Language Matters: New Report Analyzes the Impact of Shifting Narratives in Six Major Political Issues  


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 12, 2021
CONTACT: Christiaan Perez, press@opportuni​tyagenda.org, 212-334-4275

The report focuses on: The death penalty, war on poverty, the Blackfish effect on animal rights, the #MeToo movement, gun politics, and racial profiling.  

New York, NY – Today, The Opportunity Agenda released “Shifting the Narrative” an eye-opening report looking into the impact of changing narrative around six major political issues that span 50 years and are still being debated in Washington today. The report presents extensive research as well as interviews with key advocacy players in their respective movements showing how effective and opposing narratives determined how each issue was perceived in the public eye and the kind of accomplishments advocates were able to achieve as a result. The issues include: The death penalty, war of poverty, the Blackfish documentary and its effect on animal rights, the #Metoo movement, gun politics, and racial profiling.

Whether we perceive it or not, language and narratives used by advocates, public officials, and opposing voices play a significant role in shaping both public support and policies at a local and national level. “Shifting the Narrative” highlights how narratives used in the six case studies examined resulted in shifts to both cultural thinking and policy. The report concludes with seven narrative shift recommendations for those engaged in this work and demonstrates how different perceptions on certain issues had significant impacts on the ways policy solutions were accepted or rejected.

In addition, the six studies analyze the origins of narrative terms and how they evolved over the course of the movements. For example: “The term ‘racial profile’ first entered the American lexicon in January of 1998 in an Associated Press story titled ‘Veteran Cop Goes on Trial.’ The report notes that, by 1999, “racial profiling” had “vaulted to the top of the nation’s public policy agenda as “compelling stories of innocent Black people being stopped” became a prominent narrative in the news cycle.

By analyzing the six different case studies, the argument is presented for how we can develop a more encompassing language that accounts for narrative trajectory as well as the immediate policy win.

Shifting the Narrative” goes on to present seven narrative recommendations that people should be aware of when developing policy campaigns. The recommendations range from “know and analyze the counter-narratives” to “broaden the implications of the problem and the benefits of the solution,” laying out clearly how to shift the narrative in a positive light. 

This research is an example of the core mission of The Opportunity Agenda: leveraging research, cultural strategy, and communication tools to help social justice advocates in their narrative and messaging efforts to successfully shift hearts and minds.

The report states that: “Across efforts, it is clear that narrative change does not happen on its own, particularly around contested social justice issues. It typically results from a sophisticated combination of collaboration, strategic communications tactics, and cultural engagement, all attuned to key audiences and societal trends.”