When most people vote, it’s not a rational decision, it’s an emotional one. People vote with their hearts – not their heads. Most voters don’t read party manifestos. They may want nationalised railways, publicly owned energy, and a properly funded NHS, but in the end emotions win many of them over to vote for parties that have no intention of doing any of those things. ‘Take Back Control’, ‘Make Britain Great Again’, these simple right-wing frames triumph over the changes that would really benefit them and improve their lives. That is how the successful vote for Brexit was achieved.
The right knows how to target people’s emotions, particularly their fears and anxieties, and they are very good at causing distractions from the real issues with ‘woke’ culture wars and conspiracy theories. They distract from the real issues by encouraging hate against people in small boats, gays, and trans people. Their simplistic ‘explanations’ of the world’s problems obscure what is really happening.
They create rage and anger: “Love your car?”, “Polish it on Sunday?” “Now these commies are trying to stop you using it and trap you in a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) or a 15-minute city!” Now you are a victim! You may have a poorly paid job, but the real big issue is a microchip in your covid vaccine!
Fox News is a classic example of right-wing propaganda and audience manipulation in action, even though it has been exposed that some of their key pundits don’t appear to believe what they’re saying live on air:
“In group chats obtained by Dominion, the network’s biggest names – Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity – appeared to doubt claims of election fraud that were featured prominently on the network.” and:
“One of the key Fox hosts, Tucker Carlson, is reported to have said, “I hate Trump passionately”.
Some people get subsumed by right-wing outlets like Fox News. They end up glued to the TV, consuming the lies and conspiracy theories.
The other thing the right does is promise people a better life – you’ll get a decent job and a decent roof over your head. That is what people want. That is what Trump’s MAGA was all about. You’ll be better off, just like your grandparents were in the good old days of the 1950s and 60s. Of course, they have no intention of delivering on this, but that doesn’t matter if it gets them elected. They will still spout the same nonsense in office as Trump did.
How does the left combat this rage and manipulation by the far right? Well, we don’t do it by wasting hours of our lives pointing out the right’s lies, which is what many leftists do. By focusing on the far-right rubbish churned out by channels such as GB News, all you do is amplify them. If you must do it, the best way is to use neurolinguist George Lakoff’s truth sandwich:
1. Start with the truth. The first frame gets the advantage.
2. Indicate the lie. Avoid amplifying the specific language, if possible.
3. Return to the truth. Always repeat truths more than lies.
He also says:
“Remember not to repeat false Conservative claims, and then rebut them with the facts. Instead, go positive. Give a positive truthful framing to undermine claims to the contrary. Use the facts to support positively-framed truth. Use repetition.”
This, in a nutshell, is what the left needs to do, i.e. go positive and appeal to people’s emotions! Not paranoia, fear, and victimhood like the far right, but hope, compassion, and solidarity. If you are going to win people over, start from where they are, not where you are.
The left needs to build a convincing story and repeat it over and over again.
People are frustrated and angry. They are suffering because of the cost of living crisis, the housing crisis, and a failing NHS. The right channels that anger and makes enemies of refugees in small boats and transgender people. The left needs to channel that anger against our real enemies – those who control the media, oligarchs, big pharma, fossil fuel companies, banks, and corporations. As Lakoff says, go positive, focus on the solutions and how we can build them. We have a mountain to climb to bring about positive change. We need to organise and change our focus to win.
I’ve been a socialist and activist since I was a teenager. I’m retired now but still fighting for social, economic, and environmental justice.