How to rig elections in the Age of Real-Talk
Revolution is dead, long live the revolution
If democracy is the process of appealing to a majority, then politics is showbusiness for ugly people. In a globalized market economy, political maneuvering equates to surgical self-recreation. This is especially true when one accounts for social media influence; even popular meme templates need slight variations to endure. As such, revolution as a singular explosive event has lost its meaning. We live in a perpetual state of revolution, individual instances only visible in retrospect. If the last century is characterized by catastrophes, where the past comes apart in explosive fashion; the 21st century will echo the atonal clarinets of anastrophe, the future coming together in a fire that cannot be put out.
Ideology can never be universalized, it’s the niche dressing on an angsty Greek salad. Knowing this, it should not be surprising to notice that all successful populist leaders survive on ideological vagueness. Here I’ll bestow upon you my first rule in politics: if you must elaborate, you already lost. Ideological dignity only matters to the establishment. The establishment has a home team disadvantage, they are politically unlucrative. However, that doesn’t mean that they cannot win elections, the state of the nation cannot be considered stagnant for a centrist lifeguard to hold any appeal. For this reason, political scientists should focus less on ideological consistency, and more on the knee-jerk reaction of voters, what I call, political phenomenology, an evaluation with a steep-learning curve followed by a refreshing adherence to intuition in hindsight. The simple idea, that whilst ideology is niche, the apolitical majority dress up their psychological defense-mechanisms with the buzzwords they consume.
The reason why Twitter is so useful for politicians is because a 280-character limit leaves no space for elaboration. The lack of any attention span amongst most voters characterizes the political process. When faced with a candidate’s statement, a linear series of thought emerges. The first thought determines the rest, which are left for a subjective interpretation. But first, you must allow the voter to listen to you. This is determined by several factors of the “luring” process listed here in sequential order: 1) appearance, 2) voice, 3) ideological compatibility, 4) shock and awe 5) authenticity, 6) relatability.
1) First, appearance. Its importance might be well known, however what most people do not realize is that what constitutes appeal is completely dynamic. A symmetrical face or proper dress etiquette is not a surefire way to be memorable. A calculated absence of a formal clothing item (e.g. a necktie) to be picked up by the media, an abnormal size of a facial feature to be caricatured, an eye-catching yet non-overtly deliberate hairstyle, expressive eyes, an unusual smirk, even race and gender. These preferences are mostly determined by the juxtaposition to other candidates, or the two nominees from the previous election.
2) After visual examination comes the auditory. This comes second, as the audience is prone to ignore statements up until they got a glance of the physical appearance, even initially ignoring the content of your speech to examine your eyes. However, once examined, voice can often hold precedence over content. Voice encompasses cadence, accent, volume, clarity, and pause. Cadence is vital for soundbites. No one likes monotony, yet no one likes unresolved build up either. The safe bet is the “primacy of the secondary” rule, where the second and second-to-last word or syllable of a sentence are exaggerated. This way, there is a space between your exaggerated buzzword and the cutoff point of the soundbite. Accents are a risky business, changing your accent to pander to a certain demographic (what’s called “code-switching”) is inadvisable with the existence of online media, unless said accent is also your natural/informal one and you are addressing your own constituents. Volume is essential, as the rule goes: the vocal minority will always represent the whole. If you are able to be heard over your opponent, that is an instant victory. The same goes for interjection, which you should unapologetically do as much as possible. Soft-spoken candidates make good vice-presidents, remember that. Clarity, apart from the ability to not stumble on your words, also accounts for you going off-script, which should seem as if rehearsed. The content is secondary to you filling up a fluid sentence. Pause is also vital, you need to provide ample breathing room between your statements, but do not make the audience wait. If you pause for dramatic effect, it needs to look calculated and subtle. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words, sometimes it says nothing at all; there’s a fine line.
3) Ideological compatibility will be the first thing voters look for after autonomously examining your appearance and speech. Are you worth listening to? This is a tricky subject, and it is the first parameter that extends into social media like Twitter. Ideological compatibility will determine whether voters defend or attack a candidate’s outrageous statements. This determination results in a positive-feedback loop that can be described as deepening loyalty or antagonism, which can both be beneficial for the candidate. It is often risky to evaluate which political sentiment will be prevalent. However, there is a formula that can make such deductions easier, characterized by 4 sequential phases of the political climate resembling a circle:
Ideological Compliance > Stagnation > Apprehensive Irony > Sincere Immediacy > Ideological Compliance > etc.
There is no set time span for each phase, however, the appeal of a type of rhetoric is consistent with the next phase in the political climate. The goal of your criticism towards your opponents should be to make them appear as part of the last phase. For example, and there is no ideological bias to be found here, President Trump’s success was based on painting Sen. Hillary Clinton as a remnant of Stagnation. His electoral victory ushered in a paradigm shift in the view of the now marginalized DNC voters, who, now finding themselves to be the underdog after two-terms of ideological dominance, were left with no choice but to find comfort in Apprehensive Irony (impotent critique) until the next election cycle. This type of defeatist irony however does not last long, as repressed anxiety will inevitably lead to political rejuvenation, justified by a Sincere Immediacy as the sole platform. Whether or not there is enough political anxiety to move on to the next phase of the political climate remains to be seen; and remember: this does not only concern the DNC.
4) Now that you got them hooked with ideological compatibility, it is time to make the voters do the marketing for you. Any successful investor will tell you that the most lucrative business model is crowd-sourcing, not crowd-funding. This applies to Shock and Awe. Social media ensures that you are constantly bombarded with irrelevant information, so of course the only way to stand out and be successful is to be outrageous. This is especially effective during our current Apprehensive Irony climate, as apart from outrage being the most effective marketing scheme, there is a trend of young voters starting off with supporting a candidate ironically, until they have to defend them long enough to support them wholeheartedly (as seen with the kind of support that Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang are getting online, a model revolutionized by the Trump campaign). Today, outrageous statements and positions are a valid substitute to policy and pandering. And as long as you hold a consistent social media presence, everyone in America can be considered a potential campaign manager. Be mindful of the next phase however, as outrage won’t fly far with Sincere Immediacy.
5) We are now leaving the realm of the first impression. The rest is subjective interpretation. Authenticity accounts for juxtaposing yourself with the other candidates. Your only say in the matter is the outrage that you cultivate, so you shouldn’t worry, you only need to seem authentic. Just like with comedy, taking the audience by surprise makes you seem authentic. Remain authentic long enough to become relatable.
6) Relatability accounts for long-standing supporters, which are really media propagators. Relatability essentially boils down to being a role-model, as someone who dares to be authentic in politics is to be looked up to. However, relatability IS NOT a policy position. Never try to be relatable, it comes spontaneously.
Having said all that, here is how a formula for the preferred reaction towards the perfect candidate looks like:
1) “I like how they look” > 2) “I like how they say things” > 3) “I like what they say” > 4) “I cannot believe they said that” > 5) “I cannot believe how real they are” > 6) “I want to be just like them”
Remember, there is no shame in playing the game. Ever since the Nixon Era the GOP turned campaign management into a “winner takes all” enterprise. It’s either you or them, and that will not change any time soon. As for voters, how do you really feel about your democracy?