Campaign slogans: What’s in a name?Published November 4, 2016 in Politieke Psychologie
Much has been said about Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogans. She started out with the slogan “Love trumps hate”. This one may go down in history as one of the silliest political campaign slogans ever. It did not persuade any moderate Republican or Independent voter. Not only did it feature her opponent’s name, it conveyed nothing about her message – assuming that she did not propose to beat ISIS with love.
Her next slogan “Stronger Together” is notably better, although it seems somewhat ‘reactive’ – opposing the divisive comments made by mr Trump – and in that sense still invokes his name.
From a psychological perspective, Mr Trump’s slogan is quite strong. “Make America great again” is strong because it has the word ‘America’ in it – to which Americans are conditioned from the moment they can talk. The more subtle strength lies in the word ‘again’. It implies that America is no longer great or that America is about to lose its greatness. This is powerful because people react to imminent loss by showing more risky behaviors.
This can be explained with a test that is called the Iowa Gambling Test. Suppose I offer you a choice between two options: you can either chose to win 50 dollars or play double or nothing: 50% chance of winning 100 dollars and 50% chance of winning nothing. What would you do?
If you are like most (80+%) people, you chose the safe gamble and cash fifty dollars. In the next trial, you are confronted with an apparently similar choice: you lose 50 dollars or you play double or nothing: 50% chance of losing a hundred dollars and 50% of losing nothing. What do you do now?
Well, if you are like most (80+%) people, you choose the risky option. People don’t like to cut their losses. When they are confronted with a potential loss, they rather gamble to prevent that loss – and take the risk that the loss may be even bigger.
This is why mr Trump’s slogan fits his campaign: he is the risky choice. The more he can convince the electorate that they have lost or are about to lose something, the more likely that they are going to vote for the risky option. Mrs Clinton’s hope lies with the relatively high approval ratings of the incumbent, because she represents the safe gamble in this experiment.
(This is an excerpt from my Cleveringa lecture, delivered on November 1st, 2016 in Washington DC)