Education, Political Knowledge, Persuasion and Campaign Rhetoric
Education is crucial to almost every aspect of our lives and apparently that’s also true for politics. A comprehensive review by the The National Institute for Civil Discourse has found that education and a willingness to not take short-cuts leads to more intelligent voting. As noted in their report,
“Research suggests that many Americans are ill‐informed about politics and that, as the costs of gathering political information increase, political knowledge decreases. Research has also
shown that a lower level of political knowledge generally increases one’s susceptibility to persuasion from negative advertising and emotional appeals as part of campaign rhetoric.”
As we’ve noted many times at The Impartial Review, emotional advertising and misleading persuasive appeals have become commonplace in politics. The The National Institute for Civil Discourse makes several important observations.
First, “the costs to a voter of acquiring political information influences political knowledge.” That is, the harder it is for you to obtain reliable information, the less likely you will take the time to consider various candidates. Research shows that people have less and less time and they have become more cynical about media. For the U.S. News,
“widely available “hard news” content is more conducive to political knowledge, but the U.S. media system emphasizes entertainment, especially in prime
digital media in addition to traditional news sources will not increase average political knowledge in the United States if most Americans continue to prefer entertainment to political news, and if, as a comparison with countries like Denmark and Finland with public service oriented media systems suggests, it is relatively easy for Americans to avoid news in favor of entertainment.
Researchers in a 2004 study found that, among those who were ill‐informed about politics, mudslinging campaigns involving “smear tactics, relentless attacks, deceptive messages [or] unwarranted or unconscionable criticisms” adversely affected evaluation of both incumbents and challengers. The politically knowledgeable remained unaffected by campaign mudslinging.
A 1997 study found that those with less political awareness were more readily persuaded by “easy” arguments against policy proposals (with easy arguments being those concluding that a policy could have bad effects without explaining how or why it would do so)."
As we recently noted, Rep Ackerman pointed out that people also have trouble understanding the difference between hard news and entertainment news. As we’ve noted, news selling has also become commonplace which has blurred the lines between
The most disturbing finding was
“political candidates may find the use of negative campaign tactics and personal attacks on opposing candidates more acceptable if they think that their constituency is politically uninformed.”
They found in a survey of over 3,000 political candidates running for office that they were more willing to use negative attack ads if they believes the public was uninformed on the issues. That’s something to think about next time you see a political attack ad or slogan-based campaign endorsed by a politician.
This research suggests that education should be more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. It should also include courses on civics, facts about issues such as the environment, deceptive public relations techniques, good decision making and how to find good sources of information.
by Todd Miller
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