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Home arrow Marketing arrow The Neuroscience of Multimodal Persuasive Messages: Persuading the Brain


School Levies

I presented a few examples of political advertising in previous chapters. Campaigns tend to revolve around how the candidate or issue/new policy/legislation related to it can benefit the community. Mirror neurons and reward neurons are frequently engaged to appeal to the electorate; people the voters know and who are generally trustworthy are often used (mirror neurons), and the message generally indicates how the public will benefit (reward neurons). School levies are a common feature of election season. Generally, even in wealthy districts that can afford the levy passage, the appeal revolves around improving the learning experience for students somehow, thus benefitting the community. The benefits of having a strong school district to the community typically include higher property values and access to good colleges and, consequently, better education and good paying jobs, for students. So, these are among the appeals to reward neurons—everyone benefits, even those without children in the school district (higher property values).

For the most part, the argument against a levy revolves around the need for the levy (“how much will not passing the levy negatively affect students and property values? We are doing very well now; so, how bad can it get if we wait a few years to pass another levy?”) and the use of funds raised by the levy (“I don’t want my taxes wasted!”). These are valid concerns, and counterarguments can emphasize how it is important to maintain excellent standards so that there is no decline in student academic performance, and how waiting to pass a levy will only make the next levy that much higher and more important to pass. It is better to pass levies periodically on a small scale/increase than to wait to have to pass a larger levy all at once. As for the wastefulness of a levy’s use, that counterargument would need to show how current funds are not wasted, reassuring the electorate that future funds will also not be wasted.

However, what happens if the citizens of the district cannot afford passage of a levy because it would raise property taxes when the economy of the district is already stressed? This presents a very different situation than considered within a wealthy district. People may agree that a good education is important and levy funds would probably be used well. However, the economic stress that the majority of people in the district face negatively influence the outcome. I have actually seen a letter to the editor of a local newspaper claim, in effect, that, “A good school district is bad because it results in increased property taxes” (my own paraphrase of the message). The extended message followed this logic: 1) increasing property taxes is generally bad; 2) increasing property taxes to fund a school levy may result in improving the school’s performance, which will 3) cause property values in the school district to increase, thereby 4) resulting in even higher property taxes. So, a weak-performing school district is preferable to a good one.

The challenge is not limited to communities struggling economically. What of those citizens who generally disapprove of high taxes no matter the economy? What of those who perceive, based on data, that the district is performing very well and should not need more money? Even

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strong school districts may need to develop a persuasive message to encourage voters to pass a levy.

Because of these differing situations relative to a single issue—school levy, I provide a means by which to develop materials to promote passage of a levy in each situation and using the model. School levy messages are generally in the form of print-linguistic signage on lawns; however, images can be added. Also, the message can be presented through video. I use both methods here. I am not presently involved as a consultant in either district; though, I live in the county in which both are located. I use information available to the general public from online sites and through news media. Finally, the scenario described is based on a recently-passed bi-annual state budget; though, the legislature is attempting to address a cut in funds to certain districts. The state budget provided more funding to school districts that had an average home value under a certain amount and cut funding to districts that had an average home value above that amount. As of the writing of this chapter, the state is easing some of the initial restrictions it imposed. As in the previous chapters, I provide the illustration of the model below.

118 Applications in Production of Materials Upper Middle Class District

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