Why Messages on Economic Insecurity Fail

economic insecurityPeople are more likely to become politically involved when there’s an issue in play that affects them personally. Unless that issue is economic insecurity.

Adam Seth Levine, an assistant professor of government at Cornell, conducted a messaging study to determine people’s willingness to donate time or money to a political organization. He found that people who face financial insecurity are less likely to donate when the message they hear includes information about economic challenges, like the high costs of textbooks or health care. Levine believes that’s because the messaging itself reminds people that they can’t afford to donate.

In an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times, Levine recognizes the challenges this poses for organizations trying to encourage people to become politically active.

If people’s concerns about their own economic insecurity won’t motivate them to get involved, what will? Social-movement messages that play down individual insecurity and use collective action to demand more effective government services — or that emphasize shared bonds like neighborhood and faith — are one alternative. But it’s tough to overcome citizens’ perception that they just can’t afford to get involved in politics. In most cases, when it comes to their money and time, citizens keep their kitchen-table concerns at the kitchen table.

Hmmm… Play down the individual and emphasize shared bonds? Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah—right here, on this very website! Most of us want what’s best for our community and our nation. Organizations hoping to inspire political or community involvement have a better chance of being successful if they focus on the greater good rather than the challenges faced by individuals.

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