The Adjustment Bureau of Politics and Persuasion

Matt Damon starred in the 2011 movie, The Adjustment Bureau, in which he played the youngest politician to be elected to Congress. In the opening scene he has to address supporters after having lost an election bid for the Senate he clearly should have won.

During his consolation speech he begins to reveal the truth about himself and his campaign. He tells the audience everyone assumed his meteoric rise as a young congressman was due to his authenticity. He proceeds to tell people he’s not been authentic at all and starts by telling them a phrase he had just mentioned about his old neighborhood was made up and used only because it polled well with voters. He goes on to say his tie was chosen from 56 others because of what it signified. Then he tells people his campaign paid $7,300 to find out how to perfectly scuff his shoes to appeal to the widest array of voters. Ironically he was viewed more positively the day after the speech because he’d finally been truly authentic.

We’re knee deep in the political process in the U.S., so I thought it was time to share a little about persuasion in the political process. Damon’s revelation about his campaign is more real than you might imagine.

Over the years I’ve participated in many “marketing studies” and quite a few have centered on politics. During these political studies people are literally gathered together for the sole purpose of finding out which phrases resonate best with voters. Mind you, during the selection process participants are paired down so the pollsters understand if the phrases will work best with white, middle aged, conservative males making a certain amount of money or minority voters having a certain educational background, or soccer moms.

By a show of hands or in written format those conducting the marketing ask participants which sentence in each pair appeals the most. Examples might include:

A. A strong national defense
B. A strong U.S. military

A. Family values
B. American ideals

Let’s assume most people like A in both pairs.
Before you know it you will hear politicians talking about how “a strong national defense” is important and how the other party doesn’t care about “family values.”

I hope you’re seeing the picture that’s being painted. Very little of what you hear from people running for Congress, the Senate or president comes from their own words. What you’re getting is a republican or democratic made up persona designed to appeal to the most voters.

Part of the reason republican outsiders like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have gotten so much attention from the masses and media is because they’re not run of the mill puppet-like politicians who’ve been airbrushed to appeal to voters. For the most part – love ‘em or hate ‘em – they are presenting their real selves. To a lesser degree (only because he’s been in politics a long time) Bernie Sanders has a similar appeal for many democratic voters.

Most career politicians spout the “same old same old.” You only have to watch a few debates to hear the same politically correct jargon and talking points intended to appeal to the base.

For example, it always sounds as if every governor led the greatest comeback his or her state had ever seen. The skeptic in me always thought things were so bad with the economy in 2008 if you couldn’t boast about lower unemployment, increased spending on schools, new programs, etc., in your state then you would have been a terrible governor! Blah, blah, blah. The rising tide of an economic recovery helped every state look much better when compared to six or seven years ago.

So what are we to do? Pay attention to what’s said and see if you can confirm key facts. It’s amazing how politicians will tell us things that are not true or are a twisted version of the truth to support their points.

No candidate is perfect and none will hold your opinions or values on everything. In all likelihood there will be two or three core issues for each voter that will determine who they vote for. It may be healthcare reform, the economy, immigration, ISIS, foreign affairs, etc. No matter who you vote for there may be inconsistencies with their positions on other issues but then again each of us are inconsistent to one degree or another. Just make sure whoever you vote for is the person they present themselves to be and not some campaign consultant, poll-generated image designed to appeal to vote getting. Vote for a real person…if one happens to be running.

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