UniversityOn persuasion and conviction: The psychology of politicians
On persuasion and conviction: The psychology of politicians

Democracy has come a long way, dating back to the tribalism of hunter gatherers making agrarian and societal decisions and the Athenian democracy of ancient Greeks electing the longest-lasting democratic leader Pericles. It then spread like wildfire, used in institutions in the medieval era and all the way up to modern national governments. Now practiced in 167 countries, democracy has given us a sense of responsibility, making it one of the most important events of a society.

This responsibility is shared by the students of DLSU. Being a democratic community, students choose who will represent their unified voice in times of need. With that being said, Lasallians have to know how to carefully evaluate their choices, taking into account, among other things, how politicians communicate and persuade.


Political Psychology - Elijah Quevedo


First impressions last

“Human behavior is extremely pliable, plastic,” social psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo emphasizes.

Indeed, humans have been proven to often be easily swayed under several circumstances, especially in voting. It is isn’t always a bad thing; it could mean flexibility and responsiveness to the environment. It can also be the potential for the development of good judgment and the opportunity to focus on details. In this case, persuasion makes pliability, and this pliability starts the moment a candidate walks into the classroom.

“It actually really starts when he enters through the door and walks all the way in the middle of the classroom, and the moment they say the first word of whatever their speech is, it already gives an impression,” Alfonso Ramos (II, BS-LGL) muses.

Once the candidate gets his or her audience hooked, first impressions are made and this determines whether or not they will listen. However, it doesn’t stop there.  The audience takes not only the message into consideration, but also how the candidates present their arguments and what kind of words they use.

Miguel Manikan (II, AB-PSM) expresses, “What I look for in a candidate is just one thing—it’s called conviction. If you don’t have conviction, there is no way you could ever fulfill anything.”


Elements of persuasion

It is no surprise that people listen more to experts. In a mock trial study by Bonnie Erickson and colleagues in 1978, they concluded that students found witnesses who were direct with their testimony more credible than the ones who were hesitant. Norman Miller and his collaborators also added that people who are fast speakers are perceived to be smarter and more objective.Additionaly, the audience is more likely to agree with the speaker when he or she says what they want to hear. As people, we often tend to like those who are similar to us.

Besides credibility, persuaders who are perceived to be trustworthy are more effective. It is ironic, however, that people find it more convincing when a persuader seems to not urge them. They appear unbiased and sincere. According to Knight and Weiss, people find others compelling when they are willing to sacrifice their own self-interest.

Another element of persuasion that is subtle but impactful is the attractiveness or likability of the persuader himself or herself. In 1983, Pallak and colleagues claimed that likability can actually help persuaders in influencing the audience, and increasing their responses.


Choosing routes

Psychologists Petty and Cacioppo theorized that people persuade in two different routes: the peripheral route and the central route.

Everyone has probably experienced this before: walking in the streets absentmindedly, then suddenly being stopped by a random person looking for signatures for a petition. Being unprepared, they end up signing it because of the touching ad campaign even without thoroughly knowing what the petition is for.

This is the peripheral route of persuasion. When we’re too distracted or uninvolved, we tend to disregard the message’s content and focus on the surface. Whether it is an emotional campaign video or a confidently delivered speech, the peripheral route can help politicians persuade people in the wrong way.

On the other hand, the central route of persuasion focuses on the content. Generally, this appeals to people who are paying more attention and are interested in getting to know the message instead of the communicator. As boring as as it seems to listen and dissect every word and argument in a candidate’s speech, the central route of persuasion is the way for a candidate to have a lasting impression and the voters to have fair criteria in voting.

With several challenges that come along with democracy, it is important to be vigilant when it comes to judgment. With events in the campus like the General Elections, it is time to celebrate democratic freedom while acknowledging that it comes with responsibility. Democracy is a gift that doesn’t come with bows and glitters. Although it is something to enjoy, the freedom to choose is also something to be carefully thought of. After all, everything comes with a price.