You are Being Manipulated

It’s election year 2016. I know that you think you will vote for the best candidate. You won’t. You will vote for the best manipulator.

Don’t get me wrong. “Manipulation” isn’t always bad. If you want to persuade someone to your way of thinking you have to “manipulate” their thinking.

This week we take a short detour into politics to see how real life opinion leaders apply public speaking skills.

All of the Principles and Techniques in my SpeechDeck communication skills system can be used to manipulate others. I believe you should be upfront about it. Since the politicians may not tell you upfront how they are trying to manipulate you during this election, I will.

In elections, the most important single presentation skill is “Developing Relationships.” This principle is about identifying the “in-group” and “out-group.”

The winner of the election will not be the candidate that you agree with the most on issues. You won’t agree with anyone on everything, so you will subconsciously defer to something else. You will vote for the person who you think belongs to your “in-group,” who understands your “in-group,” and who agrees with you about the “out-group.”

You will vote for the candidate of “us” and reject the candidate of “them.”

The Losers

Obviously this principle by itself doesn’t determine everything–but almost. Here’s a list of current candidates for president that are really bad at framing their message as “us” vs “them”:

  • Martin O’Malley
  • Rand Paul
  • Jeb Bush
  • Ben Carson
  • John Kasich

Besides the fact that they are bad at framing in-group / out-group relationships they have one thing in common — they are losing!

Here are four people that frame almost everything they say in terms of “us” versus “them”:

  • Donald Trump
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Ted Cruz
  • Bernie Sanders

It’s no coincidence that they are winning.

I’m going to save my analysis of the Democrats for another time. In most elections the Democrats use the politics of social identity better than Republicans. However, this year, we have 2 newcomers on the Republican side.

The Genius of Donald Trump

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard people talk about Donald Trump as if he is crazy, bigoted, or impulsive.

If you understand the psychology of social identity you will see exactly the opposite. Donald Trump is a genius at framing his message in terms of social identity. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is doing it very deliberately–and it’s working.

Look at these quotes that got Trump into the headlines and notice that each one clearly identifies “us” and “them.” I’ll bold the group references.

On his opponent Carly Fiorina (Attractive vs. Unattractive):

Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?

On China (Winners vs. Losers):

When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time.

On Immigration (American vs. Foreign):

I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.

On terrorism (Christian vs. Muslim):

[I call for a] total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

On establishment politicians (Politics vs. Business):

We have a bunch of losers, we have a bunch of political hacks … I know our best negotiators.

Trump creates labels for everyone.

Why is every opponent a “loser” or “low energy” or “just okay” or “mediocre”?

Because in identity politics there are only 2 teams: “us” and “them.” When I stereotype the other team looking weak, stupid, low energy, ugly, out of touch, nervous, average, or foreign, you will join my team whether you like me personally or not.

The Losers Respond

The losing candidates who don’t understand how to use social identity to their advantage take it personally. For example, Jeb Bush says:

Trump is a jerk.

That might make Jeb feel better, but notice that there is a complete and utter lack of group identity in the retort. Jeb Bush frames it as Jeb versus Trump, instead of winning team versus losing team. Then, Jeb wonders why his team is losing.

The Genius of Ted Cruz

Ted_Cruz_by_Gage_Skidmore_4Just this week, however, things have become a lot more interesting on the Republican side of the election. Ted Cruz may have just beat Trump at his own game.

For those of you who don’t follow politics closely, Ted Cruz has refused to criticize Trump for many months. He refused to join the out-group of all of the candidates that piled on The Donald.

While the candidates on the “losers” list above bashed Trump and thereby also aliened all of the voters who saw themselves as members of Trump’s in-group, Cruz wisely refused to fall for the Trump bait.

Now, just 2 weeks before the first election in Iowa, Cruz has climbed into first place in many Iowa polls and Trump has been forced to unleash his tirades on Ted Cruz without direct provocation. Trump is trying to create an out-group for Cruz by calling him “Canadian,” controlled by “special interest,” or “dishonest.”

The problem is that Cruz has defined a social identity of his own by saying that Donald Trump “embodies New York values.” Just like Trump. Cruz knows exactly what he is doing. It was very risky, but if it works, brilliant.

If you listen to the talking heads on TV (most of whom identify with “New York Values”) they are offended and think Cruz made a mistake. What they fail to remember is that Cruz is not trying to win votes from the New York media. He is trying to win votes from conservatives in Iowa.

In 3 words, “New York Values,” he created an in-group of “Iowa values” and pitted it against an out-group of “New York liberals.”

He knows that most Republican Iowans will not choose the “New York values” group. The real genius, however, is that he also knows Donald Trump, his biggest rival, prides himself on being a life-long New Yorker.

In three words, Cruz, created an out-group and forced his biggest rival to defend himself for being a member of it. Shockingly, Trump is taking the bait.

Who will win?

“Make America great again” is Trumps slogan. His greatest strength is his ability to manipulate voters into social groups:  “US” (America) versus “them” (non-America).

Cruz brilliantly changed the groups to “Iowa” (conservative) versus “New York” (liberal) and now Trump is defending Cruz’s outgroup (New York) instead of defending his own in-group (America).

If The Donald continues defending his “New York Values” then Cruz will win. My money is on Cruz, because he hit a personal nerve in Trumps armor.

In future posts we’ll talk about how Hillary and Sanders do the same thing. It’s all very calculated.

How do YOU win?

You win rapport with your audience in the same way. Make sure your message feels “normal” within the confines of the listener’s social identity. Define the in-group, stereotype the out-group, and place yourself in the listener’s in-group.

One thought on “You are Being Manipulated”

  1. In the paragraph subheaded The Losers you have the following:

    Here’s a list of current candidates for president that are really bad and framing their message as “us” vs “them”

    I’d assume the “and” is supposed to be an “at”? As I’m sure you are not indicating that they are just plainly bad and they use us vs them as you state in the next that they aren’t good at doing that while others are. Just figured that change would make more sense for readers. Good points

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