Category Archives: Appeal to Authority

National public opinion surveys are propaganda messaging in disguise

Long ago, a survey found that 75% of Americans believe violence on television leads to violence in society. The results of that survey were then used as evidence in a Congressional hearing.

Left out is that this was in the 1960s, and the survey was made after several Congressional representatives made this assertion and began talking about their assertion as if it were fact. The media dutifully reprinted their words, creating a broad propaganda message that violence on TV was the cause of violent behavior in society. This led to Congressional hearings and even the cancellation of some TV shows because public momentum was turned away from shows that showed violent scenes.

In effect, this national survey measured the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign as there was no data at the time to support this conclusion.

Unfortunately, most national surveys of “American’s opinions” are surveys of propaganda effectiveness. The survey itself then adds to the growing body of propaganda messaging on a subject and becomes, itself, a form of propaganda.

You can go to news.google.com and find similar surveys.

  • 9% of American’s Feel Shingles Vaccination is a Priority
  • Many believe race relations will worsen under Trump
  • 68% of Americans believe humans are causing warming
  • 71% of Americans consider granola bars to be healthy

Surveys often follow a period of concerted propaganda messaging in the media.

In these and other cases, the survey is primarily measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda messaging around a subject. Most American’s understand little of the facts or logic for any of these items (and many more). Survey respondents are regurgitating the view given to them by propaganda messaging and the methods used to persuade masses of people.

A classic example of how opinion surveys are used to influence the public are surveys about state-level voter initiatives. When the initiative appears likely to pass, and is promoted by well funded interests, you will often see many media reports showing “a majority of voters support”. But when the initiative is not supported – and is losing – media reports become scarce or non-existent as the promoters hide the result of their polling show the initiative is failing.

To illustrate the absurdity of national surveys that measure public opinions, consider this actual headline:

  • A Poll finds most Americans don’t trust public opinion polls

Unfortunately, what the above survey likely measured is that people don’t trust surveys that indicate they, personally, are out of step with their community. People selectively like surveys, as along as the survey agrees with their opinion.

The purpose of most polling is to identify a ground swell movement. The poll itself is a form of propaganda messaging known as “get on the bandwagon”. The survey results show that everyone else is thinking this way – why you aren’t you on the bandwagon too?

Consequently, most national opinion polls are garbage – and are themselves a component of major propaganda messaging to persuade you to adopt someone’s else agenda, not because of evidence, facts or logic – no, you should adopt their agenda because a bunch of other people are!

Unusual use of data in a propaganda poster

TL;DR Summary

  • Propaganda poster distributed on social media notes that the number of Americans killed annually by “Islamic jihadist immigrants” is very small.
  • The numbers in the chart appear to be approximately correct (depends on year and who is counting).
  • The poster uses data, which may invoke System 2 rational thinking, yet the numbers and layout are simple enough that many people may process this with their quick, intuitive and emotional-based System 1 thinking style. In that regard, this is an effective propaganda poster.

I checked some of the numbers in the table and they were approximately correct. This does not mean the data is accurate as I did not check all of the items, nor did I look in detail at how the tally was made in each category. The point of this post is to illustrate the use of data in a propaganda poster. Most propaganda is designed to appeal to emotions and is typically devoid of data. However, the data here is simple enough that it may be engaging a System 1 emotional response rather than rational, analysis response.

U.S. cities fall behind in wealth measure! :)

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • From a design standpoint, this poster is effective. Readers likely see it, quickly nod agreement, and then click Like and Share!
  • It uses simple statements with an authority figure as the source of the quote.
  • Some of the claims are false or misleading, but they all seem plausible.
  • The poster works by making assertions (some of which are not true) and using an appeal to authority. The poster was designed to appeal to the preconceptions of its target audience, who subscribe to the fake news outlet. The goal of the poster seems to be that there is a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty in the U.S., therefore, wealth is bad (or poverty is bad or industrialization is bad or whatever). Since the quote/poster never says what the conclusion is supposed to be, the conclusion is left to your own (pre-conceived?) thoughts.

Poster Source

Since the post asks, “What’s wrong with this picture?“, let’s take a look!

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Effective propaganda posters that do not actually mean much

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TL;DR Summary

  • President Obama selected as the most admired man in the world, per Gallup Poll of U.S. residents.
  • Analysis: True! And it is good that the US President is selected for this, in this poll.
  • Almost every year since 1946, the current sitting President has been identified by this Gallup poll as the most admired man in the world. Doesn’t matter who is in office (except for Gerald Ford – it sucks to be Gerald Ford, apparently).
  • This works on a propaganda level because (a) it is a true statement, (b) the message is simple, and (c) “What you see is all there is”. When you see all US Presidents since World War II (except Gerald Ford) were selected as the most admired man in the world in this annual poll, the message of the poster becomes less significant, of course.

Continue on to see the chart of the Gallup Poll results from 146 to 2014.

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