Psychological warfare in the American election

A key characteristic of the US election has been psychological warfare, intended to influence public opinion without providing much substantive evidence. How will this shape election night?

Glen Segell
8 November 2016

Voters watch the 2016 US presidential debate. Brennan Linsley AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.It would not be accurate to call the recent happenings in the American presidential elections a ‘revolution in the opinion polls’ but rather a ‘trend reversal.’ I would suggest the reason for this is the psychological warfare unleashed on the public during the election campaign. Until fairly recently opinion polls were showing Hillary Clinton with a lead of between 5% and 12%. However, it became clear after the last TV debate that support for Donald Trump has not collapsed to that extent. He has steadied himself and Clinton’s propaganda blitz about his threat not to recognise the election results has not become a consuming firestorm.

As the election approaches the two candidates remain neck and neck in the polls.

There has been a change in the opinion polls which now show near parity. Some analysts argue that Trump was using his statement about the election results to test public feelings and show that democratic processes include the right of appeal. This suggestion recalls the controversial election of George W Bush. The consequence has been that the offensive against him has boomeranged back to the Clinton camp.

As the election approaches and the two candidates remain neck and neck in the polls, the public must choose between electing either a sexual harasser (as the Clinton camp has thus accused Trump) or a criminal (vice versa, relating to the emails controversy). 

Based on these two inferences, the prelude to the election has seen both the Clinton and Trump campaigns engaged in an intensive psychological warfare against the public. Both sides have been lowering their barriers on what is deemed to be acceptable. Innuendos about Clinton’s corruption goes hand in hand with innuendos about Trump’s alleged history of sexual harassment, whilst concrete evidence of both accusations is remarkably scarce. 

Innuendos about Clinton’s corruption goes hand in hand with innuendos about Trump’s alleged history of sexual harassment. 

The current battleground is the mass media, be it TV, radio, print or the internet. Journalists and citizen bloggers write the story while the public absorb what they wish to.

This is classical psychological warfare intended to influence public opinion without providing much substantive evidence. With just two main parties each offering a less than perfect candidate, the public have a limited choice when it comes to election day; they can vote for a candidate that they genuinely want to be president of the United States; they can vote for the candidate who is the lesser of two evils; or, they can choose not to vote at all.

With psychological warfare underway, there will be those who dislike Clinton but are also repelled by Trump. Similarly, there will be those that were appalled by Trump but are apprehensive about putting Clinton in the White House. There is some question whether these voters will cast their ballot at all. Will the 2016 election be remembered as having the lowest turnout in American history?

The answer to these questions is not simple because the psychological warfare from both sides has been aimed at the undecided; the swing voter; those who have never voted, either because of age or intent; and those who have no party affiliation. The two candidates don't have a lot of time left to influence these demographics. Nevertheless, people have short memories and neither sides’ campaign is solid. There will also be those who vote for the party and not the person at its helm.

There is only one certainty in this election: there will be few people who will leave the voting booth today with the conviction that their vote was for the suitable candidate.

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