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  • Writer's pictureMatt Oliver

Thursday Thought: What makes something 'salient'?

Welcome to the latest edition of our 'Thursday Thoughts' series, a set of bitesize pieces where we share some quick ideas about something of relevance to campaigners. It'll take less time to read than it takes to toast a piece of bread.


In the first blog in this series, I wrote about how the 'we just need political will' framing might be a red herring.

Political will is something owned by politicians, if we could make them 'care', we'd have more political will. By definition that means that their present status is either ignorant or uncaring (neither of which, in my experience, is true). It also makes us the enlightened ones who do care, setting up a spirit of opposition which can be unhelpful.

Political salience, however, is a different frame. If the challenge for campaigners is to make an issue salient, then the onus is on us and how we present what we do, more within our locus of control, and more of a collaborative effort with policymakers to raise our issues as a political priority.

So how do we define salience? Fortunately, someone much smarter than us, Christopher Wlezien, has already tackled that problem.

In essence, salience is defined by two things: 1) how important is an issue to me and 2) how important is this issue in general (noting that the size of the community referred to as 'in general' varies from person to person).

We spend a LOT of time trying to explain why our issue is just SO VERY IMPORTANT (the second category), and much less trying to work out ways to make our issue important to the specific decision-makers we need on board. This distribution of effort is probably not quite right given that we face a much larger battle to make our issues rise above others in general importance than we do to make a topic resonate with an individual.

So, what tools can we use to make an issue salient? One for (many) future blogs.

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