How campaign ads use fear to compel voters to respond
On a recent political radio spot in support of Republican Congressman French Hill (currently running for re-election in Arkansas), two speakers discussed what listeners might assume are caricatures of black women based on their portrayal of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings. The women say the Democratic election will result in blacks being “lynched” and suggest that changing the “presumption of innocence to a presumption of guilt” put black men at risk.
The complaint, which Hill quickly condemned, was paid for by Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, a PAC that, according to Think Progress, is apparently funded by “rich, conservative ideologues.”
The radio commercial tries to allude to an emotion that is often used effectively in political commercials: fear.
Lonna Atkeson is a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico specializing in elections, campaigning, political psychology, and more. She says political ads are usually aimed at making people angry or fearful.
“When you’re scared, you say, ‘Oh my god, my life might depend on it,'” she tells Teen Vogue. “Fear makes you react. This is the only way to really convince people who have already taken a position. “
Atkeson points to one of the most controversial advertisements in history as the first case of an election campaign that arouses fear of political gain. In a 1964 advertisement for incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, a young child plucks daisy leaves while counting to 10 before a nuclear explosion.
“That’s the stake,” says Johnson in the ad. “To create a world where all of God’s children can live or go into darkness. We either have to love each other or we have to die. “
The ad ends with a voice saying, “The stakes are too high” for citizens not to vote in the presidential election. Johnson was, of course, re-elected in a landslide victory over Republican Barry Goldwater.