Perception Wins Elections

Perception is instrumental to politics and storytelling is a powerful tool used to transform our perceptions. In an election, storytelling and narrative can be the decisive factor in voter turnout and decision making.

With the political campaign in full swing we all need to be reminded of the role that perception plays in creating narratives which then guide our choices. In this Op-Doc produced by The New York Times, political media strategist, Mark McKinnon, explains how “he was instrumental in shaping the way we perceived his candidates and their opponents.”

Mr. McKinnon’s spent years creating these stories — and narrative arcs — that influenced millions of Americans through TV and radio. His message now is that we need to be aware that storytelling is a tool of persuasive communication, and we need to see through it in order to be more independent and clear-minded citizens.

“You’re being manipulated, and our democracy relies on your ability to see that.”

When designing commercials for political campaigns, Mr. McKinnon crafted stories through a filter of fear or hope, threat or opportunity. And in every message were five separate elements connected together to support that story: a threat, a victim, a villain, a resolution and a hero. Follow the hero’s journey and you’re hooked. A clear and engaging narrative is the most powerful tool.

Unless, that is, you know that you’re being told a story in the first place.

When you’re watching a magician, you know you’re being deceived and you love it. When you enter a theater, you “willingly suspend your disbelief” in order to enjoy the experience. But when listening to a political ad, you yearn for truth. You search for order and meaning. And that’s where you get fooled.

The story pulls you in and you unwillingly suspend your disbelief. You’re deceived because you don’t know you’re being deceived. 

Any magician, after just a few hundred shows for real-life audiences of strangers, learns how easy it is to manipulate people’s perceptions. In magic this is fun. In politics it is dangerous. So it’s critical for every one of us to whisk away the curtain, see behind the scenes and know when and how we are being manipulated.

Let awareness be the key that keeps you safe this election cycle. Take a look at this documentary and learn the power of storytelling to influence the way you see, think and vote.