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No doubt, you made a fact-based, purely rational decision as to who you would support for president.   Actually . . . that’s not likely.

Over the past two decades neuroscientists, psychologists, and political behaviorists have recognized that we feel before we think . . . that we are predisposed to our political choices . . . and that we make decisions on emotional levels that are below our own awareness.*  No, we can’t be directed like robots, but we can be influenced and, ultimately, persuaded in ways we may not be comfortable acknowledging.

Think about the your major life choices.  While listing the pros and cons of the car you purchased, the home you bought, the person you married, the school you or you children attended, inevitably, the final decision was made based on your “feelings.”

Marketers have long known this; some politicians are just catching up.  Fear, anger, hope, pride – pulling at the heartstrings is far more compelling than a list of statistics or complex detail.  You’ll see this played out in the advertising running throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

To help, there are the rationality-defying creative tools of audio, visual and motion. These result in the patriotic or anxiety-inducing music; the carefully selected imagery; the unflattering camera angles of the opponent.  Also cueing your emotions are six techniques that are meant to move you persuasively — over to their side.

  1. Association

Association links the candidate to something or someone you emotionally connect with from personal experience.   The association may be negative, like putting opposing candidate X in the same image as bad person Y;  or it may be positive, images of all the young people who have benefited from Z policy.

  1. Confusion

Confusion ignores the real concern and replaces, juxtaposes or makes inferences so you are distracted from the original concrete issue.   Candidates may confuse you about their own stands or confuse you about those of their opponents.

  1. Contrast

Contrast uses opposing elements to clarify and drive a point home based on actual or perceived differences.   The contrast can be real or it can be deceptive, for example, taking words or photos out of context or simply comparing non-existing facts.

  1. Omission

Omission ignores the key parts of a story that weaken the candidate’s case and, sometimes, even adds unrelated information to strengthen it.

  1. Repetition

Repetition is showing and saying the same thing over and over again so that it becomes “sticky,” gaining traction and becoming believable over time or quickly over the Internet.  Repetition increases impact and aids memorability.

  1. Transformation

Transformation uses all the creative tools in the visual and audio arsenal to alter a person, situation, comment, or image so that it is changed to seem like something it actually is not.   This is used sometimes not-so-subtly by the candidates and to the outrageous ultimate in political parody ads.

This is not to suggest tuning out the politicians’ ads.  The ads can be educational and provide important information that you may need or want to know.  Watch them.  But beware. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that political advertising is governed by First Amendment free speech, making it legal to lie in national political advertising.

If you mix deception with the persuasive emotional tools and techniques at the politicians’ disposal, you are up against a powerful combination – one that can truly challenge every voter’s objectivity . . . including your own.


* Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking. Fast and Slow”; neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, author of “Self Comes to Mind” and “Constructing the Conscious Brain”; political scientists and authors Ted Brader, “Campaigning for Hearts and Minds”; Milton Lodge and Charles S. Taber, “The Rationalizing Voter”.  Persuasive techniques informed by literature professor Hugh Rank, NCTE Committee on Public Doublespeak Intensify/Downplay Schema.