Welcome Back: Five ingenious ways to win an election

By Eli Talbert / Columnist

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

It’s almost that time again: With November approaching, flocks of politicians of all stripes will be begging for your vote. Although millennials may not be known for voting, with a 41.2 percent election turnout for the 2012 election, some of us are bound to venture into politics. For the benefit of voters and future politicians alike, here are five actions politicians from both parties do to win elections:

1.  Address the needs of specific constituencies. 

One of the best things about politicians is that they always have the needs of the people at heart. Sometimes this is the needs of the people who form groups and fundraise vigorously or simply happen to have huge amounts of cash lying around — but they are people nonetheless. While in the last presidential election just over $1 billion were spent in independent expenditures, I fully believe that our politicians’ moral characters prevent this money from swaying them on important issues. The real issue lies in unscrupulous researchers like Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University — they ruined the reputation of politicians everywhere by publishing a study that concludes affluent Americans and interest groups usually have their way on public policy issues.

2.  Give the appropriate context for information. 

Politicians are dedicated to giving the public information and facts to prove their points. To make sure that voters do not misinterpret statistics, politicians kindly take them out of their original context and give them new ones. For example, during the 2012 presidential election, President Obama’s election campaign released an ad claiming that women make 77 cents on the dollar that men make for the same work. His claim was based on a real statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau, but he neglected to note that it was a comparison of the average for male and female workers that did not take into account the type of job, hours worked, or education level of the workers. Thankfully, Obama, like all politicians, understands that the American people can’t handle nuance and would be confused by things that are not black and white.

3.  Address the public’s fears. 

Some people take issue with politicians using people’s fears against them. This is completely unjustified — politicians are only trying to speak to the public’s valid concerns. This is exactly what former President George H. W. Bush did in the 1988 election when his campaign ran an attack ad blaming his opponent, Michael Dukakis, for the release of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who, while on a weekend furlough from prison, committed murder. Although, with Dukakis as governor of the state, Massachusetts experienced a 13.4 percent decline in crime and had the lowest crime rate of any major industrialized state, a single graphic incident is more important. Politicians understand that every fear, no matter how unsupported, is valid.

4.  Make conditional promises. 

Politicians have the best intentions in the world. They are so big-hearted that sometimes they promise things they can’t deliver. Former President George W. Bush made such a promise during his 2004 reelection campaign when he promised to cut the federal budget deficit — the gap between the government’s income and spending — in half by 2009. Despite his best intentions the deficit increased from around $400 billion in 2004 to $1.2 trillion in 2009. Sadly, many people refuse to recognize the ultimate, albeit misguided, good intentions of politicians and cynically charge them with making promises they have no intention of keeping.

5.  Reapportion credit appropriately. 

Voters are simply not aware who to credit or blame. Politicians work selflessly to properly inform voters of all the good things they are responsible for and all the bad things their opponents caused. Naturally, they occasionally make an honest mistake and take credit for things with which they had no connection. In particular, politicians are fond of congratulating themselves for a good economy and blaming anything or anyone else for a poor one. This is despite the fact that laws can have myriad unexpected effects and economists cannot even agree on the effects of something as simple as raising the minimum wage: Both sides of the debate sent letters with over 500 signatories and multiple Nobel laureates. These mistakes are understandable and only happen during every election campaign — clearly genuine misunderstandings.   

Now that you have a bit of insight into the various strategies necessary to win an election, I hope you have a lot more confidence in our public officials. Remember, although all the politicians you support use these ethical tactics, politicians from the other party do things such as pandering to interest groups, twisting statistics, fearmongering, making insincere promises and unfairly blaming others. So when this election comes around, go vote. Your vote could stop one of those few unscrupulous politicians from being elected.

Write to Eli at ejt26@pitt.edu


Leave a comment.