POST-TRUTH & POLITICS: FEELINGS OUTWEIGH FACTS IN THIS NEW POLITICAL AGE

signe-headshot-5By Signe Norberg, member of the YCC

The 2016 presidential campaign has been a whirlwind of many obtuse statements, absurd policies, email hacks, scandals and a range of racist baiting as has not been seen in mainstream modern politics. Donald Trump’s campaign, in particular, has broken every rule in the book on political campaigning and communications. Just one of his provocative, controversial statements would usually be enough to sink any other political campaign – and yet Trump is still in the game. Even if he does not win the election, begs question 'what is going on in modern politics?'

At the heart of this lies the concept of “post-truth politics” - the notion that feelings outweigh facts and so-called elite opinions are dismissed as being out of touch and part of “the establishment”. It is a climate where the outsider can flourish and come to represent the many who feel ignored by the political class. The outsider can represent a feeling which resonates with many people but may not be reflected in the official statistics (as George Osborne learned to his cost).

Evidence of this can be extended to the EU referendum, where most of political society campaigned and actively argued for remaining in the EU, backed up by officials in other countries and expert economic opinion. And despite not always having the economic arguments to back it up, the Leave campaign managed to dominate the political narrative and activate voters around the country – a key challenge for any political campaign. The £350 million for the NHS claim represented a compelling story about the EU’s effect on public services, even if it was strictly untrue.

It was the feeling that the political system did not work for them, that the healthcare system was underfunded and under pressure from immigration, and much of our money goes to nameless bureaucratic entities in Brussels. The fact that not all of the EU money would go to the NHS was not as prominent. It more reflected the very real frustration many people felt, and embodied that in a clear, catchy phrase – “We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead”.

Trump has capitalised on a similar set of feelings, and sold a similar story about an America that no longer works for the people who built it. As the campaign moves into its final stretch, he has become more focused on motivating his core supporters with this story - repeated, exaggerated, and fabricated beyond belief - than on persuading swing voters he is a suitable commander-in-chief. It is a testament to the power of this narrative that he has at least a plausible path to victory next week.

All of this places even more emphasis on the need to tell stories that connect to people’s emotions. Particularly in an age where a deluge of information is at our fingertips, having the right information is never enough. An effective campaign must win the heart as well as the mind of the voter. Brexit and Trump are, in their own distinct ways, examples of the trend of post-truth, fable-heavy politics. And it is for the industry to take note.

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