A problem within the media that needs to be analyzed is how Donald Trump was able to persuade the American population and win the 2016 election, by manipulating the media “system” and gaining over a billion dollars in free media while simultaneously brainwashing the public through subtle persuasion tactics and possibly cyber-crime (election hacking). Along with the analysis of Trump’s persuasion strategy, this paper will discuss how the ignorance of the general population fuels events like Trump’s 2016 win and how social media has become a platform where individuals and organizations can exploit users without much issue or regulatory push back, and how our society can move forward to a new era of smarter and more well informed communications and media consumption. Essentially, this paper will discuss how Donald Trump was able to win the election by exploiting the way the media and public opinion works.
To better understand how Donald Trump pulled off the 2016 election win against all odds and predictions, we need to understand what caused this event. A powerful quote from the book Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter begins to clarify why Trump’s persuasion strategy was so effective: “The grand illusion of life is that our minds have the capacity to understand reality. But human minds didn’t evolve to understand reality. We didn’t need that capability. A clear view of reality wasn’t necessary for our survival. Evolution cares only that you survive long enough to procreate. And that’s a low bar.
The result is that each of us is, in effect, living in our own little movie that our brain has cooked up for us to explain our experiences.” (Scott, Adam. “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter”) We may believe we are educated and informed by reading the latest news sources, keeping up with Al Jazeera, CNN, New York Times, etc. and filling the role of the “well informed citizen.” But in reality, we are no more aware of what’s going on behind the scenes than we are let on. The media has us informed just enough so that people with more authority, resources and power may dictate our opinion, our culture, and our actions without our interference.
This arouses questions such as “How did Donald Trump really win the election? It couldn’t have just been a fluke. He’s gotten too far into the election for it to be a fluke.” and “How did Hillary Clinton lose, and what propelled her to the final rounds in the first place?” Three things must be analyzed in order to comprehend the series of events that led to Trump’s win. First, we must understand how the media works, and how it can be used to promote one’s agenda. Second, we must understand how the public works, and what leads to them to become persuaded. And finally, we must take the last two points into consideration and analyze what specific tactics Trump used to control the media, and by extension control public opinion, and win the election.
The media, specifically news media and social media, promotes the content that is most likely to be consumed by the public and spread around. While media institutions do want to promote their own ideas, a majority of their actions are determined by what will create the most buzz and get the highest ratings and bring in the most economic benefit for the institutions. It is because of this, Donald Trump was able to do things that gained public attention, and the media was practically forced to cover it. “All press is good press.” explains this well, along with the psychological persuasion principle of “Mere Exposure Effect.” in which people tend to prefer things that they are familiar with, through repeat exposure.
By engaging in shocking behaviors and doing things that set off all the alarm bells of the news media, Trump was able to amass over a billion dollars in free media coverage. In essence, Trump knew what would make the media and the public “tick” and by continuously being broadcasted to televisions and mobile phones (via social media) he was able to create a mental footprint in the public mind. To understand how public opinion is so deeply intertwined with mass media, let’s look at a quote from Media and the Social World from Croteau and Hoynes. “In contemporary society, the mass media serve as a powerful socializing agent. By the time an average American student graduates from high school, she or he will have spent more time in front of the television than in the classroom and will have spent even more hours consuming other forms of media.
Audiences learn and internalize some of the values, beliefs, and norms presented in media products.” (Croteau and Hoynes, Media and the Social World. P. 17) What this quote implies is that the media is a part of our identity as Americans. It is the “duty” of a United States citizen to stay informed about current events and consume the news. What citizens don’t understand is that blindly following these “duties” and failing to question the social programming we are brought up in can lead to biases and cognitive errors that allow us to be subtly persuaded to think and feel in ways that are against our best interests. Because most people want to be “good citizens” and “well-informed”, organizations like the Trump Administration are able to exploit this need for socialization and information by , just as cyber-criminals are able to exploit people who are simply opening up their favorite social media apps in order to catch up with friends and family and watch funny videos, by injecting fake news reports in between posts from trusted friends and family.
Let’s look more specifically into how Trump was able to persuade the public through deliberate persuasion tactics. One specific example is in one of Trump’s speech where he called Hillary Clinton “Crooked Hillary” In Robert Cialdini “Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” he explains “When people can process something with cognitive ease, they experience increased neuronal activity in the muscles of their face that produce a smile.” (Cialdini, Robert. Pre-suasion) Crooked Hillary is a simple and easy to process catchphrase; it plays on people’s’ desire to watch conflict, drama, tension and domination.
What also made this persuasion tactic so effective was that his accusations were loosely based in reality, and were somewhat credible. Clinton has had a history of deceptive behavior, and this made the “crooked Hillary” angle all the more effective. What all of this seems to conclude is that people need to become more aware of how their thought processes may get hijacked by persuasive individuals and organizations if they are not careful in how they decide to consume and criticize the information they consume from the media. I believe people are becoming much more critical of the content they consume, and news sources are becoming less and less credible.
In a way, one can say that Trump’s win is leading to a new era of media, in which old media is questioned and more decentralized, more “open source” forms of communication are prioritized. Moving ahead, media consumers should aim to diversify their news sources and think more epistemologically about the information they choose to consume. A way for us to begin to make more well informed decisions is to use websites like www.allsides.com which shares news stories from opposing political parties. We can also educate ourselves on how persuasion and the media works, so that we can watch the content unfold before us without becoming mentally influenced by what we are consuming. Unfortunately, as long as people lack the motivation to not be persuaded, individuals will come up with more clever and subtle ways to influence and persuade others without their knowledge.
- Scott, Adam. “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter”
- Croteau and Hoynes, “Media and the Social World.”
- Cialdini, Robert, Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade