By Jonathan Taylor
With the upcoming presidential election fast approaching, people often find it difficult to sort through the plethora of messages presented by each of the candidates. To gain a complete perspective on the presidential candidates and their stances on key issues, I find that it is helpful to spend as much time examining the framing of the messages as time devoted to understanding their content. Each candidate has a specific method of communicating with the public and delivering persuasive appeals. As I continue to watch the various campaign efforts leading up to the caucuses and primaries, these distinctions in message framing have become particularly apparent.
I would like to analyze the persuasion techniques of two very different candidates: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. These candidates are polar opposites in every sense: from their ideologies to the way that they receive funding. The framing of their messages also reflect these distinctions. While Sanders’ approach focuses on building a sense of empathy with voters, Trump applies the use of fear tactics to gain support.
Let’s first take a look at Trump. It is very likely that you already know a great deal of information about him and his campaign, as he is constantly featured as the main attraction in the media circus that surrounds him. Trump has established that he does not worry himself with being “politically correct,” and the public has observed this through his place in numerous controversies.
But, with closer inspection, it is evident that Trump’s campaign is truly centered on the concept of creating fear in the American people. Even Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is meant to convince people that the country is worse off than it was in the “glory days” of the past.
This slogan becomes clear in some of Trump’s messages:
- “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
- “You look at Baltimore, you look at Cleveland. You look at all of those places, just exploding. We have an African-American president [and] we’ve never had it so bad.”
- And finally, there was his call for, “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”
If “Make America Great Again” was translated according to Trump’s messages, it would really sound like “Make America White Christians Again.” The way that Trump phrases the above statements, and so many more, is concentrated on gaining attention through scaring the public rather than providing accurate and factual information.
Bernie Sanders applies a completely different approach in conveying his platform to the public. Rather than trying to frighten people into voting for him, Sanders’ aim is to connect with Americans through understanding their shared feelings.
Sanders’ campaign focuses on helping the struggling middle and lower classes that represent wealth inequality, combating climate change, and supporting the civil liberties of all people. With a campaign that is referred to as a “political revolution,” it is easy to see why he has gained the fervent support of so many Millennials. Sanders has been able to cater his message to this generation, currently being crushed with student debt, by declaring his intent to eliminate college tuition. By siding with average, American people instead of establishment institutions, he is able to build relationships with the public.
Every American citizen must listen to the campaign messages of each candidate with a critical ear. Though Trump and Sanders represent more extreme framing examples, you will find that the numerous candidates currently in the race also frame their messages in unique ways.
It is vital that the public take a long, hard look at what their candidate is really saying before casting their ballots. This is something that should be done regardless of personal political association or candidate preference. Only by staying informed, and critical, will you gain the ability to discriminate between outward appearance and inner truth.