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Using Storytelling in Politics

We need to change the game and continue to adapt to new ways that the media are peddling out political information.

Political channels are filled with constant funnels of news, updates, and results, so what’s gonna stand out? How are you going to secure votes for your party or more importantly, yourself?

Much like how brands tell their own stories, more and more politicians are now buying into the “good story” aspect of campaigning. Good stories reach people's interests and this isn’t going away anytime soon. Politics is now in a place where candidates fight through with stories rather than with an idea. Stories reveal a reality that calls out the audience and also seeks to include more and more characters into the process.

Donald Trump pushed a story that resonated so much with some Americans that he now finds himself the President of the United States. What was his story? Put simply, that the United States wasn’t good enough and that he was the man to make it better - “Make America Great Again”.

Storytelling is Key to Leadership

Most good political leaders excel at storytelling, they are interested in other people's stories and therefore they enjoy the entire communication cycle. To get to this level, candidates need to tell an authentic story about who they are, about where they see their community, or their country, or the world going.

David Axelrod recently spoke about the power of narrative arts which he learned a great deal about when working with possibly one of the greatest political storytellers ever.

“I started working with Obama in 2002 when he was looking to run for the Senate. Every night, we’d talk. He’d be out on the road, and he’d share stories about people that he had met.

He’s a great practitioner of the narrative arts. You saw that in his own writing. But then, he would give political speeches, and they were very high‑level policy talks.

Finally, I said to him, “You know, every night, you tell me these moving stories. You should share those stories because they animate the points you’re trying to make much more effectively.” He started integrating these stories into his speeches.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tradition in Storytelling

The storytelling technique lends itself well to social media and other online platforms. Nowadays we tend to be drawn to what is gone “viral” compared to what is on the front page of the Huffington Post. Saying this, storytelling has been around a long time, it has often played important roles in political races in the past. Stories are part of the human tradition of communication and help people organize ideas through a narrative framework and meaningful context.

Take Ronald Reagan, a man considered one of the most powerful storytellers that ever lived, tagged with creating the mythical, original, “great” America. In a book by author Jan Hanska, Reagan’s ability to talk, profoundly, was examined in its entirety. Hanska explains how Reagan constructed stories using re-created, "Americanized" myths such as the "American way of life" and "the American dream".

These myths blurred the factual and fictional, conflated the sacred and the absurd, constituted the American dream as an object of belief, and blended the mythical and religious into the political. Hanska's work demonstrates that political narratives are an exceedingly complex form of action. They interweave culturally dominant ideologies, religious beliefs, and myths into powerfully persuasive frameworks for political leaders to deploy. As such, Reagan's Mythical America is a remarkable achievement (Oldenburg, Christopher J.), and strains of this were definitely present during Trump’s campaign in 2016.

Testing the Storytelling Technique

Obama’s personal story, his rise and his background all resonated hard with voters in 2008. It locked in a huge number of voters who would not have felt a relationship with George W Bush. For future candidates, it may be important to test your messaging and your “story”. This is common practice when it comes to testing campaign TV ads and slogans. US politics is currently leading the way, employing focus groups to listen to candidates narratives and storytelling ability.

Political campaigning continues to grow the way we influence each other, creating scenario which allow us to hear a specific opinion or reaction.

If you would like to hear more about the role of storytelling in campaigning or are interested in how Ecanvasser can help you this election season, why not get in touch…

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