Making "Moral Arguments" in Political Persuasion

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We discussed in our last email the significance of “moral arguments” in political persuasion. The scholars we referenced used five frames for their analysis of moral arguments: a) fairness and reciprocity; b) caring for others/protecting them from harm c) respect for authority; d) loyalty to those within one’s group; and e) the protection of religious or social ideals. The 2015 study we cited observed that appeals to fairness/equality and caring had more effect with liberals while conservatives were more likely to be moved by appeals to loyalty, authority, and purity/sanctity. 

Feinberg’s 2015 research focused on the use of moral arguments within the traditional “liberal” or “conservative” framework to convince people to adopt positions that were opposite their natural inclination. The study concluded. 

When talking to conservatives:  

  • A purity argument in support of the Affordable Care Act (uninsured Americans are more unhealthy and diseased) was significantly more convincing than the fairness argument (health coverage is a basic human right).
  • A loyalty argument in support of same sex marriage (same-sex couples are proud patriotic Americans) was significantly more convincing to conservatives than a fairness argument (all citizens deserve equal treatment).


When talking to liberals: 

  • A fairness argument in support of increased military spending (the military gives opportunity to low income Americans) was significantly more convincing to liberals than a loyalty argument (the military ensures that the United States is the greatest country on earth).
  • A fairness argument in support of English as the official national language (encouraging English gives immigrants more economic opportunity) was significantly more convincing to liberals than a loyalty argument (language unites Americans and encourages assimilation).

The evidence is strong and while we don’t have to walk a mile in the shoes of a Trump voter, our odds of retaking the US Senate and making big gains in the House would be greater if we keep this research in mind when we are searching for swing voters down ballot.  

We invite you to read the 2015 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by clicking here and the 2009 work on Moral Foundations by clicking here.  

As always, we invite you to join our conversation on social media with #chismstrat.


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