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Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Values at core of successful wilderness campaign

Washington pollster gives tips to environmentalists

Express Staff Writer

When it comes to environmental protection in the Rocky Mountain West, the majority of the regionís citizens are pro-protection and pro-wilderness. The minority, however, often wins.

Such is the conclusion of Washington, D.C., pollster John Russonello. "(The minority) knows how to choose the right messages," he said.

As an example, 38 percent of the Rocky Mountain statesí residents strongly oppose expanded public lands mining, and 17 percent strongly favor it. In the same region, 54 percent of the residents approve of the Clinton-era roadless policy, and 40 percent disapprove.

More striking yet, 58 percent of the regionís residents said wilderness preservation is extremely important while 34 percent said it is somewhat important.

"So how does the minority win?" Russonello asked.

The secret is found in peopleís values.

"We hit a brick wall when the other side talks about core values and weíre talking about details," Russonello said. "The side that hits core values first always wins."

Russonello was one of the featured speakers on Saturday at an annual conference of Idahoís conservation community. The conference, called Wild Idaho!, was sponsored by the Idaho Conservation League. It is held each year at Redfish Lake Lodge.

Values are things everybody has in common, and they donít change. They can be broken into primary and secondary categories.

"The environment is not a core value. Core values are things people believe but they canít explain," Russonello said.

Primary values, which trump all others, include individual responsibility, family security, honesty, fairness, freedom, work and spirituality. Secondary values include the responsibility to help others, compassion, personal fulfillment, respect for authority and love of country.

A concept like stewardship, which the conservation community frequently relies on, is a secondary value.

"Itís important to people, but it gets bumped when it comes up against primary values," Russonello said.

The pollster elaborated on his point by applying it to the messages various players use to work toward their political goals.

"They (the minority) often choose their messages more carefully than we do," he said.

As an example, he explained the differences in perception between the words conservationist and environmentalist. According to his studies, Russonello said the word conservationist elicits responses from people expecting a solution-oriented, locally-based person or group working to protect a particular resource.

The environmentalist is perceived as an ideological liberal person or group interested in protecting everything, simply for the sake of protection.

When it comes to wilderness, the opponents will only come up against four primary arguments, Russonello said. They are economics, quality of life, exaggeration and patriotism.

"You have to turn the question into a values question," he said. "In Idaho, you can win a lot if you stick to message and values and think about what people are thinking about, be disciplined with your message and choose the right messengers."


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