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Finding Messages That Are Persuasive and Believable

Arguments can be persuasive without being believable. Good research will help you determine whether your argument is both.

The worst trap you can wander into is betting the farm on an argument that research shows is persuasive, but fails to probe deeper to see whether it is believable.

Several years ago, we conducted quantitative research to test the best arguments for a state transportation funding package. The argument that proved most persuasive was the list of transportation projects contained in the legislation to be funded. People liked knowing what the increased gas tax money would pay for.

However, probing deeper revealed that many of the people who liked the idea of a specific list of transportation projects believed that they never would be built. The list was persuasive, but they doubted the credibility of the state agency to follow through.

When the transportation funding bill went to the voters, it was soundly thrashed. Exit polling underscored the problem — a persuasive argument wasn't credible enough to carry the day.

The questions of persuasiveness and believability don't just apply to public policy issues and campaigns. They also are meaningful in a marketing context. A product feature may appeal to potential customers, but unless it convinces them to buy, it is just a nice feature — appealing, but not put-it-in-my-shopping-cart convincing.

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The Right Tool for the Job

We live in the digital era, but that doesn't mean social media platforms such as Twitter can substitute for reliable public opinion instruments.What's trending on Twitter isn't always an accurate reflection of public opinion. A large number of tweets may indicate public interest in a topic or event, but not a full picture of what the public thinks.

This isn't surprising. Twitter is a self-selected social media tool. The body of tweets doesn't need to reflect the demographics of a community, state or constituency. People who tweet on a topic may be more liberal, more conservative, richer or poorer than the public at large. Comments have value, but can't be rendered in quantitative terms the same as public opinion polling.

Quality public opinion polling is centered on a representative sample of who is interviewed. That assures the findings have credibility as a reliable reflection of the group being surveyed, with a slight margin of error.

The breadth and depth of the digital revolution may tempt some to see social media platforms as mirrors of public opinion. They certainly are reflections, but not ones you can totally rely upon to make decisions on messaging, trustworthy spokespeople and effective communication channels. A solid poll is a much better instrument for that.

Twitter conversations can be valuable to assess. For example, tweets can show the emotional charge in an issue or how an issue activates a particular group. The compressed format helps people distill what they feel to a few words, which in effect become sound bites. Tweets also can show the range of reactions.

In the world of measurement, there is room for evaluation of platforms such as Twitter. But it is important to recognize the right tool for the job. When you need an accurate picture of how a constituency views an issue, a poll with a representative sample is a much better choice.


Kitzhaber, Merkley Retain Double-Digit Leads

The word "corruption" and Oregon politics don't usually go together and GOP gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson's efforts to couple them haven't appeared to narrow Governor John Kitzhaber's double-digit lead.

Survey USA conducted a statewide poll for KATU-TV that shows Kitzhaber clinging to a 51 percent to 38 percent lead over Richardson, with only 6 percent of the electorate still undecided. The survey was conducted between October 16-19 with 561 likely voters, interviewed by both landline and cell phones.

If only men voted, the race would be tighter, as Kitzhaber holds a narrow 48 percent to 46 percent lead. But the governor seeking an unprecedented fourth term wallops Richardson among women voters by 54 percent to 30 percent.

Kitzhaber tops Richardson in the 18-34, 50-64 and 65+ categories and ties him at 45 percent each in the 35-49 cohort.

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Handicapping Oregon's Ballot Measures

Oregon mail-in ballots will begin to arrive any day, so it's timely for voters to get the equivalent of a horserace handicap on some of the measures they will decide November 4.

Oregon Public Broadcasting shared results of recent statewide polling on four ballot measures, which shows two of them have tenuous leads, one is an election-day longshot and the other is, as they say in politics, a "dog that won't hunt."

The measures with the best poll numbers at this important pre-vote moment are the ones to legalize marijuana and require labeling for genetically modified foods. The measures that have underwater polling numbers would allow Oregonians who can't document their legal residence to obtain a driver card and permit state bonding for college scholarships.

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Selfie Generation Tunes in Brand Journalism

Online brand journalism is connecting with the selfie generation. Millennials view branded content as part of the creative mix online they talk about and share.

These conclusions flow from an online study, “Hashtag Nation: Marketing to the Selfie Generation.” It was commissioned by integrated marketing agency Havas Worldwide and based on 10,574 responses from people between the ages of 16 and 29 in 30 countries.

For marketers, the good news is that young people don't disdain brands, but instead invite them into their online social circle. "Nearly half of all young respondents characterize brands as “essential” to them — compared with just a quarter of those aged 55+," according to Havas Worldwide. But a word of warning to marketers: 4 in 10 respondents aged 16‒34 say brands don’t take young people seriously enough.

Survey results suggest younger people think of many brands as part of pop culture. "Far more than older generations," says Havas Worldwide, "young people say pop culture has helped to form their personalities (51 percent) and attitudes (50 percent)."

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