WRH 315: Propaganda and You

Propaganda in Campaigns

Posted on: March 23, 2010

Excerpt from Diary of a Wimpy Kid

When I was reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney, I came across a passage where Greg, the main character in seventh grade, wants to run for class treasurer at his middle school. The main character’s opponent, Marty Porter, was more likely to win the position of treasurer because he did better in math classes than Greg. Since he was feeling threatened by his opponent’s qualifications, Greg decided to use a personal attack in his own campaign. For his posters, Greg drew a picture of Marty scratching his head. The text around the illustration states, “Remember in second grade when Marty Porter had head lice? Do you really want him touching YOUR money?” Although the vice principal made Greg take his campaign posters down for being “insulting,” the tactics used in bringing up incidents from a candidate’s personal life are not uncommon in political campaigns.
The strategy of bringing up events from a candidate’s personal life is focused on weakening the candidate’s credibility/qualifications by highlighting weaknesses in their overall character, past decisions, etc. This strategy reflects tactics used in propaganda that draw the audience’s attention away from a political candidate’s positive characteristics and qualifications while bombarding them with almost irrelevant shortcomings from their personal life or career background. For example, in the 2006 Tennessee Senate race, Democratic candidate Harold Ford had the lead in supporters over Republican candidate Bob Corker before the election. However, Corker ran a “smear” campaign ad where he emphasized the fact that Ford once attended a Super Bowl party that was co-sponsored by Playboy. This fact had almost nothing to do with Ford’s political experience, but it was obviously enough to help Corker win the Senate seat. Thus, tactics used in “smear” campaigns where details from an opposing candidate’s personal life influence voters are examples of propaganda in political campaigns.

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