Moral reframing: A technique for effective and persuasive communication across political divides

Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer

2019

The political landscape in the US and many other countries is characterized by policy impasses and animosity between rival political groups. Research finds that these divisions are fueled in part by disparate moral concerns and convictions that undermine communication and understanding between liberals and conservatives. This “moral empathy gap” is particularly evident in the moral underpinnings of the political arguments members of each side employ when trying to persuade one another. Both liberals and conservatives typically craft arguments based on their own moral convictions rather than the convictions of the people they target for persuasion. As a result, these moral arguments tend to be unpersuasive, even offensive, to their recipients. The technique of moral reframing—whereby a position an individual would not normally support is framed in a way that is consistent with that individual's moral values—can be an effective means for political communication and persuasion. Over the last decade, studies of moral reframing have shown its effectiveness across a wide range of polarized topics, including views of economic inequality, environmental protection, same-sex marriage, and major party candidates for the US presidency. In this article, we review the moral reframing literature, examining potential mediators and moderators of the effect, and discuss important questions that remain unanswered about this phenomenon.