Changing Public Opinion

“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 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.

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. This can be an effective approach if done with courtesy, balance and respect for other views expressed. It’s a small world, and just talking casually about your issue may help you discover others who share your interest and might prove future allies.
  • Do not pass up opportunities to speak to groups. Try to identify organizations that should be interested in your issue, and let them know about people who are informed and available to speak on the subject of concern. On a more casual basis, you can bring up your issue when appropriate in meetings you normally attend, or in groups you belong to. Even announcements of upcoming events or activities related to your issue can help to focus public attention and build a sense that the issue is important.
  • 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 sies, 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
    • Writing an Ops-Ed or Letter to the Editor
    • Call in to a talk radio show
    • Tips for talking with reporters
    • 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.