Why did Utah Governor Spencer Cox make an announcement with his opponent? | Opinion

Campaign ads aren’t known for bringing Americans together, but a public service announcement from Utah showed it could.

New research on “One Nation,” the 2020 ad jointly released by Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates in Utah, found that watching the ad reduced viewers’ support for undemocratic practices, such as the renunciation of democratic principles for partisan ends or the use of violence against members of another party. .

With the midterm exams less than two weeks away, the 30-second spot, once described as a “masterclass in leadership,” deserves renewed attention.

In the announcement, Republican Governor Spencer Cox and Democratic candidate Chris Peterson take turns talking about their shared values ​​and both pledge to accept the results of the presidential election.

“We live in a very conservative state, so as a Republican I was pretty confident about my chances of winning, but we saw what was happening nationally and it was getting uglier and uglier,” said Cox in a interview on Twitter Spaces.

“I had this crazy idea that I should get together with my opponent, see if he would be willing to make an announcement, if you guys could do something together, and I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but something where we had a Republican and a Democrat standing together on the same stage saying, “Hey, we’re Americans first, no matter what.”

Peterson agreed, a mutual friend wrote the script, and an advertising agency set it up. Although Cox said a few people he spoke to about the ad called it a bad idea, “the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The ad was then tested by Stanford University’s Strengthening Democracy Challenge. The researchers sorted through 252 interventions, made by social scientists, activists and others, that could potentially depolarize people and reduce antidemocratic beliefs. They selected 25 interventions to show 31,000 American supporters and found that 23 of them “significantly” reduced partisan animosity.

Utah’s announcement, submitted by University of Utah assistant professor Ben Lyons, was one of the most effective, ranking #2 for reduced support for partisan violence and # 4 for reducing support for undemocratic practices including overturning an election, gerrymandering and trying to withhold people’s votes.

“I think what happens is that when ordinary Americans see their leaders commit to fundamentally accepting the results of an election, to being civil, it helps ordinary Americans recalibrate their perceptions of the American politics, and it seems to have a very significant effect in reducing their support for these practices,” said James Chu, assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University.

Ads in the competitive U.S. Senate race from Utah this year are not designed to reduce polarization, and outside groups are pumping money into the race. Fortunately, it’s not just politicians who can fight the rise of partisanship. Showing ordinary Americans with different political views can be effective, researchers have found.

Other top-performing interventions include “Civity Storytelling,” a series of short videos of Americans from different backgrounds talking about themselves, and Heineken’s 2017 UK “Worlds Apart” ad in which people with opposing views on feminism, climate change and transgender identity get to know each other and talk about their differences over a drink. In another high-performance intervention, Democrats and Republicans were quizzed on a series of questions and told that most members of the other party weren’t as extreme as they imagined.

Research provides best practices for reducing partisan animosity, and there are some common themes among the most effective interventions:

  • They show people with different political beliefs who are relatable and likable.
  • They show areas of identity common to all parties.
  • They show empathy and a perceived similarity with members of another party.

While the newspaper is full of good news for those who want to lower the temperature in American politics and do some good on “e pluribus unum”, there are some specific post-January ones. 6 challenges. For one thing, an ad like “One Nation” couldn’t happen today in races with candidates who deny the 2020 election results, and there are 201 of them, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Some efforts to reduce partisanship can also do the opposite. One intervention, “Democratic Fear”, was most successful in reducing support for undemocratic practices and partisan animosity, but it increase support for political violence among Republican viewers.

The video showed facts about democratic erosion and images of political violence in Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Russia and Turkey, then asked “Could it happen here?” followed by footage of the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Researchers have suggested that these images have increased Republican support, as many believe the attack was a legitimate protest.

The researchers said their findings can give elected officials, media workers, community leaders and others a toolkit on how to reduce polarization, not to mention optimism that things can get better. .

“It’s not that we live in a society where polarization is a fact of nature, that politicians have to behave that way because politics is just a zero-sum game,” Chu said. . “It doesn’t have to be like that.”

A version of this story originally appeared in YELLOWa newsletter on politics, art, design and marketing.

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