One political persuasion technique is called the Easy Yes question. The framing of the question is a two part process. The part of the question you want a negative response to opens the question, followed by a query meant to elicit a positive response. It’s all about presenting a voter with a choice and leading them to the choice you want them to make.
Here are three video clips from the TNT Network television showLeverage, which features a group of cons who help the little people fight back against big business and sometimes governments. In this episode the team of cons is trying to ‘win’ an election in another country to oust a dirty politician and eliminate an untouchable enemy in the process.
In the first clip Sophie, the grifter, teaches their chosen candidate how to persuade his audience.
Learns Easy Yes
In the second clip, he practices the Easy Yes question in a debate setting, looking to Sophie for reassurance.
Practices Easy Yes
In the third clip, the candidate has won the election, but Sophie is ‘killed’ trying to prevent a faked assassination attempt as part of the con. Now the new President Elect has mastered the technique and uses it to prevent his arrest by his opponent's military.
Masters Easy Yes
This deceptively simple technique is used all the time in politics because it is so effective. Just as with the pivot technique, it is more difficult than it seems and requires practice. Fortunately this is also a method that can be used in print, so it allows time to craft the question in advance, either for a mailer or a speech. Easy yes questions can be memorized, too, for use in canvassing or phone banking efforts. It can also be used to great affect in an overarching campaign such as has been launched by the White House to promote the President’s American Jobs Act. Or the more subtle campaign engaged by the President to completely change the framing of the larger message about choices available to Americans.
Here are two examples of Easy Yes questions employed by the President in his September 8, 2011 address to the Joint Session of Congress:
“Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both.”
“Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both.”
Look at the construction of these two-part questions. The thing you want to change or avoid is placed first, followed by the thing you want to advance and encourage the audience’s agreement. The thing you want the audience (voters) to agree with must be something with which they can nod yes to without challenging their values.
Let’s not kid ourselves; this technique can be used by others as well. “Do you want the Government to be able to build a high speed rail line through our county, or do you want to protect private property rights?”
We have to know in advance to what our audience will say yes. The President already knows that the American people want jobs, our roads, bridges and schools repaired, etc. He already knows Americans are ready for the wealthy and corporations to pay more. That’s why he can ask those questions.
The Easy Yes question doesn’t simply roll off the tongue or the keyboard for that matter. It requires some thought and creativity and knowledge of the audience. I once gave an exercise to some people to come up with Easy Yes questions and not one of them could do it. It’s even hard for me and I’m a writer. I guess the adage applies: if it were easy, everyone would do it. Still, we can benefit from trying to learn this technique. The good news is that a well crafted Easy Yes question has a long shelf life and can be rolled out time and again for various segments of any given larger demographic. An Easy Yes question that works for Democrats at large can be tailored to work in a smaller group of Democrats.
Here’s an Easy Yes question that can be customized for different Governor’s races for instance: Do you want to see what happened in Wisconsin happen here, or do you want a Governor who will protect all workers in our State? Clearly this supposes that the voter knows what happened in Wisconsin, but if they don’t, the question creates an opening to educate.
This is a more generic question that can be adapted to promote alternative energy: Do you want to continue to be dependent on foreign energy, or do you want to develop the energy of the future right here in America? The point is that once a solid question is crafted, it can be used repeatedly and in a variety of situations. I recommend practicing writing Easy Yes questions to learn how they strengthen our ability to frame an argument. At the very least arm yourself with the knowledge of the structure of the Easy Yes question to be better able to recognize them. And by all means feel free to repeat any good one you hear from the President. Use them as twitter lines, speak them out loud, and use them at the water cooler or at dinner. We just might surprise ourselves.