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The Bailout and Persuasion Tactics. . . .or, “If I’ve Learned One Thing, It’s Never One Thing” Part 2

Key Influentials and Mind-Changers

It gets even more interesting when you look at the lawmakers who did change their minds and their reasons why.

Our survey showed that undecided lawmakers are more likely to change their minds if they hear from people they trust. We call those people “key influentials;” personal friends, local elected officials and opinion leaders in the legislator’s district.

At least 10 of the lawmakers who changed their mind and voted “yes” on the second vote said they were influenced by phone calls or other communication from constituents or opinion leaders all of whom could be defined as “key influentials.” Several of those lawmakers said they changed their minds after talking to presidential candidates Barack Obama or John McCain, certainly considered to be “key influentials” of the highest order.

Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), a fiscal conservative, told the New York Times he changed his vote after receiving a torrent of telephone and email that had swung in favor of the bill. He also said he heard from Leo M. Lambert, the president of Elon University president in Elon, N.C., who said the school had been squeezed by the credit crisis.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told The Washington Post his change of heart was influenced by a small business owner who makes wire baskets in Baltimore and feared he couldn’t make payroll because a bank had cut his line of credit.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Oh), changed her vote after she heard from some of the largest employers in her district who were struggling to make payroll, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Rep. Joe Knollenberg, (R-Mich.), who faces one of the toughest re-election fights in the House, told the Associated Press he changed his mind after he received telephone calls from General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner and other auto and corporate executives. “I’ve never talked to as many bank presidents in my life, over my entire life,” he said.

Knollenberg has received $131,500 from General Motors since he started serving in Congress in 1993, according to federal election commission records, illustrating another predictor of influence success. Our analysis showed that giving a legislator the maximum allowable PAC contribution is a predictor of persuasion success.

Lobbyists representing the housing, financial, auto and other business sectors pushed hard for the bailout bill. Several of the lawmakers who changed their minds have received campaign contributions from those industry PAC’s.

Schmidt has received $70,100 from American Financial Group, a Cincinnati-based insurance holding company and $16,500 from the American Bankers Association since she was elected to Congress in 1989.

Rep. Judy Biggert, (R-Ill.), was the only Illinois lawmaker to change her mind about the bailout package. Since she began representing her suburban Chicago district in 1989, she’s received $45,000 from the National Association of Realtors, $39,500 from the National Auto Dealers Association and $37,548 from the American Bankers Association.

Most lawmakers say they aren’t influenced by campaign contributions, but the recent bailout votes suggest otherwise. We found that the most successful influence attempts typically include campaign contributions. In other words, a PAC contribution represents “exchange” and cements relationships.

So, while the massive grassroots noise definitely was a factor in changing minds, it was not, as some who look simplistically at the situation, the only reason for the lawmaker’s change of heart. Remember, in an influence war, it’s never one thing, it’s many things that combine to win hearts and minds.