By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The results of the 2014 mid-term elections are in and, for the most part, the American electorate has confirmed expectations, ushering in a swing toward the right. Before that, 2012 saw a swing to the left, and 2010 saw a swing to the right, and 2008 saw a swing to the left. The pattern is that the party generally perceived as being in power absorbs the bulk of the public’s fears and dissatisfactions, motivating a shift toward the other side. This year, the pendulum of politics continues to keep time. The reliability of these swings reminds me of the shifts in opinion that we see over the course of a mock trial: The plaintiff presents and a majority favors that side. Then the defense presents and a majority favors that side. Adding in the different phases of opening statements, witness testimony and closings, that back-and-forth swing can be repeated over and over again before the mock jurors reach the deliberation stage.
The pendulum swings we see in both voters and jurors provide an important reminder for the practical persuader inside or outside of litigation. The reminder is that attitudes are dynamic, not static. Previous messages and judgments set a context for the messages and judgments to follow. But as we receive more information, or as we simply have a chance to process and ruminate, we will change our minds. That might sound obvious, but it can be under-appreciated when we reduce decision makers to the fixed categories of “for us” or “against us.” Acknowledging a state of persuasive flux has some important implications for the ways we think of our targets in persuasion, as well as the ways we set and measure our own goals and objectives. This post starts with the idea that attitudes change, and draws out a few implications you may not have considered for both trial and pretrial research settings like focus groups and mock trials.