Lessons in Persuasion from the 2012 GOP Candidates

As you might expect, political primary campaigns are rife with examples of the nation’s highest ranking politicians making use of classic NLP techniques in order to advance their agendas and persuade voters to sympathize with their positions.  Considering the tremendous amount that’s at stake during these campaigns, politicians and their staff members often utilize any technique that might help give them an edge in a competitive caucus or primary election.

Today, we’ll dissect a few of the most interesting examples in order to see how NLP techniques can be applied across a national scale:

Mitt Romney and Health Care

One of the major challenges facing Romney’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is the 2006 Massachusetts law he championed that required nearly all citizens to obtain health insurance or pay a tax penalty – a bill that’s strikingly similar to the “Obama care” policy most Republicans oppose.  Romney’s challenge, therefore, is to distance himself from accusations of supporting “socialized medicine” without appearing to “flip flop” on the issues that matter to the conservative base.

In a stroke of genius, Romney offered the following statement in the January 26th debate in Jacksonville, FL:

“If you don’t want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn’t have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care.”

Romney’s statement highlights the power of an NLP technique known as “conflict integration”, in which two competing, incongruous ideas are rationalized in order to prevent cognitive dissonance from occurring in the mind.  Cognitive dissonance is especially dangerous in the minds of voters, as unresolved feelings of conflict can lead to overall negative impressions of a given political candidate.

In this case, Romney has taken two competing ideas – both that he has supported similar legislation in the past and that he does not support Obama’s implementation – and rationalized them through the use of a third variable.  By spinning the health care debate in terms of personal responsibility and by framing the topic in light of the Republican push for smaller government, Romney is able to minimize potential cognitive dissonance through the use of the conflict integration NLP technique.

Newt Gingrich and the Role of the Media

A few days prior to the January 19th, 2012 Republican primary debate in Florida, Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, gave an interview to ABC News in which she revealed secrets that – at least according to media reports before the interview’s release – seemed poised to derail the Gingrich campaign once and for all.

But the fact that the interview’s “big revelation” turned out to be Newt’s somewhat innocuous request for an open marriage isn’t nearly as interesting as how the politician addressed reports about the scandalous nature of the interview’s content in his opening statement at the January 19th debate.

When asked by CNN moderator John King if he wanted to address the allegations of impropriety surrounding the interview’s content, Gingrich responded with the following statement:

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that.”

In this case, Gingrich’s statement demonstrates a masterful approach to an NLP technique known as re-framing.  Just as picture frames provide the borders by which we interpret the content of a photograph or painting, mental frames exist that give us context for how to perceive the events occurring around us.

Prior to the debate, the media frame being imposed over Marianne Gingrich’s forthcoming interview was one of the “victim wife”, abandoned by a husband whose insatiable lust left her in her time of need.  Rather than try to dispute the charges leveled against him, Newt Gingrich instead re-framed the terms of the discussion to instead paint himself as the victim of an overzealous media given to sensational stories.

By changing the “enemy” in the discussion to the media, Gingrich was able to successfully use NLP-reframing to smooth over those who sympathize with the plight of his ex-wife.

As we’re still months away from having a clear-cut Republican primary winner, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see plenty more examples of NLP techniques being used in political campaigns in order to differentiate the candidates and provide evidence of electability.  Keep your eyes out for more interesting case studies, as it’s almost certain these campaigns will continue to use tried-and-true NLP techniques in order to break away from the pack and clinch the nomination.

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