Fear is a powerful emotion; should we use it? We get this question in our workshops and it’s a legitimate one.
The GOP and dark money groups use fear on many issues for it’s psychological power. When people are afraid, their ability to reason diminishes. It causes people to flock together for protection, so if a voting base exists it gets more unified. Fear is often directed against an “other”, projecting blame away from the true source of people’s problems and causing divisiveness and even hate.
These tricks are nothing new. They have been used throughout history by countless rulers and aristocrats to concentrate wealth and power.
Should we use fear? Not as a propaganda technique and not to the exclusion of our positive vision.
So, how do you talk about real dangerrs people have every right to be afraid of? Effective framing is about morality -what’s right and wrong . Tell real stories about the effects of bad policy on real people. Say explicitly why you care. If those stories make people afraid, it’s an honest fear based on real experience. Crucially important: the point is not to trash an opponent; it is to open a path for a discussion about the positive effects of our policies on real people.
All of this is rooted in psychology, as it must be because we are talking about people. The GOP is way ahead of us on cognitive science and uses it dishonestly. We need to catch up and use it with honesty and integrity. This is why learning to message effectively matters.
The image is from Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy” ad, an early fear based ad. After viewing the video, do you think this use of fear was honest?