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Changing Public Opinion

Maybe your issue is too controversial for legislation. Legislators rarely drive opinion, but respond to it. Frankly, that is how it is supposed to work - you want our representatives to follow the public, not the other way around.

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right.

-- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Maybe there is a prevailing myth about your issue that needs to change. For example, the presumption that most uninsured people are healthy, young, irresponsible adults with resources who choose to take the risk that they will stay healthy and buy a cool car rather than pay for health insurance. While that undoubtedly happens, it is far from the whole picture. But until that myth is exposed, it will be difficult to get government to step in.

So, you need to move public opinion. While that is very difficult for one person alone, it usually starts with one person.

  • Never underestimate the power of talking to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances about your issue. You'd be amazed at how effective it can be -- it's a small world. Waiting with the other parents at my son's school bus stop in the morning, I used to make small talk about issues that were important to me. Over the years, my neighbors have become active in healthcare advocacy - many wrote letters and called legislators for the first time in response to a casual conversation about an upcoming vote. Now my quiet street is a powerful force in Connecticut politics. 
  • Do not pass up opportunities to speak to groups. Many community groups search for speakers for their events - the PTA, the League of Women Voters, etc. Take advantage of these opportunities - they want to hear about your issue. The CT Health Policy Project is developing a Speaker's Bureau. For more information, read For Tips on Public Speaking.
  • Use the media - the primary way most of us get information about public policies. 
    • Get to know the media, let them get to know you 
      • Read, watch or listen to see which sources pay attention to your issue area 
      • Introduce yourself 
      • Send a packet of information with a personal note offering your help -- serve as a resource for information and quotes, be sure to include your contact information in the packet (do not assume they will keep the envelope) 
      • Follow up with a phone call 
      • Contact them on occasion (don't be a pest) with real life stories, results of a new survey or report, a different or local take on a national trend, etc. 
      • Become a local "expert" - when a story arises on the issue, work to make sure they think of you 
    • Write an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor
    • Call into a talk radio show 
    • Be interviewed by a reporter
    • Include the media in any events you are planning

Some issues can be addressed by passing a law, getting one enforced or just by getting the right information to the right person at the right time.

But some are harder. It happens slowly, but it will happen.

RELATED ARTICLES

Collaborations and Coalitions

Effective Communications

If you only have 5 minutes to make a difference

How to work with a lobbyist

Tips on Public Speaking

Research - Finding and Using Data

Sample Fact Sheet 1

Sample Fact Sheet 2

Tips for talking with reporters

Tips No Advocate should forget

Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor

How to work with campaigns

How to Create Fact Sheets and Action Alerts

Media Advocacy Presentation

LINKS

Telling it Our Way A media strategy kit with specific tools from We Interrupt This Message

Public Agenda On-line

Kaiser Family Foundation – Public Opinion and Media Research Section

The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at UConn

Quinnipiac University Polling Institute

United States League of Women Voters' Advocacy Page (includes links to local media)

Families USA ImPRESSive Tip Sheets

University of Kansas Community Tool Box (this links to one article, but the Tool Box is a wonderfully rich resource for all areas of advocacy)

UCONN list of media outlets in Connecticut http://www.news.uconn.edu/newsourc.htm

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