Latitudes of Acceptance in Politics
Section: Spin U
Latitudes of Acceptance refers to the range of ideas on a topic that you are willing to consider. For example, people who are pro-life might be willing to believe that abortion is acceptable as a result of rape or incest. However, they would probably be unwilling to consider that abortion is acceptable for other reasons. Such an idea would be outside their latitudes of acceptance.
Public Relations(PR), Advertising and Marketing experts work with target populations—groups of people with similar attitudes. They frequently want to understand their target groups’ latitudes of acceptance on issues relevant to the attitudes they are trying to influence. For example, PR experts in politics might define a target population as “independent voters” and then identify their latitudes of acceptance on key issues. The reason they do this is because there is no point in presenting an advertisement that is outside an independent voters latitudes of acceptance because people are unwilling to consider ideas that are outside their latitudes of acceptance.
The goal of PR can bey to change the target audience’s latitudes of acceptance. For example, a PR campaign might attempt to move an idea outside a target population’s latitudes of acceptance in order to develop a loyal group individuals who won’t listen to valid counterarguments because they are outside their latitudes of acceptance. That is, creating narrow-mindedness on an issue may cause a group of people to become more loyal to the interests of the PR campaign. During World War II, Hitler’s head of PR—Joeseph Goebbels frequently used persuasion techniques to encourage public loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi party. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, even after the war ended some Germans continued to accept Hitler’s opinions about ethic groups (e.g., the Jews and Gypsy’s). Thus, creating narrow latitudes of acceptance can inoculate individuals against the truth.
U.S. communications experts are trained to use such techniques and the science is quite sophisticated and well-developed. Lectures that describe the methods in detail can be found on the internet.
Personal attacks in politics can be viewed as attempts by politicians to make voters not listen to certain ideas or people. For example, both political parties have argued that the other party’s ideas are extremist and outside mainstream values. That is, the argument is specifically telling you that the opposition’s ideas are outside you latitudes of acceptance and therefore you shouldn’t listen to the argument. Similarly, personal attacks are an attempt to get you to devalue the political candidate so that you don’t listen to their ideas.
Latitudes of acceptance also has another important function for PR experts. It gives you a choice of two strategies if your ideas fall outside a person’s latitudes of acceptance. One choice is to move your ideas into the range of ideas that you believe are acceptable. For example, if most voters believe that higher taxes are outside their latitudes of acceptance you might try to convince people that higher taxes are acceptable for a subgroup of individuals (e.g., the wealthy) as the Democrats have recently done.
A second choice if your ideas are outside the mainstream is to move your ideas further away from people’s latitudes of acceptance. The idea has sometimes been referred to as changing the goalposts. As expected, your new ideas will be completely rejected by your target audience but research has shown that people will widen their range of acceptable ideas more in your direction so that your original ideas will move within the target population’s latitudes of acceptance. Social scientists believe this occurs because most people don’t like extreme ideas. They want to be moderate. Therefore, if a more extreme idea is presented to them, then less extreme ideas will appear moderate and people will be willing to consider them.
When the market crashed in 2008, a central aspect of the Republican brand of being the party that is best at maintaining a strong economy moved outside the latitudes of acceptance for many voters who viewed the Republicans as responsible for the economic crisis. In particular, many believed that Republican support for deregulation of the finance industry caused the crisis. The Republicans had a choice as noted above, they could have changed their approaches to the economy (e.g., lower taxes, limiting spending on safety net/social programs, smaller government, deregulation, deficits don’t matter because your just paying yourself). It’s clear the Republican chose a combination approach. First, they decided that deficits do matter which moved their position more into mainstream thought but on the idea that some regulations are good and some social programs provide a safety net, particularly during times of crisis, they became more extreme (e.g., they began to advocate ending social security and Paul Ryan proposed a voucher program for Medicare). The Tea Party movement also moved the conversation further to the right. Robert Draper in his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives, stated that the Republicans decided to adopt this approach the day President Obama took office.
The antidote is simple Let the logic of the ideas rule your mind and ignore the personal attacks and the attempts to play upon your emotions. Keep an open mind about new ideas but challenge people to demonstrate that their ideas are valid. The video above is a lecture on social conformity theory. The concept of latitudes of acceptance is part of that theory.
by Todd Miller
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