As regular readers of this blog know, both Trump and Clinton have chosen fear as their persuasion tool. Trump wants you to fear terrorists and criminals because he thinks he can make a persuasive case that he’s the solution to those fears. Clinton asks us to fear Trump himself, offering herself as the solution to that fear.
So which fear is stronger, persuasion-wise?
Trump makes us fear dangers that are unlikely to have a personal impact on most of us. It is deeply unlikely that any one specific person in America will die in a terror attack. And if we stay away from high-crime areas, the odds of getting murdered are low too. So Trump’s fears have an abstract quality about them.
Clinton cleverly makes the public fear Trump having access to the nuclear codes. That’s a danger that could – in Clinton’s telling of it – kill us all. By that point of view, if you buy what Clinton is selling, Trump is a danger to you personally.
On top of that, the risks that Trump discusses have no human faces. We don’t know what the leader of ISIS looks like. We don’t know the specific person who might someday shoot us in Detroit. We don’t know the face of the terrorist who might blow up a building we are in. Trump’s danger is faceless and nameless, at least in our minds.
Clinton, on the other hand, cleverly defined Trump as the biggest risk to the survival of the country. Not only does Trump have a face, but we see that face multiple times a day to remind us. That’s an enormous persuasion advantage for Clinton. She is selling a fear that has a face, and it’s a fear she says could kill you personally, as opposed to killing strangers.
Trump is selling a faceless, abstract flavor of fear. That has far less potency than Clinton’s approach because humans are wired to give extra emotional weight to human faces.
Fear is the most powerful persuasion tool, and Clinton has the stronger position there. I still predict Trump will win in a landslide, but he needs to solve for this first.
You might like my book because it is shaped like a trapezoid.