If you’re interested in learning more about political messaging, here are three books to start. I’m sharing these books because they laid the foundation for my understanding of this field, and I often apply the lessons in my own work.
Words That Work by Frank Luntz
The foundational book for Republican & conservative messaging, Words That Work is written by Republican Pollster Frank Luntz, who has worked with the Republican Party for decades. He’s was the figure behind the curtain for some of the party’s growth over time. He was responsible for rebranding “estate taxes” to “death taxes.”
This book is a fascinating look into not only conservative ideology, but how best to communicate that ideology. Along with that, it’s a great introduction to effective messaging. regardless of your political ideology.
Even if you’re not conservative, you can apply what you learn to any scenario you find yourself in: because Luntz’s goal has always been to find the words that work.
Don’t Think Of An Elephant! by George Lakoff
Another foundational book, this time for progressives & left-leaning people. George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive linguistics at the University of Berkeley, where he teaches about topics such as metaphors, language, and meaning.
This book is an introduction to one of the most important concepts in political communications: framing. Framing is the use of language to influence how listeners interpret and understand a topic.
You’ve probably heard this term before. “How will this be framed?”, “You’re framing this all wrong”, “Frame this in a more positive light”.
In politics, how we frame something plays a huge role in how well it’s received by others.
I try to use framing in my own conversations about the climate. Instead of the more common existential crisis talk, I focus on environmental advocacy as positive investments in the future, caring for our community, and taking care of ourselves. When you take your kids out for a walk, you want to make sure the roads are cleaned, right? Same with the air you breathe.
That’s a very rough example, but it illustrates the point. This book is a great dive into not only framing itself but how to use it.
Catalyst by Jonah Berger
The final book is a more recent one and comes a bit out of the left field for political communications. Jonah Berger is a professor at the Warton School of Business, where he teaches & researches topics like virality and why we share things, including what influences our behaviour in these areas.
This book, however, is a fascinating look into the psychology behind changing minds. He introduces a framework, which he calls REDUCE, to explain the core tenets behind what works when it comes to changing people’s minds (and backs it up with research).
While his work typically focuses on business & culture, this book in particular has multiple examples from politics. For example, he dives into the VoteLeave campaign (AKA Brexit) and how specific messaging was used to tap into a psychological need many of us have, and how that need was used to drive votes to support the campaign.
The book itself is truly non-partisan, which is what makes it so accessible: he balances examples without bias and uses research to show what the data says works. Highly recommend.
If you’re familiar with this field, you’ll probably notice that I left out some notable books: the reason for this is because, to be honest, I haven’t read those books yet. I try not to promote work I haven’t read myself. When I do read them, I’ll share what I think!
Also, I haven’t included any links for these books online. If you’re considering buying these books, I recommend you first look to your local independent bookstore. In the age of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Chapters & Indigo, it’s important we support our independent and local businesses. So look up yours in your town first!
Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.