Politics, Public Relations, and Social Psychology

With the federal elections of both Canada and the US approaching, not to mention the constant political maneuvering happening across provinces and states, a lot of things are happening at once. It can feel like a whirlwind, just getting your bearings about one issue before the next one suddenly crops up demanding your attention. The breakneck pace of the news cycle means that a lot of the resolution or lack thereof of one issue often gets missed.

It’s the perfect setting to employ several tricks of social psychology that make it possible for politicians (and salespeople and so on) to change the conversation without ever having to convince the electorate of the issue. I’ve talked about at least one of these social psychology manipulation techniques before.

Additionally, it allows them to employ several public relations tricks to encourage several extreme side groups, while also counting on the majority of the population to forget about it before it’s time to vote.

It’s called a Test Balloon.

When Politicians want to see if the province, state, country, anything is ready for a given initiative, they will usually have some relatively less significant member of that party float a notion, either through proposing a bill, making a controversial announcement or public statement, and then gauging the reaction.

It can also act as a dog-whistle to sub-groups that their party supports x ideas, without having to alienate the rest of the electorate by scaring them off.

What is even more insidious is that it can be done without even the “patsy” being aware that that’s what they are. For example if a party member is known to feel vehemently about a subject, then bringing it up incidentally in a passing conversation or even make sympathetic conversation about the sentiment or saying “Someone should say/do something about it” and then making sure that the opportunity for them to say something about it near enough journalists comes up, and you’re off to the races.


Abortion in Canada/Ontario.

Let’s say you are interested in putting forth legislation to take away the bodily autonomy of certain demographics, specifically woman and other people with uteruses, and have been working systematically on strengthening so called “pro-life” groups and their influence.

You get a relatively young, junior MPP to make a statement like say, “We pledge to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.”

Public reaction is one of outrage, especially given what is happening in the US.

Scheer then responds to the public outrage with “We have no INTENTION of opening up the abortion debate.”

At the same time, forced birth groups get energized and excited knowing that if they can give them enough political power, such as a majority government, or control of both houses (or I guess technically all three), that that will give them the leverage necessary to make big changes to the law. It allows them to have their message spread by a third party, while staying silent enough themselves not energize the opposing side enough to vote.

Look at the statement itself: We have no Intention:

Great, so you are not currently planning on it, while you know that the electorate that you don’t want riled would rise up against you enough to keep you from getting elected. Once you’re elected though and it becomes a lot harder to stop you, then plans can change. But they weren’t pre-meditated see. You didn’t intend it during the campaign, but now you do.

Also “to open up the debate.” You are not opening up the debate if the laws you pass shut it down altogether. You are not opening up a debate if the majority of your MPs already hold the same opinions.

They pay attention to the responses of their opponents. The harshest laws get proposed by women to skew the issue of whether its “men” deciding for “women”. They play on emotion, stating outright lies about what happens when during pregnancy and how various operations take place. They highlight scenarios that are meant to play on people’s uncertainties and emotions.

They pay attention to who is outright opposed and so clearly not someone they can work with, and who vacillates just enough that they might be convinced to work with them should it become politically expedient. They look at who the responses are aimed at and how so as to know how to best either silence those that make the argument, or find a way to make it seem irrelevant.

They reframe the argument so as to make ideas seem fringe or poorly informed while actively promoting pseudoscience and conspiracy. They reframe ideas as being diametrically opposed, like environment and business, glossing over that a shift in focus would actually stir innovation and so create brand new industries and so would actually drive business in a way similar to how the creation of the internet did.

This is exactly what happened in the states and it part of what is happening now in Canada. It’s how politics and pr are played.

This applies to more than just abortion though. It is done with environmental policies, healthcare, and so on.

Door in the Face Technique.

This is a manipulation/negotiation technique frequently employed in politics. In fact you can see examples of it happening right now in Ontario.

The way it works is this:

You make a first proposal, statement, or request that is overblown or obviously objectionable. One that they don’t actually expect you to agree to.

*Recent Example: Proposing a Healthcare bill that includes elements that would result in actual torture ie. eliminating sedation for colonoscopies for example. These elements are included among other proposals that at any other time would still be strongly objected to but which are slightly less horrifying than the others.*

The response is as expected. People become angry, they metaphorically slam the “door in your face.” The proposal is outright rejected.

*people point out that elements of the healthcare proposal would result in literal torture. The focus becomes specific horrifying elements, while other aspects may be mostly ignored since they’re in this instance less concerning even if they still are a problem.*

In response you make a second proposal, statement, or request that is seemingly more measured, or suggest that they propose something more acceptable, taking for granted the idea that a proposal needs to be made at all. In the rush of relief that follows, the people overlook that the original question has been reframed and their own stance shifted.

Continuing with the example:

In the case of the healthcare bill, this was done in two ways:

  1. In order to save poor people from being tortured, healthcare professionals and advocates are challenged to come up with better cuts to make.
  2. The more horrifying aspects, like cutting the cost of sedation, are removed from the proposal.

In the rush of relief that people will not be tortured for being poor, there is a failure to notice that the question has been changed from “Should we make cuts to healthcare at all” to “What and how much should be cut.”

In this way, without EVER having to actually convince anyone that healthcare cuts are needed or acceptable, they’ve managed to make the idea of them happening generally accepted. Whereas previously most Ontarians have said that they don’t support ANY cuts to healthcare, now people are actually discussing access to which essential services they would be willing to give up or suddenly have to pay for.

The worst part is even being aware of the technique is no guarantee against it because it specifically uses human nature and psychology against you. As someone on my newsfeed pointed out, it’s a technique similarly used by abusers.

Ask yourself, what is the question of the debates I’m having, and when did I accept the underlying assumption. Has the question shifted over time? What premises have I accepted without even being aware of it?

Getting to frame the debate is an act of power. It lets them control the conversation as long as the framing is accepted and not challenged.

Politics, Public Relations, and Social Psychology

One thought on “Politics, Public Relations, and Social Psychology

  1. 1

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