The California League of Women Voters gives the following tips on its Smarter Voter Web site for getting through the voting process without buying into misrepresentation.
Seeing through distortion techniques
All candidates are trying to sell themselves to voters. Sometimes their language is so skillfully crafted that they distort the truth in ways that are difficult for even the most careful observer to detect. Here are some examples of distortion techniques that you should watch for as you review candidates’ campaign materials.
Common distortion techniques include:
Name calling/Appeals to prejudice —These are attacks on an opponent based on characteristics that will not affect performance in office. References to race, ethnicity or martial status can be subtly used to instill prejudice.
Rumor mongering – These include statements such as, “Everyone says my opponent is a crook, but I have no personal knowledge of any wrongdoing,” which imply (but do not state) that the opponent is guilty.
Guilt by association – These are statements such as, “We all know Candidate B is backed by big money interests,” which attack candidates because of their support rather than because of their stands on the issues.
Catchwords – These are phrases such as “law-and-order candidate” or “un-American attitude” that are designed to trigger a knee-jerk emotional reaction rather than to inform.
Passing the blame – These are instances in which a candidate denies responsibility for an action or blames an opponent for things over which he or she had no control.
Promising the sky – These are unrealistic promises that no one elected official could fulfill.
Evading real issues – These include instances in which candidates may avoid answering direct questions, offer only vague solutions or talk about the benefits of proposed programs but never get specific about possible problems or costs.