wikiHow to Debate a Conservative As a Liberal

Four Parts:Creating Ground Rules for DebatePreparing for the DebateChoosing your IssuesFinding Common Ground

Sometimes it seems political debate is so polarized there is no point in talking to someone on the other side of the issues. But debate is important, and a liberal debating a conservative can learn valuable lessons (and vice versa) from engaging with someone else with a different perspective. Stay respectful and listen -- in addition to learning about political views, you will also learn a lot about the other person and how they became the individual they are.

Part 1
Creating Ground Rules for Debate

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    Be respectful. Even though you don’t agree with the person you’re debating, keep the discussion on a friendly level. Ask the other person about how they came to have the views they do. Discuss where they get their information from, and why they chose that particular media outlet.[1]
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    Don’t call names. Though you might feel strongly about conservative politicians and how much you dislike them, don’t let your emotions get in the way. This doesn’t help your position in the debate.
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    Avoid getting personal. You might feel that the person you’re debating is flat-out wrong, but don’t insult them. It might be hard for you to imagine how another person could have such different views from your own and be an intelligent and engaged individual, but they have reasons for their views.[2]

Part 2
Preparing for the Debate

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    Stay current with the news. If you’re going to be engaging in political debate, it’s important to know what is going on the world. Read and watch news from different sources -- they will often present issues in very different ways. Decide what you think about current issues and events, and think about what arguments have been the most convincing to you.
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    Think carefully before engaging with emotional topics. Some issues are more personal than others. These topics are more likely than others to devolve into personal attacks, after which the debate will unravel. Because of the constant presence of these issues in the news and in public discourse, most people also know the pros and cons, leaving little room for a good debate with someone who disagrees with you. You are probably not going to tell them anything they haven’t already heard.
    • Abortion, for example, is not an issue that many people change their minds on -- people tend to know how they feel, often for emotional reasons.
    • Gun control is another issue often surrounded by emotion that tends to change little and fall along partisan lines.[3]
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    Show your willingness to understand their views. If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them as well. Ask them questions about their ideas about the issues, and if those ideas have changed at all. Sometimes understanding why someone else has the views they do makes it a lot easier to understand their position on different political issues. [4]

Part 3
Choosing your Issues

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    Steer the debate toward environmental policy. This can be a tough area for conservatives to win, because scientific evidence does not support many of their assertions. Be ready to be specific about the science.[5]
    • Lay out the overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change.
    • Discuss the variety of world leaders and organizations (Pope Francis, the UN, the EU, etc.) who have cautioned against our current pattern of consumption.
    • Ask how conservatives are going to deal with the increasing number of environmental disasters, rising pollution levels, and unsustainable carbon footprint of people in developed nations.
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    Point out rising income inequality. Economists are increasingly concerned that the increasing gap between the rich and the poor will make the United States less competitive and more likely to lose the leadership role it has enjoyed in the world. Few conservatives have substantive ideas to address this issue at all.[6]
    • Tell your opponent about the well-documented stagnant wages in the face of rising costs of living.
    • Discuss the pay of CEOs rising to levels hundreds of times above that of employees of the same corporation. And they typically receive huge bonuses as well!
    • Show them the charts from the article below demonstrating the rampant inequality -- the top 1% make over $1 million per year, while the average for those in the bottom 90% is $30,000.
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    Bring up gay marriage. Discuss the overwhelming legal decisions in favor. Point out that discrimination against gays and lesbians is illegal. Most of the conservative arguments on this issue are either based on religious values (and we have separation of church and state, right?) or on faulty logic.[7]
    • Lay out the logical problems with the conservative argument of the "slippery slope" that gay marriage equality will somehow lead to people being able to marry their pets.
    • Argue for the importance of equal rights for all people.
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    Move the debate toward voting rights. Many states are trying to make it more difficult to vote, primarily through the kinds of identification they will accept. Lay out the claims conservatives make about fraud and debunk them.[8]
    • Reveal that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud anywhere in the United States.
    • Discuss how trying to curtail voting rights has become a way to disenfranchise poor and minority populations, who overwhelmingly do not support conservative candidates.

Part 4
Finding Common Ground

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    Find some issues you can agree upon. Do you both feel the same way about the influence of money on politics? Or the need for educational reform? See if you can discover the ways that your political views might overlap. You also might see problems in the same places, but have different ways of solving them.
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    Realize that you’re probably not going to “win.” You will come away with a better idea of the other person’s thoughts and ideologies, but it’s doubtful you will change their mind. Recent studies have shown that it’s very difficult to change anyone’s mind in a political debate. People inherently don’t want to question their beliefs -- they have them for a reason, and if they question them, what else might not be as it seems? For the most part, the best you can do is try to open the other person’s mind to another way of thinking about the issues.[9]
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    Recognize (and perhaps discuss) your different moral frameworks. A group of social scientists have developed the Moral Foundations Theory to help explain why liberals and conservatives have such different approaches to the issues. Depending on where you are on the political spectrum, you are probably using different criteria to judge the situation. It might be useful to discuss these frameworks with your debate partner. You might be surprised at how he or she feels about the different elements -- it’s probably quite different from you. You can find more specific information about these frameworks in the citation below.Liberals tend to focus on debates around the first two, while conservatives use the last three to frame debates and ideology.[10]
    • “Care vs. Harm” -- are you taking care of yourself and others, or causing harm?
    • “Fairness vs. Cheating” -- this includes justice, rights and proportionality. Is everyone being treated the same?
    • “Loyalty vs. Betrayal” -- this one is most aligned with ideas of patriotism and self-sacrifice for a group to which you belong (like the nation).
    • “Authority vs. Subversion” -- relies on the importance of hierarchy and tradition as well as following legitimate leaders.
    • “Sanctity vs. Degradation.” -- often tied in strongly with religious belief, particularly around what should and should not be done with people’s bodies.

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