Finding Commonalities and Solutions With Decision-Makers
Characteristics Across Archetypes
While the aim is to narrow in on specific ways of thinking, there are some broad characteristics across all the archetypes. The insights below — drawn from interviews and existing research — help envision a “typical” conservative decision-maker.
Freedom is an overarching value for conservative decision-makers. From that value core beliefs in limited government and parental choice emerge.
Collective or systems solutions, especially coming from the government, are often rejected. To support parents who don’t have what they need, most conservative decision-makers favor policies that educate parents about how to raise healthy babies, find existing resources and become more self-sufficient.TIP
In PN-3 and related conversations, acknowledge that parents have a responsibility to care for their children, and PN-3 policies aim to create conditions where parents have what they need to act on that responsibility. This same idea, creating conditions where people have opportunity and choice, works across issues.
The closely held belief in personal freedom makes concerns about government over-regulation a priority issue.
Steps taken by local governments to protect and/or promote health and well-being are sometimes perceived as intentionally limiting or infringing on those freedoms. COVID-19 mask mandates and closures are often cited as examples of this.
This is especially important if you are meeting with people who are more socially and politically conservative than you are, and you use language that they consider to be progressive. For example, the changing understanding of gender identity and use of pronouns is more familiar and accepted in some places than in others.
The same holds true if you are less comfortable using progressive language, or are nervous about saying the “wrong thing.”
This is not to say you should avoid language that aligns with your values and the world you are working to create; rather, listen first and try to stay curious about where your values overlap with theirs, then find language representative of those shared values and use terms that are comfortable for both of you. Name the places where you are uncertain and still learning.TIP
If you have an opportunity to share a consideration for why someone may want to use a different word, only do so if you’re confident you can offer this information in a friendly and nonpolarizing way.
This can heighten party loyalty, motivating people to stick closely to party positions, even if they personally disagree.
Remember that elected officials touch hundreds of issues. State electeds acknowledge the challenge of staying well-versed on every issue; sometimes they feel talked down to by what they perceive as highly-educated and worldly advocates.TIP
Slow down, avoid jargon and pause to listen for understanding before you layer in more data.
Conservative decision-makers want to help children and they can be key allies for advocates in this overarching goal. Approach conversations with a commitment to find shared humanity. “I’m grateful to be here” can be a welcome opener.
Be as transparent as possible — give the sources of your data and share all information. Recognize that both parties in the conversation have some expertise; take care not to come across as lecturing or assuming the other person’s ignorance.
Respect the desire for a two-way conversation. Signal that you want to learn as well as share information that you have, before getting into "the ask." If time allows, you might ask, “What are you seeing in your district? What do you think could move the needle on this?” Then connect their input back to your priorities.
Our Commitment to Addressing Structural Racism
Voices for Healthy Kids is committed to directly naming and addressing structural racism. But when initiating a relationship with some decision-makers, it can be counterproductive to begin with a message that introduces the concept of structural racism. Building understanding and changing culture here is a longer-term game, built incrementally through open listening and trust building.
It may be helpful to understand — or even refer to, as appropriate — the science behind this work, as explained by the American Heart Association in its Championing Equitable Health for All Impact Report.
When the American Heart Association was founded in 1924, very little was known about heart disease. So we focused primarily on research and education. Once we learned more, we focused on treatment for heart attacks, cardiac arrests and other emergencies. Then we realized we needed to promote healthy lifestyles to prevent heart disease and stroke in the first place.
Thanks to these combined efforts, heart and brain health improved over the years — but not for everyone. Statistics showed that Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian people often suffered disproportionately, in rural, urban and suburban settings alike.
That led us to work toward health equity by addressing social determinants of health. They include social factors that in the past had not been thought of in relation to health, including food insecurity, housing insecurity, education level and employment, just to name a few.
Still, health lagged for many people of color and people living in rural areas. And so we turned additional focus on addressing the unique health challenges of life in rural America and of structural racism.
By removing these barriers to health equity, we will have a significant impact on health across the country, ensuring all people have the same chance to live a longer, healthier life.
In a June 2021 Yahoo News and YouGov survey, only 27 percent of Republicans agreed that racism is embedded in legal systems and policies. Further, the word equity is perceived as overused and divisive; several interviewees equate equity with communism or socialism. This makes structural racism and equity challenging topics to raise in an isolated conversation while still keeping the door open for dialogue. “That word (equity) is loaded,” said the state director of a conservative political organization. “It poisons the conversation. Equity doesn’t move conservatives. Problem solving does.”TIP
You can discuss the concept of equity in policy with all archetypes, without leading with the words “inequity” or “equity,” like this: “The ultimate goal is to help everyone. By starting where the needs are greatest or will have the greatest impact, then expanding to help everyone, can be an efficient way to phase in policies and budgets. It also helps us try new ideas and adjust as we expand.”
“Economically is where we can get behind this idea. If you say that we are going to help out the poorest first, then we are game. If you say we want to help out the poor Black but not the poor white — we would say why? … A poor white person does not think they are privileged when they are making $20K a year.” — State representative, male, 31, rural, Church and Country
Listen for clues that a direct discussion of structural racism may be welcome. Look for areas of agreement that you can positively affirm (e.g., some people in some parts in my district have less resources, it's harder for them). Whenever possible, start to describe how community conditions shape health, and how the same policy can have different impacts in different areas. For those who feel relationships have begun to be built and are ready to advance the conversation, our Racial Equity in Public Policy message guide offers insights on how to do this.
Many decision-makers leaned into this economic argument as well as the importance of self-sufficiency and getting able-bodied people back into the workforce.
Decision-makers cited affordable childcare and quality early childhood education as critical to getting people back into the workforce; some also mentioned support for tax credits and paid family leave.TIP
Focus on how a bill, policy or action can increase employment access and opportunity for the most people possible, either directly or indirectly. Share how the policy provides needed support so individuals can get back to work, develop job skills, and contribute to society.