Propaganda Techniques for Elections

Election propaganda uses red, white and blue to suggest a candidate's patriotism.
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Propaganda is material used to shape an opinion or lead an audience to a particular conclusion. It is a form of advertising that can be found everywhere in modern society, and is an essential tool of political campaigns in gathering support for a candidate. Recognizing some of the strategies used during political campaigns helps voters identify election propaganda techniques and decide whether they want to accept or reject the message being conveyed.

1 Guilt/Virtue by Association

The technique of suggesting a political candidate's guilt or virtue by association is also known as transfer propaganda. A common example of virtue by association is the use of the American flag as a background when a candidate is speaking at a podium. This suggests the candidate is loyal, trustworthy and committed to American ideals. Guilt by association can be achieved by linking a candidate with a person or organization considered radical or racist, such as the Ku Klux Klan.

2 Celebrity Testimonials

A study by researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management showed that Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of President Barack Obama in 2008 may have gained Obama as many as 1 million votes. Celebrity testimonials don't generally raise a candidate's credibility level, but they can influence the celebrity's fans to support the candidate and, at the very least, draw attention to a candidate.

3 Just Plain Folks

The plain-folks technique in political propaganda constructs a scenario in which a candidate is associating with ordinary people. Magazines or newspapers show a candidate at a traditionally American event, such as a baseball game. Television commercials feature a candidate interacting with people in their homes or at neighborhood gatherings. The candidate often is shown discussing issues such as the cost of living, healthcare or taxes in dialogue meant to appear unscripted and portraying the candidate as someone who is sympathetic to the concerns of the average American.

4 Scare Tactics

Fear is used as a technique in political propaganda to convince voters that their support for an opposing candidate will have dire consequences, such as higher taxes or the country's involvement in a war. The most famous fear propaganda in political history is the "Daisy Girl" television commercial used in President Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 re-election campaign. The commercial depicted a young girl plucking petals off a daisy while counting to 10. When she reaches nine, a voiceover begins counting down from 10 to the explosion of an atomic bomb, followed by Johnson's voice warning that Americans have a choice to embrace the world or destroy it. The commercial was created to suggest Johnson's opponent, Barry Goldwater, would lead the country into a nuclear war.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.