The evolving role of media in an era of identity politics with Dan Schnur

Dan Schnur is a fierce optimist and a tireless advocate for his causes. In this episode, he discusses the importance of motivating and persuading in the period of disruption that we are in right now and gives a 10-year outlook for the United States. (Spoiler: There are reasons to be optimistic.)

Jaclyn: Welcome to the podcast that lightens the tension when things sort of get hard…

That’s What C! Said, the Counterintuity podcast, featuring interviews with leaders and doers who have helped to make our world a better place through their actions — and especially through marketing, communications, and embracing change. Here’s our host Lee Wochner.

Lee Wochner: Our guest today is Dan Schnur. He’s a professor at the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Public Policy, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications. He teaches courses in politics, communications, and leadership. Dan is the founder of the USC LA Times Statewide Political Poll and has worked on several political campaigns. He has also served as the National Director of Communications for Senator John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign and as the chief media spokesman for Governor Pete Wilson of California. He has affiliations with various foundations and has made appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, National Public Radio, and prominent newspapers such as the LA Times and New York Times. Dan, nice to see you.

Daniel Schnur: Great to see you too, Lee. Let’s get started.

Lee Wochner: No, wait. There’s more. It’s relevant. People need to hear this. Dan has also worked with the Stuart Foundation on political reform, K-12 education, college, and workforce preparedness efforts. He is an active community volunteer, serving on multiple boards and providing consulting services. He is a member of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Senior Fellows program, where he mentors graduate students and advises them on their academic and professional goals. Now, let’s begin.

Daniel Schnur: Thank you for wasting half of our time with that. I’m excited to talk about something more interesting.

Lee Wochner: Hahaha.

Daniel Schnur: Okay, received.

Lee Wochner: So, something interesting happened yesterday. A former president was arraigned. Did you follow that news? People have different viewpoints on this, and it reflects the growing polarization of politics. I meet good people across the country who have opposing viewpoints. Why is this happening? Why do we have these armed camps of diametrically opposed viewpoints?

Daniel Schnur: I agree with you, Lee. While everyone might not agree with you on everything, we have managed to convince each other of most things over the years. I recommend two books on this topic: “Why We’re Polarized” by Ezra Klein and “Them” by Ben Sasse. They offer different perspectives but talk about this issue in a smart way. Klein argues that we are a tribal species and that tribalism is deeply ingrained in us. Sasse, from a different standpoint, highlights how our society’s increasing atomization and disconnection have led us to rely heavily on our political affiliation for self-identity. It has intensified polarization in recent years.

Lee Wochner: Thanks for watching!

Daniel Schnur: I know you’ve read “Bowling Alone” by Robert.

Daniel Schnur: Robert Putnam of Harvard University has written about this, and I believe most of your audience is familiar with his work as well. Ben Sasse argues that when social connectors are taken away, there’s less left to bind us together. In the past, people belonged to various community organizations and had different social affiliations, in addition to their political identity. Nowadays, with decreased participation in religious services, community organizations, and more individualistic activities like bowling alone, our political affiliation becomes a more significant part of our identity. It becomes harder to compromise when our political affiliation is intertwined with our sense of self. Factors like redistricting, gerrymandering, polarized media, and self-selection into geographically ideologically isolated areas contribute to this polarization. Klein and Sasse’s central point is that as traditional tribes and social affiliations diminish, our political affiliations become stronger and more resistant to change.

Lee Wochner: I find that fascinating. Another dynamic I’ve noticed is our difficulty in making sense of overwhelming amounts of data. We tend to simplify things into story points. For example, the refugee crisis is a complex issue with multiple causes like war, disease, and poverty. But the image of a drowned three-year-old boy washed up on the shore captured global attention because it resonated emotionally. Our brains can empathize with specific stories, and that affects our perceptions. This simplification leads to the sorting of people into red or blue categories, eroding bridges between individuals and leaving those who don’t fit neatly into either camp without representation.

Daniel Schnur: That’s a very astute observation and complements our earlier discussion. Independents, by definition, are not part of a tribe. As an independent myself, or as it’s called in California, having no party preference, there’s a stronger pull for individuals to join one tribe or the other. Additionally, because the two tribes, red and blue, are energized and feel justified in their ideological intensity, they move further apart from each other. It becomes harder to find centrist Southern Democrats or moderate Northeastern Republicans. The shrinking number of moderates in Congress reflects this trend, and more people are left behind as the parties move away from the middle ground.

Lee Wochner: It’s disheartening to have discussions and policies that exclude a significant portion of the population. How severe is the impact of polarization on our nation?

Daniel Schnur: It’s a significant challenge. While it’s important not to romanticize the past, we have been partisan and polarized since the early days of politics, even before the formation of the United States. However, what has changed is that in the past, during times of crisis, partisan rivals were able to set aside their differences temporarily for the greater good. I don’t need to go back to the Founding Fathers to illustrate this. I can point to examples like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill working together to save Social Security or Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich collaborating to balance the budget. The ability to find common ground seems to be eroding, and we must address this challenge.

Daniel Schnur: It’s interesting to note that the historical context of the past doesn’t have much relevance today, and it’s more challenging to put aside differences. However, it’s not impossible. Regardless of being a Republican or Democrat, we should give credit to Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell for their accomplishments last year. Another book that is worth discussing is “Soul of America,” which provides a great retrospective on American history. It reminds us that divisions and animosities have plagued our country since its early days. The book highlights how we have overcome these divisions in the past, not just through the efforts of well-known figures like MLK or Lincoln but also through lesser-known leaders. For example, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge took steps to ease tensions after World War I. The book emphasizes that there are countless ordinary people who contribute to bridging gaps and fostering dialogue, even if they can’t change the entire Congress. I highly recommend reading it.

Lee Wochner: That sounds like a valuable book. Thanks for sharing the recommendation.

Daniel Schnur: You’re welcome. It’s called “The Soul of America” by John Leach.

Lee Wochner: Great, I’ll check it out.

Daniel Schnur: When it comes to affecting change, it’s interesting to compare our different areas of work. While you focus on marketing, which aims to influence people, I’m involved in working with today’s youth and large civic organizations to bring about positive change. Now, as an elected official, it can be challenging to accomplish anything when your colleagues are resistant.

Daniel Schnur: One significant change we’ve witnessed in the last generation is the dynamics within our legislative bodies. Gerrymandering is a well-known issue in drawing congressional and legislative districts. However, there’s a broader dynamic at play here. While gerrymandering doesn’t affect states, we see similar polarization in the United States Senate. We currently live in the most mobile society in history, and when people relocate, they often seek communities where they feel a sense of belonging. This goes beyond physical characteristics and extends to shared ideologies and worldviews. We increasingly define “people like us” as those who think like us. This self-selection leads to communities where people’s political beliefs align. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it results in a lack of political diversity. We elect representatives who reflect our views rather than those who can balance competing interests. Consequently, many members of Congress face little to no competition in general elections, either due to gerrymandering or the geographic self-selection I mentioned. The only potential challenge for incumbents is if someone from their own party tries to outflank them from the right or left.

Lee Wochner: It’s a complex issue that stems from both gerrymandering and the increasing political homogeneity within communities.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: So the disincentive for compromise becomes really strong. The only way to give Biden and McConnell credit is by knowing there’s safety in numbers. You can say to your constituents, “I know you don’t like that I worked with the other side, but look at all the other people in our party that did too, and look what we accomplished.”

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: It may not be as cathartic, but something productive comes out of it.

Lee Wochner: We’re also talking about the impact of social media. 20, 25 years ago, people used to read a daily newspaper, but now we pre-select the news we want and set up triggers. We’ve siloed ourselves and listen to our own tribe. Social media exacerbates this, and both sides use it for fundraising and building their numbers. Is there hope for bringing people together when it’s so easy to sort ourselves digitally?

Daniel Schnur: I think there is, but the movement won’t come from politicians. It has to come from individuals. Human nature drives us to spend time with people who agree with us. But we can break out of that by exposing ourselves to different viewpoints. It’s up to us. We can watch different shows, read columns from the other side, or invite someone who disagrees to join our discussions. We shouldn’t use the craziest people as an excuse not to work together. There are smart people on the other side too.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: All it takes is us. We have access to diverse opinions now, and it’s a better way for the next generation.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: We can remind each other, even in a group of like-minded people, to engage with different perspectives. They’re not crazy lunatics on the other side. We can work together.

Lee Wochner: Well, thank you for introducing me to the term “Squish Moderate.” I’m ordering a t-shirt. I have my favorite Squish Moderate, David Brooks. I remember Watergate and being involved, but young people today have different attitudes towards politics and government. They vote in smaller numbers but engage more in their communities. They see nonprofits and community organizations as the agents of change.

Daniel Schnur: So the disincentive for compromise becomes a really strong one. The only way to give Biden and McConnell credit is knowing that there’s safety in numbers. To be able to say to your constituents, I know you don’t like that I worked with the other side, but look at all the other people in our party that did too and look at what we accomplished that’s good for you.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: It may not be as cathartic, but something productive comes out of it.

Lee Wochner: So we’re also talking here about the impact of social media, which will come up in this discussion. I remember 20, 25 years ago, going to conferences and speeches where people talked about how we used to get a daily newspaper and read it in the format they selected. My background is as a newspaper man, you may recall.

Daniel Schnur: Thank you.

Lee Wochner: Reporter.

Daniel Schnur: You.

Lee Wochner: And editor. Now, you select the news you want. You set up triggers and Google Alerts. You also go on social media, like certain pages, and not others. So you pre-select the news you want and leave out other things. You’ve pre-selected your worldview. Once you know which tribe you belong to, you’ve silenced the other tribe. Your tribe tells you the seemingly perfidious things the other people are doing to agitate you, fundraise, and activate you. This doesn’t present a good view of those two tribes working together in the future. There’s definitely a social media component, and both the blues and the reds use it for fundraising and building their numbers. If it’s your team, you want them to do that, right? Is there any hope for bringing people together better when it’s easier to use this digital sorting hat and say, “These are blue and I like these, these are red, I like the…”? Is there any hope for this?

Daniel Schnur: I think there is, but the movement in that direction won’t come from Washington or Sacramento or another state capital or city hall. It has to come from people. Your instinct is right. Few elected officials will say, “Listen, I want you to spend more time reading and thinking about what the other side says.”

Lee Wochner: Hehehehe. Hehehehe.

Daniel Schnur: It’s not going to happen, but nothing prevents you or me from doing it, except for human nature. I mean…

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: Human nature means I want to spend time with the smartest people in the world, who agree with me, of course. Whether I find them on Fox or MSNBC, I can quickly build an ideological igloo where my opinions are reinforced, and I’m congratulated for having such smart opinions. The good news is there’s an easy way out of that. That’s your thumb.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Daniel Schnur: Or your index finger.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: The last assignment I give my students every semester is the most important one, but I can’t grade it. I want every principled conservative in this class to watch Rachel Maddow once a week. And I want every principled progressive in this class to read George Will or Brett Stevens or Ross Douthat once a week. I’m not trying to change your mind or open it. I’m just trying to remind you that there are really smart people on the other side. It doesn’t make you any less of a partisan, but maybe it helps you remember that there is room for common ground and compromise. Common ground and compromise might not come with Marjorie Taylor Greene or Ilhan Omar, but there are a lot of smart people over there too if you’re willing to intellectually expose yourself to them. This thing not only allows me to isolate myself ideologically, but it also makes it much easier for me to reach out, listen, and read other people. When I was growing up, the Milwaukee Journal was about all I had. Now you have every opinion in the world in your pocket. A better way for the next podcast.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: All it takes is us. I know it sounds a little kumbaya-ish, but if you’re in a book club or gathering with people, even if you agree on everything, remind each other. Watch that show, read that column, or invite someone who doesn’t agree with us. They’re not crazy lunatics on the other side. Ben’s house calls it “nut picking.” It’s easy to pick the nuttiest person over there and use them as an excuse not to work together. There are smart people over there too.

Lee Wochner: I want to thank you for the term “Squish Moderate.” I’m ordering a t-shirt to proudly display it. You didn’t mention my favorite Squish Moderate, David Brooks. I also like Brett Stevens. It’s interesting how I now view both of them as moderates due to the shift in the spectrum. I came of age during Watergate and remember lying on the floor with my tape recorder, one of those kids. My friends didn’t seem to care. What are the attitudes of young people today toward politics and government?

Daniel Schnur: Well, the good news is there are still people like you, Lee. I think so personally, but I’ll let your audience decide for themselves.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: What’s really interesting is that younger generations channel their interest, concerns, and involvement in a somewhat different direction than you and my generation did. These millennials and Gen Z vote in smaller numbers than any other generation in America today or recent American history, just like Xers and Boomers did when we were younger.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: But what I will tell you is they volunteer their time back into their community in greater numbers than any other generation. Over the last generation and a half, they are still deeply civically minded, but fewer of them see traditional politics and government as the way to achieve the solutions they want. Many more of them go to work for nonprofits or community organizations because they believe that’s where change will happen.

Lee Wochner: You mentioned earlier how we’re no longer tied to what’s in the daily newspaper. I love the internet. I work in the internet. I think at this point, almost everyone works in the internet, even if you’re a construction worker. You’re working in the internet. I grew up in a rural area with no connection to anyone. I used to write letters and get letters back. It’s crazy. Getting letters published in comic books. Thank you, Marvel and DC. They would print the address, and you would get letters back, saying, “Hey, I live in Southern New Jersey too. We should meet.” The internet has made all these things more possible. Look at the kids who survived school shootings and banded together to advocate for more gun restrictions. They couldn’t have done that without the internet. In your teaching and mentoring of young people, what do you tell them about how to affect political change and work on the issues that activate them?

Daniel Schnur: This is the challenging part for someone like me. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince them that while I admire their community-based and volunteer work, if they want to make change on a broad scale, they need to step inside the gates. I share the famous story of young Barack Obama, the community organizer, attending the city council meeting for the preferred mayoral candidate. He realized it was too late; the decision had already been made behind closed doors. He vowed to get inside those doors, and I encourage them to do the same. Volunteering is noble, but there’s a limit to how many parks you can clean up. More and more, these students tell me that they have a clean park at the end of the day, but they ask, “What have you got?” So they are willing to make change on a more specific level. I still work hard to convince them that the traditional political process can complement, not substitute, community-based activities. I’m proud that many of them have gone on to do political work in Washington, Sacramento, and other state capitals. But if they decide to make a difference through nonprofits, NGOs, or community organizations, I’m not as agitated as I used to

  1. I now believe there are two ways to make change: wide and deep. You can affect millions of lives on a wide scale, but the change may not be visible. I understand the payoff of affecting a smaller number of lives in a deeper and more profound way. I’m not as judgmental as I used to be. What’s the Dylan line? “I was so much older then.”

Lee Wochner: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Some years ago, I have friends who are jaded and find it infuriating. Once you’ve given into cynicism, you’re not doing anything. So I abhor the cynics and refute them. A friend complained about a California tax law that penalized small businesses unfairly. I took it to Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who agreed with me and got it into law. I went back to my friend and said, “Hey, you just got a law passed.” He realized the system can work.

Daniel Schnur: The system can work. It doesn’t work as much as before, but it works more than most people assume. The news media tends to focus on bad news and threats rather than promises and positives. They rarely highlight successes, and even when they balance the scale, it’s often stories about animals, not people. It’s important not to solely rely on the media to avoid becoming overly pessimistic. I call myself a born-again optimist, having gone from optimism to cynicism and back to optimism. We should be willing to work a little harder to find the good.

Lee Wochner: I want to pick up on something you said earlier. Obama’s successful career was partly due to becoming head of the law review by listening to conservatives who wanted to be heard. Sometimes people just want to be heard.

Daniel Schnur: Exactly. Most good people are willing to give others a chance to be heard. We see it with little kids at home. They might not have anything important to say at the moment, but it’s important to them to have a chance to express themselves. In community forums, people sometimes make statements instead of asking questions, and that’s okay. If it makes them feel better to be heard, we should listen.

Lee Wochner: Yeah, you’re almost alone in that. Others don’t like it. But it’s the same point you made about Obama. If someone talks for a while and wants to make a point without a question, as long as it makes them feel better to be heard, that’s important.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: Nothing wrong with that. If it leads to cohesion and mutual understanding, it can be beneficial going forward. I can confidently say that I will never be the editor of the Harvard Law Review, but that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to others.

Lee Wochner: Yeah. We’re taking a short break here for a special announcement, and then we’ll be back with Dan Schnur to talk about lessons learned, heroes and villains, the case for optimism, and more fun stuff about our peculiar political times. So we’ll be right back.

Jaclyn: Hi, this is Jaclyn with Counterintuity. Being compliant with the Americans with Disability Act on your website is the right thing to do, so that everyone can visit and use your website. But did you know that it’s also a legal requirement? By ensuring your website meets ADA compliance standards, you make it more accessible to people with disabilities, improving their user experience and expanding your audience. And by complying with ADA regulations, you can avoid legal issues and protect your organization from expensive lawsuits.

Check out the Counterintuity blog for more on this and other important website compliance topics. Or give us a call. We’re always happy to help.

Lee Wochner: So Dan, one of the things we’re talking about is change, and marketing is about revealing what’s going on. We live in a time of constant and faster change. We still read daily newspapers, but there are many more people on TikTok and Instagram. What’s the changing role of media in politics?

Daniel Schnur: We touched on that earlier, but let’s dig deeper. I think what’s happening more and more, as you mentioned, Lee, is that while there’s still a mainstream legacy news media, it has been overshadowed by advocacy media. I don’t have a problem with advocacy media on either side. It’s helpful to understand what people with stronger opinions think. But I see it as dessert. If I have chocolate cake after dinner, I’m happy, but I’ve also had a nutritious meal. If I have only chocolate cake, I’m on a temporary sugar high and not doing much for my overall health. Going straight to advocacy media is like going straight to the chocolate cake.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Daniel Schnur: If you’re willing to have a more balanced meal of legacy media first, then you’ve earned the dessert. But when you replace it, that’s when you get into trouble, and that’s happening more and more.

Lee Wochner: Well, on Facebook, for example, it’s easy for me.

Lee Wochner: I’ve tuned out a bunch of it for my health and wellbeing, but I’m on social. And so somebody said to me, “How can you have a good time on Twitter?” And I said, “My Twitter feed is about rock and roll, theater, and comic books. So it’s always a good time.”

Daniel Schnur: Can we stop on that one for a second?

Lee Wochner: Sure.

Daniel Schnur: DC and Marvel, you never felt a compunction to choose?

Lee Wochner: We’re going to have to have a lunch just about this. Because yeah, there are different cases to be made there.

Daniel Schnur: It was long before the movies.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: I have to tell you, I was a diehard Marvel guy.

Lee Wochner: Me too.

Daniel Schnur: DC was beneath. Okay, good.

Lee Wochner: Me too. And lately, I find I read more DC comics than Marvel lately.

Daniel Schnur: And let’s agree that the last Ant-Man movie was a real disappointment.

Lee Wochner: I haven’t seen that yet. My interest in Ant-Man has shrunk.

Daniel Schnur: No pun intended.

Lee Wochner: No, not at all. I didn’t reach for that in the slightest. It was just a little pun for you. What are the ways you’ve seen people really make political impact with social media? Like what’s working? What do you think has risen above the rest?

Daniel Schnur: Generally, where social media can be incredibly valuable, it’s a terrific way of rallying, motivating, and inspiring your base. There’s not a lot of persuasion that goes on on social media. Very few undecided voters come to a conclusion about who to support based on their social media input. But it’s a faster, more precise, and much more effective way of mobilizing a campaign’s or initiative’s core group of supporters. And if it’s a candidate or cause that’s important to you, then that can’t help but be a good thing. I tell my students and I always warn them, “Warning, 20th-century old guy story coming.”

Lee Wochner: Ha ha.

Daniel Schnur: I tell them about how when I was in college, my dad and my stepmom became big fans of then-Senator Gary Hart in his primary campaign against Walter Mondale.

Lee Wochner: Me too.

Daniel Schnur: Such a relief not having to explain to people who Walter Mondale and Gary Hart are. And I tell them what happened is, Gary Hart won the New Hampshire primary. My dad read about it in the newspaper the next day. About a week later, he got a fundraising appeal in the mail from the Hart campaign. About a week after that, he found his checkbook. About a week after that, he wrote the check. About a week after that, he found a stamp. About a week after that, he put it in the mail. About a week after that, the envelope got to Denver. About a week after that, it was deposited in the bank.

Daniel Schnur: About a week after that, it cleared, at which point Walter Mondale was the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

Lee Wochner: Well, thanks to your dad.

Daniel Schnur: Yes.

Lee Wochner: In 2020, or 2024 for that matter.

Daniel Schnur: Yeah. It takes if you already registered less than six keystrokes to make that contribution and for the money to be immediately available. And that’s the difference, a difference between a Gary Hart insurgent candidacy and even though he ultimately came up short of Bernie Sanders.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: Insurgent candidacy, he became because social media allowed his supporters to engage much more quickly. Now, for those of your audience members who are Sanders supporters, as you know, it works for Donald Trump too.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: Whether it’s your cause or issue or someone else’s, you can not only talk back to power in a way that wasn’t available to us through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, but you can also talk horizontally in a way that simply wasn’t possible in a previous era. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Lee Wochner: About 10 years ago, something like that, I was a speaker, maybe not that long, at the National Planned Parenthood Conference in DC. And I was saying to them, to your point, you know, Vice President Biden has sent me a text asking for $3. Who would I be if I didn’t commit $3 when the Vice President texted me and asked me? And they were very much of the mindset of, we know the ladies who lunch, and we’re going who lunch out to lunch and they’re each gonna give us a check for $50,000. And now this is a given, but at the time, they were trying to wrap their mind around my idea that they should go ask a bunch of individual people for $3 each. And there are more of those individual people that winds up being more money. And insert your own preferred cause there. And to your point, the level of connectivity and is radically reshaping the world. So my marketing agency here in Burbank, California, is connected all over the globe, right? We have clients all across the US. We have business relationships and people we work with all over the globe all the time. And sometimes you have to figure out what time zone you’re talking to, but other than that, there are no difficulties. And one of the members of our team went to Korea, and while in Korea, attended every staff meeting here worked with every client while being in Korea. So it’s not the same as the 1970s that we look back with not just so much love but so much interest because those were a peculiar time as well, the 1970s. So go ahead.

Daniel Schnur: Well, and that’s back to your broader point. It really is easy to over romanticize.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: The past and recognizing that while we haven’t been here before, we’ve been here before and we found a way through.

Lee Wochner: My fear about romanticizing the past, and that’s a great way to put it, is that it says to me, you’ve kind of given up on the future. That was so great, we’ll never get back there. And of course, we’ll never get back there. Going back would mean something catastrophic has happened. We need to find the best course forward. And it pays to be present, what’s going on now, and to look ahead and work toward the better future than to be stuck on the past. It just seems like the viewpoint of a retirement to me.

Daniel Schnur: Precisely, which we’re still a couple years away from succumbing to you, correct?

Lee Wochner: I’m never gonna be in the retirement village and I hope you’re never there either. So I wanna ask you before I move on to the last couple things that we’re gonna talk about, do you think that the, you know, we’re talking about the impact of social media and the Lincoln Project, which was a big anti-Trump campaign, really stood up a social media presence. I mean, they were, and they were clever about it. Even if you despised them, do you think that the Lincoln Project had an impact in the 2020 presidential campaign?

Daniel Schnur: I think they had a marginal impact.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: And I will tell you, friends of mine were involved in it. And it’s saddened me to see what’s happened to it over the last couple of years. I think they had a minor impact. And I’ll go back to something I was saying earlier about social media, the difference between motivating someone and persuading them. And this is something we talk about a lot. A successful campaign has to do two things simultaneously. They have to motivate their supporters and they have to persuade undecided voters to expand that base of supporters. The really frustrating thing in any kind of advocacy effort is it’s a zero-sum game. Every minute I spend motivating my supporters is a minute that I’m driving those undecided voters in the other direction.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: Every dollar that I spend persuading undecided voters is a day that is a dollar, means that my core is a little bit less motivated. So you have to choose and you have to balance. I think what the Lincoln Project did very effectively is they served as an additional motivator for the Biden base. I don’t think many swing voters, undecided voters, made their decisions based on what the Lincoln Project said about Trump. Because if you think about what motivation is, it’s something they already believe. You and I have a favorite restaurant.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: And if I want to motivate you to go there again, I’m going to remind you how much you like it.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: Even with a candidate. And so while the Lincoln Project presented its information in a very creative and compelling way, essentially what its job was to remind people who didn’t like Trump why they didn’t like Trump.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: And they did it very effectively.

Lee Wochner: In our remaining few minutes, Dan, I’d love to talk to you about the future. So you work with a number of foundations and nonprofits, and no, we didn’t have all the time for me to read every freaking credit you’ve got, which is impressive. What are foundations and nonprofits that you consult with most concerned with today?

Daniel Schnur: The ones I work with tend to focus on at least the areas with the departments or divisions I work with, tend to have a very specific interest toward a very specific outcome. I’m not really interested in working with anyone, whether it’s an organization or an individual who says, “I want to change the world.”

Daniel Schnur: The world’s a big place. It’s a complicated place. And you can waste a lot of time and a lot of money saying, “Look at us, we’re changing the world.”

Lee Wochner: Uh oh, there go my plans.

Daniel Schnur: Yeah, so I look for specifics. There’s a wonderful quote from the late Steve Jobs, from his famous commencement speech at Stanford University. We talked about putting a dent in the universe.

Lee Wochner: Yep.

Daniel Schnur: I love that quote. Because to me, like I said, changing the world is really difficult. Putting a dent in the universe means picking one thing, drawing a little X, picking up a crowbar and whacking away at it. And at the risk of sounding a bit esoteric, you know, the little C cell seashells and balloons for a minute. Yeah, if everybody puts a dent in the universe, then collectively you change the world. So to me, those that do have a very specific goal are the ones I try to work with and try to help. Just so you know, Lee, by the way, I had the opportunity several years back to meet Lorraine Powell Jobs.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Daniel Schnur: and had the opportunity to tell her how much her husband’s speech and how much that quote had meant to me. And she laughed and she said, “Dan, I don’t think that’s what Steve meant by the quote at all.”

Lee Wochner: Oh.

Daniel Schnur: But if it works for you, go for it. So I felt an obligation to admit that to the group. So when I worked with Gates and Hewlett, it was not just on education, but on very specific areas of education policy.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Daniel Schnur: When I’ve worked with other nonprofits, it’s not just been on political reform, but on very, very specific changes. And I guess the one thing I’d offer to anyone who’s looking for a place to make a difference is specificity is the answer. Gauzy makes me feel better.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: but that one tiny little dent.

Lee Wochner: Yeah.

Daniel Schnur: is what’s going to make the difference.

Lee Wochner: Yeah, it’s good to, whether it’s marketing or change or anything, it’s good to do a baseline, here’s where we are right now, and then to set a goal, here’s where we want to get to, and then monitor the change and report on the impact. Absolutely, 100%. When you get people who say, “I just want to do something,” it’s too nebulous to actually result in anything. I think you’re really right about that. Of fast-moving change, when you’re serving as an advisor to groups like that, how do you help them navigate change? Or are they already aware of what’s going on and the reason they’re calling you in is because you work in an area of change that interests them.

Daniel Schnur: It’s both just like in any other aspect of the world. Some people understand the change that’s happening. Some don’t notice it. Some notice it, but don’t know quite how to understand it.

Lee Wochner: Mm-hmm.

Daniel Schnur: Thanks for watching!

Daniel Schnur: And I put myself in that middle, in that latter category. I wouldn’t pretend for a minute to say that I understand how our society and the world is changing, but I’m aware of it and I’m fascinated by it. And, you know, as a famous old quote, uh

Daniel Schnur: I put myself in the middle category. I wouldn’t pretend to fully understand how society and the world are changing, but I’m aware of it and fascinated by it. Working with these organizations is great because I’m never the smartest person in the room.

Lee Wochner: Ha ha.

Daniel Schnur: While I give them advice on navigating change, I also learn a lot from them. Thinking you have all the answers is a recipe for failure. It’s important to learn from others and give credit where it’s due.

Lee Wochner: Playing racquetball taught me the value of challenging yourself against slightly better opponents to improve. Smart people make you smarter because you want to keep up. So, what do you see coming for the US in the next 10 years?

Daniel Schnur: I see a period of sustainable economic growth. Despite concerns of recession and rising protectionism, there are positive indicators like higher wages and lower unemployment. We’re also more focused on mental health issues, which is a step in the right direction. We’re undergoing a significant societal and cultural transformation due to the shift from a manufacturing to a technology-based economy. While there are challenges, we’re more aware of them and actively working on solutions. However, my concern is the growing animosity towards China, which may lead to a Cold War.

Lee Wochner: Hmm.

Daniel Schnur: Despite challenges, I’m optimistic. We’ve overcome difficult times like the pandemic and war before. It may take longer for some people to adjust and see progress, but marking those milestones can help foster optimism.

Lee Wochner: Preaching the progress and reminding people of how far we’ve come is essential. We need to show them the pencil marks of improvement. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Dan. Let’s have lunch again soon.

Daniel Schnur: Thank you for having me. I appreciate your team’s efforts in putting this together. There are great people behind the scenes. Looking forward to our next lunch and discussing comic books. See you soon.

Jaclyn: Thanks for listening! We’re glad you came. That’s What C! Said is produced by Lisa Pham and engineered by Joe Curet. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. Please like and follow the show. Visit to sign up and learn more.

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