Politicians are not judges

Some lobbying battles are lost even when ‘science is on our side’. This happens often because lobbyists assume that regulators and policymakers act as judges: listening to the case of each side, sifting and weighing the evidence, and coming down on the side of ‘who is right’.

It is much better to think of decision-makers not as judges but as politicians, which many of them are. Their focus is not on which side is right. Their focus is on working out which side has the most politically attractive case if/when the issue goes public. Or put more simply, which side will win?

This way of thinking has some immediate practical implications for planning:

1. Prepare your messaging competitively. Assume that if you visit a regulator, MP or MEP in the morning, your opponent will visit in the afternoon.  What will their messages be? What frame are they using? Which worldview / macro-narrative are they attaching themselves to? Are they thinking about your messaging? How are they trying to defeat you?

2. Think in the mindset of the politician. Imagine you are the politician listening to both sides. What are you listening out for? Who is right? Are you sifting through the science? Or are you listening for something else…

How about thinking like this. If these two advocates appeared in a TV studio, who would win?  What will the tabloid headline be?

Who has given more thought to explaining their position to the public? If each side’s case had to be explained in one sentence, which proposition is more politically attractive? (Think twitter length, a useful exercise).

Useful questions, we hope. In future posts we will develop this further. If politicians care most about public opinion, what is the one thing you can do that shows them most clearly you are focused on this opinion? What is the relationship between a political majority, university education and the average position paper inside the beltway? How long does a politician have to explain his position in public and why should this matter to lobbyists? Why should you show early that you will win?

Asking yourself these questions starts to change your advocacy plan quite quickly.


March 2011