Home Speech-Language Pathology Parsing the Candidates’ Persuasion Strategies

Parsing the Candidates’ Persuasion Strategies

by Diane Paul
political messages

political messages

During this general election season, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates will try hard to persuade voters. The way politicians communicate verbally and nonverbally plays a major role in how they influence us. Speech-language pathologists, with their expertise in pragmatics and communication, uniquely understand the intentions underlying candidates’ messages—their word choice, facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice—and can explore their diverse communication styles. SLPs can use their knowledge of persuasion strategies to help clients and students improve their discourse skills.

Here are some of the persuasion strategies candidates use to try to capture our votes:

  1. Repetition
  • Drawing in voters through frequent repetition.
  • Getting voters to anticipate a candidate’s message.
  • Repeating phrases to get voters to agree with the candidate and remember the message.
  1. Slogans
  • Using memorable phrases in face-to-face interactions and campaign ads.
  • Repeating a slogan so voters remember the message and associate it with the candidate.
  1. Choice of vocabulary and phrases
  • Simplifying complex messages—speaking in sound bites.
  • Using important-sounding words.
  • Speaking with “hollow language”—vague or ambiguous words and phrases.
  • Using words to create solidarity.
  • Turning voters against other candidates by using negative, defiant, uncompromising language.
  1. Eye-contact/body language/paralinguistic cues
  • Varying eye contact depending on the candidate and audience intent.
  • Conveying empathy, concern, anger and other emotions through gestures and facial expressions.
  • Varying intonation, stress, rhythm and volume to make a persuasive point.
  1. Emotional appeal
  • Using the power of stories to create connection.
  • Appealing to audience fear.
  • Using flattery, such as pointing out voter virtues: smart, hardworking, honest.
  • Using inclusive pronouns, such as “we,” “us,” “our.”
  • Making points that build to an emotional climax.
  1. Trust
  • Finding similarities in life experiences and saying a candidate understands voters’ problems.
  • Using sentimentality, for example, talking about their families and pets.
  • Demonstrating confidence and strength through charisma.
  1. Overstatement
  • Exaggerating and using emphasis to influence voter attitudes, decisions, and actions.
  • Speaking louder to make a point.
  1. Humor
  • Creating a sense of connection through humor.
  • Using humorous anecdotes to put voters at ease and get them to listen.
  1. Comparison
  • Making comparisons to demonstrate a candidate’s strengths and an opponent’s weaknesses.
  • Drawing contrasts to question the values or motives of the opponent.
  • Slanting messages to favor the candidate.
  • Using key words or selected statistics that may omit certain facts.
  1. Bandwagon
  • Encouraging listeners to think everyone else feels or acts in a certain way.
  • Capitalizing on a voter’s “fear of missing out (FOMA).”
  1. Caring and competence
  • Trying to convey warmth and competence verbally and nonverbally.
  • Demonstrating sympathy and empathy so voters will think candidates care about them.
  1. Rhetorical devices
  • Anaphora—repeating introductory words or phrases in successive sentences, such as “Our country is…”
  • Digression—going off the main topic or question.
  • Enumeration—counting and using lists—for example, “here are three reasons”—to encourage people to listen and vote.
  • Epistrophe—repeating concluding words or phrases in successive sentences: “…we are the United States of America.”
  • Metaphor—making comparisons figuratively: “You are not just a sea of nameless faces to me.” “We have an army of supporters.”

As you listen to the debates, view the campaign ads and watch the candidates, observe the various persuasion strategies different politicians use. We’d like to learn how you incorporate some of these strategies in your own clinical setting. Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Some of this information was shared on a private member list serv for the Council for Exceptional Children/Division for Communicative Disabilities and Deafness on July 19, 2016.

Using Presidential Debates to Teach Social Language Concepts


Diane Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP, CAE, is ASHA’s director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders; and 12, Augmentative an Alternative Communication. dpaul@asha.org.

Froma Roth, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor emeritus of the University of Maryland, College Park, and ASHA’s associate director of academic affairs and research education. She is also an affiliate of ASHA SIG 10, Issues in Higher Education. froth@asha.org.

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1 comment

Angela Erin September 6, 2016 - 6:06 pm

Nice Article.

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