Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, addressed the annual meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference, in Milwaukee, on “Effective Communication in a Polarized Environment.”
In her July 19 presentation, Jamieson described how, “in a polarized political environment, inaccurate information can infect policy debate,” and she explored ways legislators can defend their principles, explain their differences, and engage each other on difficult issues. She gave examples from three areas of communication: prevention of Zika virus; the controversy over labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food; and prison furloughs in the 1988 presidential election.
In the midst of the ongoing outbreak of Zika virus, Jamieson said it is vital to communicate consequential information that the public needs to know, including what both the government and individuals can do to prevent exposure and transmission of the disease. Jamieson examined issues in engaging in useful discourse on recent legislation for labeling foods containing GMOs. The talk finished with a discussion of the 1988 presidential election in which the campaigns on both sides engaged in deceptive advertising surrounding prison furloughs, ultimately affecting both the election and governance. Jamieson stressed the importance of explaining policy and preempting controversy through the use of data and narratives.
The Midwestern Legislative Conference includes legislators in 11 Midwestern states and four Canadian provinces.