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Strengthening progressive language

Luis Arroyo
Political communication consultant

In 2018, Luis Arroyo has helped to analyse the S&D group’s language and suggested more effective ways to get their message through.


Progressives are somewhat more sensitive to Protection and Fairness, and as we move on the scale that goes from “very progressive” to “very conservative”, sensitivity to both progressively decreases. The differences, however, being statistically significant, are not as great as we might think. To put it bluntly, conservatives are not soulless individuals who go around the world hurt- ing others or who do not trust solidarity at all. They are simply somewhat less sensitive than we are to these two moral foundations.

The most notable differences between conservatives and Progressives are in their sensitivity towards the other three elements of the Moral Foundations Theory: Authority, Identity and Purity. The more conservative an individual is, the harder he defends respect for authority, and the unity of the group in contrast to other groups and the more he appeals to God or to the pagan equivalents, such as tradition, customs or the natural order of things. In short, and simply, conservatives are as they are because they have to be harder, more patriotic and more devoted than their progressive counterparts.

Protection and Fairness, Authority, Identity and Purity

Progressives are very comfortable when they appeal to the principles related to Protection and Fairness. Therefore, they should always be able to explicitly appeal to them. But it is crucial that in their language they clearly identify who they want to protect through their proposals and what injustice they want to solve and who are those traitors promoting or admitting these injustices against the good of the many.

Words are powerful tools
The most important challenge for progressive communication is to not allow conservatives (and populists) to dominate the debate with their concepts of Authority, Identity and Purity. Even the most progressive citizens believe that there are sources of authority that must be respected, identities that distinguish and organise human groups, or transcendent values that must be maintained.
The challenge for Progressives is to proclaim and defend their genuine moral foundations – Protection and Fairness – without abandoning those other three which, to a greater or lesser extent, most human beings also defend: Authority, Identity and Purity.

For instance, in defending policies that are more tolerant on migration, Social Democrats can emphasise that they want to protect those who come to Europe flee- ing from war and hunger, and also that they want those who stay to fulfil their obligations: with Social Security, with the Treasury, with the rules of the host country. The emphasis should not only be on care and rights of those who arrive, but also on their obligations, reconciling us with the foundation of Authority. Naturally, the same thing happens when we talk about an orderly reception of migrants. While the words “welcome”, “refugee”, “humanitarian”, “human rights”… identify us with the typically progressive narrative, the words “regularisation”, “duties”, “integration”, “order” reconcile us a more conservative frame.

Support for equality in marriage (which we often erroneously call “homosexual marriage”) is another good example as it increases significantly when Social Democrats appeal not only to “equal rights” (typically progressive argument), but also when they point out that same-sex couples are composed of compatriots who contribute like others to the economy and society in which they live – the argument closest to the conservative logic, insofar as it matches with the foundations of Identity and Authority.


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Arroyo, L. 2013. Frases como puños. El lenguaje y las ideas progresistas. Edhasa.

Haidt, J. 2012. The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage.

Kahneman, D. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Lakoff, G. 2004. Don’t Think of an Elephant. Vintage.

Willer, R. y M. Feinberg. 2015. “The Key to Political Persuation”, in The New York Times, November, 13



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