Friday 14th October, 2016

"Let fury have the hour, anger can be power
D’you know that you can use it?"
Joe Strummer

Head of PR Matt Forster examines why knowing your enemy can be a powerful tool when it comes to engaging audiences.

little red riding hood

There’s been a lot of noise around Momentum Kids.

Whether it’s about providing crèches at meetings so that parents can engage in politics or a way of building an army of Tiny Trots is not a debate I’m wading into here. It does raise an interesting question around belief though. Why do we choose to believe one thing and not another? Can we be indoctrinated? Do we inherit our beliefs from our parents? Is it just a phase we’re going through? No doubt it’s all part of the mix.

Speaking on the Today programme, psychologist Dr Sam Wass argued that our political beliefs are heritable – that they are more genetic than we’d possibly think – because they’re linked to our emotions.

He explained that our emotions play a strong role in guiding our actions – particularly emotional responses that we’ve developed at a very early age. He talked about fear being heritable, but not the focus of that fear. So children inherit fearfulness from their parents rather than a particular fear, say of spiders. Dr Wass went on to discuss recent American research that suggested these early emotions are guiding political persuasion – saying that people who felt anxious or were particularly interested in the gruesome details of a car crash were more likely to vote Conservative. Dr Wass suggested this, not me.

Confirming that there is no one place where our beliefs are formed – Dr Wass also suggested the beliefs we hold are related to our age. Young people, he said, are most likely to swing to the left because they are more open minded. He suggested that the older we get, our social circles shrink and we become more self-interested and more right leaning. That won’t come as much of a surprise to some people reading this.

Seasoned political journalist Nick Robinson suggests that anger is a key influencer upon belief. In his experience, he explained, what makes people angry goes to the root of their politics and determines the way they vote. I’d agree. Anger can be a powerful thing. Every successful movement is against something. If you can clearly express what it is that you’re against – all those other people who are against the same thing will join you in the fight. 

Importantly you don’t always have to be waging a worthy war. We don’t need to be fighting segregation or poverty or the system (although these are clearly big draws) to find like-minded people who are up for a scrap.

You might be fighting complex ordering systems or the dominance of desk-based technology that keeps people office-bound. You might be fighting stubborn stains, knee pain or bad breath. Whatever you’re fighting against – there will be others. So – if you want to go to war, or if you’re looking to engage with more customers, followers, supporters, voters, donors etc. know what it is you’re fighting against.