EBF Examines Manipulation in 2016 Political Ads

Lyndon B. Johnson's "Daisy" Ad

Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Daisy” Ad

Fear-mongering in politics is nothing new. Much of the rhetoric of this year’s elections is only the latest in political messaging designed to manipulate voters. Over the years, we have seen ads from all parties that target voter fears, with well-known examples like Lydon B. Johnson’s “Daisy” ad, George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad, and Hillary Clinton’s “3 AM” ad. While many voters recognize the power of fear tactics in politics, most don’t necessarily understand its direct relation to death anxiety.

During the current election cycle, Terror Management Theory researchers have begun measuring the effects of mortality salience on opinions of Donald Trump’s campaign—marked by “us vs. them” rhetoric and highly resonant of Weber’s concept of the “charismatic leader.” Unsurprisingly, they have found that similar to the post- 9/11 surge of favor for President Bush, increased mortality salience yields increased Trump approval in both liberal and conservative test subjects.

Hillary Clinton's "3 AM" ad

Hillary Clinton’s “3 AM” ad

As part of our effort to advance understanding of the ways in which death anxiety shapes behavior, the EBF will bring a Becker analysis to political campaign ads this year. On February 5, we brought together top Becker scholars to examine the ways in which political ads provoke death anxiety. In the coming months, we will offer criteria on which to analyze political ads and ask the EBF community to help identify examples of manipulative ads to highlight on our website.

Stay tuned for more on this exciting project or contact Deborah@ernestbecker.org to get directly involved.