrase from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change'.
On July 25, 2019 Luntz testified before the U.S. Senate Democrat's Special Committee on the Climate Crisis where he stated: “I’m here before you to say that I was wrong in 2001,” and stated that the committee should stop using climate change "because it is not accurate today.” Luntz went on to offer his messaging services to the cause of climate action
Even though Luntz is focusing on Americans, these are sound advice to anyone working with climate change. So, what are the takeaways from his recent testimony:
1. Go positive “The American people want to know the positive, not just the negative,” Luntz said. “Not just the fear. They want to know the benefits of focusing on it.”
This also supports what Dr. Per Espen Stoknes author of “What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming”. He states that to create engagement it is advisable to move away from the language of doom, because it desensitizes toward action. He said, “Climate change is usually framed as a looming disaster, bringing losses, cost and sacrifice. That makes us fearful. But after the first fear is gone, my brain soon wants to avoid this topic altogether.”
2. Get-it-done Americans want the political leaders to solve climate change. We can never fail on acting – actions speak louder than words. Luntz advises that we use words like “climate action.” We are acting to solve this issue.
3. Make it about the people. Luntz said politicians should “personalize, individualize and humanize,” the impacts of climate change. Show empathy and see the climate issue from their point of view. This is where social media channels can be effective as they are more personal in nature. A great tool is going on live video via Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram as this shows authenticity at its best.
4. Ask and connect “If you let the American people speak first then no matter what you say afterward you are going to be connecting to them,” Luntz said.
This fits really well with research that was conducted by Gassnova and BI Norwegian Business School of Management in 2017 with football (soccer) players and fans at Norwegian ODD Football league. The purpose of the focus groups was to ask for advice on how to communicate carbon capture and storage (CCS). After each of the focus group sessions, the number one feedback was the honor to be asked to help --Just being asked to provide an opinion was more important than anything else.
5. Celebrate wins Luntz stated that businesses who are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint should be celebrated.
Celebrating wins reinforces the positive attitude and behavior we want to have show up when we face a new challenge or opportunity. And by celebrating wins, we are nudging forward good behavior. As stated by Stoknes in his TED talk, "we can make the climate-friendly behaviors default and convenient."