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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 15-Nov-06


Wednesday 15-November-06

The cost of persuasion

How much would you spend on trying to persuade somebody of something? A dollar or two? Maybe if you're a company then your advertising budget will run into thousands, perhaps billions. In the recent US mid-term elections, the two main parties spent billions of dollars trying to persuade people to make a very simple decision - whether to vote Democrat or Republican.

And the result was close, very close, as it always is, because most people will vote for the same party each time, no matter what the adverts say. The ads really are targeted at a relatively small minority of 'undecided' people who, in theory, will listen to the arguments and vote for the best candidate or party. And as it's a majority voting system, it can all come down to a very few votes -- a factor that swung towards George Bush some years ago. If he had lost out that time, the world would be a very different place now, but they did not and we are where we are.

Two very simple methods are commonly used in political advertising, 'We're good' and 'They're bad'. The 'good' adverts focus on party successes and the merits of the individual candidate, whilst the 'they're bad' ads try to highlight unsuccessful opposition policies and assassinate the character of the individual people involved.

It can get pretty nasty as cupboards are shaken bare of any hidden skeletons and the media have a field day over ancient misdemeanours that have very little relevance as to the person's political and governance skills now.  The French handle this well, treating sexual peccadilloes to the classic Gallic shrug that they really deserve. 'So what' they say. If a man has a mistress then he is not that unusual.

One of the most critical events for persuading the populace is in head-to-head debates, where the candidates duke it out in a verbal equivalent of bare-knuckle fighting. Personal comments fly as they battle to show their mettle whilst trying to expose and unsettle the opposition across the table. It is perhaps sad that the real issues of the day can easily get lost and how a person looks is as important as how they think. There is no room for unattractive reflective nice-guys (or gals) any more, it seems. You've got to look good and fight hard.

Perhaps the ultimate cost is to the country, then, though we cannot really complain. We vote for the people we deserve and have to live with the policies and laws they produce.

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