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Smart Politics in the news

Smart Politics In the News

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Press Releases

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Our History

Our History

As a progressive, Dr. Karin Tamerius was shocked, confused, and scared in the days after the 2016 election. She wanted to help mitigate the damage and make sure Donald Trump wasn’t re-elected in 2020, but she needed a better understanding of what had happened and why. Using social media she reached out to her Trump-supporting uncle and other Trump Republicans to find out what they were thinking.

In those conversations, Dr. Tamerius didn’t share her own progressive views—instead, she asked questions and listened to the answers, setting aside anger and judgment to focus on understanding the Trump supporters’ perspective. Gradually, she found:

  • Trump voters appreciated being listened to and were more than happy to talk with someone who treated them with respect.
  • The conversations often led the Trump voters to insights, and those insights created small shifts in their political opinions.
  • Most importantly, when she fully listened to what they had to say, Trump voters were much more open to listening to her perspective, even asking what she thought.

Dr. Tamerius soon realized this was similar to her work with therapy patients: producing change by providing a supportive, nonjudgmental space for people to think through what they believed and experiment with alternative ways of seeing the world.

Hoping to cultivate and teach these skills to others interested in communicating more effectively with people across the aisle, Dr. Tamerius founded the Smart Politics Facebook group in early 2017. It’s membership has since grown to nearly 10,000 people, and Dr. Tamerius now teaches a wide range of strategic and tactical interventions to help progressives communicate more productively and persuasively with people they disagree with.

our approach

Smart Politics starts with the assumption that all people–even those whose ideas we abhor–can change their minds about politics. Unfortunately, we progressives often communicate in ways that reinforce others’ beliefs rather than helping them understand our point of view. To transform American politics, we must share our message so people who disagree with us can hear it.

Smart Politics conversations are challenging, but they expose people to new ideas in an environment free from attack. Unlike in political arguments or debates, we focus on listening and understanding rather than refuting or rebutting. The goal is not to “win” an argument but instead help the other person absorb new information and develop their own insights. We need them to listen to our perspective instead of becoming defensive and shutting us out, and this is done by creating conversations that foster greater rationality, compassion, self-reflection, and curiosity.

Finally, by building strong, healthy relationships with people who disagree with us, Smart Politics doesn’t just seek to change people’s conscious opinions–we also want to change the unconscious us-versus-them feelings about good and bad that drive most political beliefs. 

This approach isn’t neutral—Smart Politics offers tools and teaches skills to help progressives influence and persuade others without one side imposing its beliefs on the other. Rather than overpower opponents, Smart Politics wants to grow the movement for progressive change–because resolving conflict is good but resolving conflict in a way that creates a more progressive world is better.

Smart Politics founder Dr. Karin Tamerius

Dr. Karin Tamerius is a nationally-recognized expert in political discourse.

She has a B.A. in political science from UC Berkeley and an M.D. from UC San Francisco. She also studied political psychology as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at the University of Michigan and trained in psychiatry as a resident at UC San Francisco.

Since the 2016 election, Dr. Tamerius has focused on using therapeutic communication skills in political discussion, teaching activists how to depolarize conflicts and effectively share their message.

Dr. Tamerius’ three interactive pieces for The New York Times use chatbots to teach readers how to discuss politics over the holidays and how to persuade loved ones to get immunized against COVID-19. She also consulted on development of the “Cli-Mate” Bot for the David Suzuki Foundation to improve conversations about climate change.

Her political advocacy efforts include training activists for, Indivisible, and Women’s March. Her work has been featured in a wide range of media outlets, including NPR, Fox and Friends, Business Insider, Mother Jones, and The Rich Zeoli Show.

Dr. Karin Tamerius Portrait