Finding Commonalities and Solutions With Decision-Makers
Dials: Fine-Tuning The Archetypes
The archetypes alone do not encapsulate everyone — as is true of any group, there is diversity in thought and approach within each archetype. “Dials” can help advocates more clearly tune in to individual thinking. For example, it might be appropriate for a rural, older Church and Country decision-maker to be dialed “up,” or for an urban, younger Economic Influenced decision-maker to be dialed “down.” In this research, the strongest dials that emerged were around age and geography. We offer those insights below and encourage you to add your own as you learn more.
Rural communities often have strength in churches, tight social networks and people who play many roles for the community. They may have less access to nonprofits or government-funded programs. As a result, rural decision-makers may lean toward individual or community solutions over policy. Decision-makers from rural areas find it hard to relate to advocates who talk about options or solutions that simply don’t exist where they live.
“I’m from a very rural district. Lots of poverty. Not many nonprofits. We are 50 miles from (a major metropolitan area), and when you drive out here the world changes a bunch. It’s hard for people to understand the level of poverty in some of these small communities. When you are in a rural district with a lot of poverty, all of your constituents are poor no matter what their political party.” — State representative, male, 62, rural, Legacy Republican
“[Child care centers] do not exist. It’s a false narrative. There is so much regulation that we can’t start a new one. We need to find a more individual-based solution.” — Executive director, conservative think tank, female, mid-30s, rural, Populist-Aligned
Legislators in rural areas are especially focused on solving for basic services, such as access to doctors and hospitals. From this perspective, initiatives like plastic bag bans may come across as frivolous and punitive, while larger, more ambitious initiatives feel out of reach due to lack of funds and/or bandwidth at the local level.
Decision-makers in urban areas may be familiar with a broader array of contexts, situations, strengths and needs among their constituents, so may relate to a wider mix of solutions.
Younger decision-makers (except in the Populist-Aligned archetype) seemed more interested in creative problem-solving than older decision-makers, who were a little more “been there, done that.” It’s important to note that younger decision-makers are not necessarily less conservative in their beliefs, but may be more willing to engage in new ways of thinking. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) also tend to be passionate about debating the details of policy and solving problems.
Decision-makers who had younger children (or grandchildren) were most sympathetic about issues surrounding child care. For millennials and younger decision-makers who have children in the home or may be considering parenthood in the near future, PN-3 issues may feel very relevant.
Economic arguments are also effective with millennials, especially for those who have been through the Great Recession and struggle as a generation to build wealth and save for adult milestones during the pandemic.
“For me, here’s how I might go in with: ‘We both agree that improving the health of women and babies is key to building stronger young families and making the economy stronger. We have a similar goal to where the finish line is — is there a way we can both move the ball down the field? How can we both walk away victorious?’” — State representative, male, 31, rural
“Child care is the biggest issue facing every mom, whether you have money or not. Day care can be more than you make. It is so hard to find a day care that is accepting people. If you have more than one kid, good luck. You have to hire someone to come to the house, and that’s its own issue — I went through eight people in eight weeks during [the COVID-19 pandemic]. Especially if you work a split shift.” — Executive director, conservative think tank, female, mid-30s, rural
Other Insights to Consider
You know best how to customize additional dials based on your own research about the decision-maker, which can include personal interest, background and personality type. This can help you further fine-tune your approach.
You might find dials in the following places:
Browse the websites of the decision-makers you are meeting with and look for evidence of their stated support for children, families and employers. Search for anything that can be easily connected back to your priorities and use it in conversation with the decision-maker.
Consider this sample language: “We know from your website that you care about workforce development. We do too and think there is something we could do this year to get more people into the workforce at wages that support their family, while also cutting down on lost productivity that hurts employers when their employees need to take time off suddenly to address gaps in their child’s care.”
Decision-makers we interviewed said they will also check advocates’ organizational websites and social media before a meeting for clues as to “which side” you are on. One person commented that it can feel disingenuous for an advocate to “flame” them on social media and then come in asking for cooperation.
Poll your coalition members to see if their organization has ever given an award to a target lawmaker. If so, tap into that previous connection during conversation, and tie it back to the new policy or initiative you are advocating for now.
Consider this sample language: “Just like when we worked on (previous initiative) together before, this new initiative supports our shared goal of (impact of shared goal) for our community.”
Data about contributions made to a candidate for office by individuals, PACs and other leadership funds can provide insights into the intensity for positions and the base for re-elections.
Likewise, endorsements by individuals or organizations can be leading indicators that someone holds firm to certain positions. For example, if a candidate wants Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) support by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, the candidate has “made a written commitment to oppose any and all tax increases.”
As the ATR website notes: Since its rollout with the endorsement of President Reagan in 1986, the pledge has become practically required for Republicans seeking office, and is a necessity for Democrats running in Republican districts. Today the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is offered to every candidate for state and federal office and to all incumbents. Nearly 1,400 decision-makers, from state representative to governor to U.S. Senator, have signed the Pledge.
You can see who has signed the pledge here: The Pledge Database, Americans for Tax Reform