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Important insights and theories applicable to all political campaigning
on 18 August 2007
The book is written by a Democrat party strategist and qualified experimental psychologist, who believes that style often wins over substance in political campaigns. The central claim of the book is that voters react more to emotional appeals and rousing speeches than they do to reason, logic and statistics. The author argues that even if a candidate is superior in logic and reason, he will still lose if he faces a charismatic opponent who knows how to work an audience and make powerful emotional appeals.
One useful feature of the book is how the author provides transcripts of US Presidential debates, and pin points the moment at which the debate "turned", usually as the result of a witty put down, or rousing response. He then suggests how this could have been counter attacked by the candidate, providing examples that are truly fiendish in their ability to have trounced the opponent had they been employed by the actual candidate. He also deconstructs famous TV commercials and party political broadcasts and shows the psychological and emotional persuasion that was being employed, often subliminally.
The author also describes how certain emotional appeals will be more effective in some demographic populations than others, and suggests how a candidate can often win in areas his party would not be expected to do well in by adopting a message that plays on the emotions and passions of the target voters, thus by passing their usual psychological defences against a party/candidate they may have a reflexive initial dislike of.
The book does have one or two weaknesses. Perhaps the biggest potential weakness for the UK reader is the fact the book deals solely with US politics, and there may be some issues that are either irrelevant and/or not of interests to British political strategists. This US bias also means that there are a few instances where he quotes events that the UK reader would not know the cultural and media background to, whereas this would be common knowledge to the US reader.
This book is a must read for political campaigners, whatever their political allegiance. It will be interesting to see if the tactics and philosophy in this book are employed during the 2008 Presidential election.