How to Discuss Politics on Social Media

It’s often said that there are two topics you should never discuss at the dinner table–religion and politics–in order to keep conversations civil and polite. Social media users never got that memo, however: According to a study published by the Pew Research Center, more than 30% of social media users feel “worn out” by politically-oriented posts, and over half of them characterize digital interactions with people of opposing political viewpoints as “stressful and frustrating.”

Political conversations on social media become even more likely for people like me who have made careers out of politics and campaigning, so you quickly learn how to turn these moments from stressful and frustrating to rewarding and informative. Take a look at some ways that you can responsibly and politely discuss politics on social media!

Consider Your Purpose

Whenever you post on social media, whether it’s about politics or not, there’s a reason behind each post. You might share a photo from your vacation to let everyone know you had a great time on the beach, for example, or you might want to post a status inviting people to an event you’re hosting. When you post about politics, keep your goal in mind. Are you trying to raise awareness of a particular issue? Are you trying to declare your support for a candidate or a policy? Are you trying to change people’s minds or to see what they have to say? So, before you post, think about the purpose of the post and how you can best communicate it.

Stick to the Facts

The best political arguments–as in arguments that are well-constructed and well-phrased–rely on evidence to support their claims. If you refer to the dangers of a certain proposed bill, for example, make sure that you have the most up-to-date information about it and that you’re laying out that information for your digital audience. One of the best ways to do this is by including links to articles, videos, statistics, and other sources in your post so that people can educate themselves on the issues.

Never Make it Personal

If people are already going to be agitated when they encounter political posts on social media, you don’t want to fan that fire by insulting them. Don’t fall into the trap of calling someone stupid just because they don’t understand or agree with you and avoid blanket statements like “Anyone who supports Senator Smith is an idiot.” While these comments might momentarily inflate your ego, talking down to someone who disagrees with your point of view doesn’t help spread your message or convince people to change their minds. Instead, being insulted will only make people dig in their heels and turn what could have been a positive discussion into a screaming match about politics.

Of course, it’s OK to disagree with someone’s opinion and to tell them so, but don’t do it by insulting them. Always keep your focus on what they have to say about the facts, and avoid typing out of anger.

Join Private or Closed Groups

One way to ensure political conversations never get out of hand is to keep these discussions to small circles of informed, respectful individuals. Consider creating a private group and inviting people you trust to ensure that people will remain cordial even when opposing viewpoints are being discussed. You can add more people to the group as time goes on, but starting off with a select few will give you an opportunity to share ideas in a respectful space while also developing your skills discussing politics on social media.

The Importance of Local Politics

If you walk up to someone and ask them to name the President of the United States, they’ll be able to answer your question in the blink of an eye. If you ask them to name their congressional representative or their senator, however, you might be faced with blank stares, and some people may be unable to answer. Ironically, in fact, as you ask people to name their local officials–their state senators or legislators, their city councilmen, and so on–they have a harder and harder time responding.

For a nation that was founded on the idea of citizens’ direct access to representatives, this lack of awareness about local officials is ironic. After all, while their jurisdictions may be smaller than that of presidents and senators, local officials arguably have more influence in people’s daily lives than commanders in chief. Of course, presidents and national leaders have much more of an ability to set the political agenda, but local officials have a tremendous power of their own in terms of how they deliver government services to citizens.

For example, does it matter more that the president signs a bill into law strengthening police forces, or does it matter more that your mayor and city council get to decide how to spend money on the police and how many officers patrol your neighborhood on a daily basis? And while senators may campaign on the importance of creating jobs, local officials play a role as well by offering incentives to attract new businesses to town and by passing laws, such as ordinances and zoning codes, that can determine what jobs are available in their communities.

This actually gives local politicians surprising influence during state or national elections. As a result of their work to provide government services to citizens, mayors, city council representatives, sheriffs, and other local leaders develop strong relationships with voters, which they can use to mobilize those voters in support or against particular candidates for higher office; therefore, mayors can offer state or national-level candidates important endorsements and help energize voters to go out and volunteer for them as well.

Local politics may lack the glamor and spotlight of national campaigns, but despite this, local politics play a pivotal role in the operations of the government and nationwide elections. President Ronald Reagan once remarked of America’s local communities, “That’s where miracles are made, not in Washington, D.C.,” and there are thousands of mayors, state legislators, sheriffs, and other local officials who would surely agree with him.

Elections Around the World

While America doesn’t need to worry about electing a new chief executive for another four years, in the rest of the world, election season is just getting started. Take a look at what’s happening on the campaign trail in France, South Korea, and Germany!

France

Under the French presidential election system, candidates must secure an absolute majority of the popular vote, but if no candidate does so, then a runoff election occurs two weeks following the first round of voting between the two candidates who garnered the most votes. This year, the first round of voting is scheduled for April 23 with a second round planned for May 7, as needed.

Although the full field consists of 11 candidates, three have emerged as frontrunners: Marine Le Pen of the Nationalist Front, who has drawn attention for her fiery populism and her disparaging remarks about immigrants as well as France’s religious and ethnic minorities; Emmanuel Macron of the centrist En Marche! (Forward!); and the center-right Francois Fillon of the Republicans.

Fillon was an early favorite to win, but his campaign suffered a nearly-fatal blow when the press revealed he had paid his wife a salary from public funds for a job she never had. Current polls now predict that Le Pen and Macron will make it to the runoff election, with Macron winning the final contest.

South Korea

Originally, the elections were scheduled for December 20, but after the impeachment and arrest of former President Park Geun-hye on corruption charges in March, the election was pushed up to May 9. In South Korea, presidents are elected by popular vote.

Although the race is only just beginning after the unexpected removal of President Park, the current favorite to win is Moon Jae-in, a former head of the leftist opposition party Minju, who has promised to rebuild the country after a decade of conservative leadership. His closest opponent, Ahn Hee-jung, trails him by 15 points.

Germany

Germany has a parliamentary system of representation where the members of the legislature, known as the Bundestag, elect a chief executive from amongst themselves; this often requires the formation of political coalitions. The voting mechanisms, however, are more complex. Each voter has two votes–one for a specific candidate for legislature and a second vote for a certain political party–which is designed to ensure that each party’s representation in the legislature is proportional to the amount of votes it received. The Bundestag elections are set for September 24, although it may take several days to form a coalition government after the polls close.

Angela Merkel, the incumbent chancellor, is up for re-election to a fourth term. She is favored to win as her party, the Christian Democrats, still lead in the polls, although it has been declining in popularity exactly as the Social Democratic Party under Martin Schulz has surged forward. At the same time, the fringe party Alternative for Germany (AfD) that is reminiscent of the alt-right in the United States has been hovering at about 10% support among voters. Key issues in the election are the economy, the future of the European Union, and the mass migration of Syrian refugees into Germany.

How to Craft a Campaign Message

If you’re getting into politics as a candidate for office, there’s probably a particular issue that you’re passionate about or that inspires you. This passion is a powerful asset, but it’s not necessarily enough to propel you to a victory on election day: You also need a campaign message that communicates that passion to voters as well as your plans on how to move forward or craft a solution. While crafting a campaign message can be one of the most challenging elements of your campaign process, in my experience, it’s also one of the most important. Take a look at what you can do to craft a strong campaign message!

Identify Your Issue

Before you can develop a message, you need to figure out what your campaign will focus on. This might seem straightforward, but if there are multiple issues at stake in the race or if there is more than one topic you want to discuss, you’ll need to figure out which one is most central to your campaign. While it’s not necessarily a problem if your issue is open-ended or broad, it helps if your issue is specific and clearly defined.

Consider Demographics

Your next step will be to determine the demographics of your community so that you can begin thinking about how to make sure that your message appeals to the voters. For example, if your issue is educational reform and you live in a district where 20 percent of residents are teachers, then that will influence how you frame your campaign message. Understanding demographics helps you understand what issues matter to the voters, how you can persuade voters to support your campaign, and much more.

Write a Draft

Now that you’ve chosen your primary issue and learned about local demographics, it’s time for you to start developing drafts of your campaign message! Ideally, your message will discuss your issue, why it matters or what is at stake by failing to address it, what solutions you propose, and how you will mobilize the voters around the issue.

Test and Revise the Draft

Once you’ve drafted a message, feel free to test it out! If you have the resources, you can hire a pollster to work with voters and see how well they react to the message, or you can simply ask members of your staff who weren’t involved with crafting it to offer their feedback. You shouldn’t feel compelled to change your core beliefs or ideas in response to their answers, but definitely consider rephrasing in order to make your message clearer and more appealing.