Presidential Election

The Psychology Behind Elections: Are You Being Played?

By VectorOpenStock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By VectorOpenStock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Psychology Behind Elections:

Are You Being Played?

*As a pre-emptive disclaimer: I do not support either candidate running.  I am definitely voting and this post is completely neutral.*

Unless you have been hiding under a rock in a far off distant land somewhere, you have been subjected to the mind-numbing circus we Americans call our 2016 Presidential election.  In the midst of all the mudslinging, mysterious tape finding and timely document leaks, have you ever stopped and wondered what's really going on behind the political iron curtain?  In this post, I will explain several psychological tactics that have either already been used or will be used when you go into the voting booth on November 8th.

Are you being manipulated? Know the signs! Here are some common defense mechanisms to watch for in this last presidential debate:


Simply refusing to accept reality or facts thereof.  This is the most childlike defense and in some cases can also involve flat out lying.

EXAMPLE: When Clinton said that there were no classified materials on her emails, but the reality was that the FBI director reported at least 110 classified materials were found on her private email server.  Also, when Clinton denies knowing what it means to "wipe a server," instead asking if it means to take a cloth to clean it.  

Projection (blame shifting)

Attributing the thoughts/actions of yourself onto another person.  

EXAMPLE: Both Clinton and Trump have been on record using projection this year.  Trump is probably most well known for using the projections of  "Crooked Hillary" and "Lyin' Ted" to vilify his opponents and convince people that they are the biggest liars.  However, according to and, it is Trump who has been on the record lying the most.


Taking your feelings out on someone other than the person with whom you are angry, or not accepting personal responsibility for something you did/did not do and instead create a 'scapegoat' out of someone else.

EXAMPLE: Trump has blamed everyone from moderators like Megyn Kelly to his supposed 'defective' microphone in the first debate.  It seems as though the mic was working just fine since he was on record talking quite a lot in all of the debates he says he had a disadvantage in.


Offering one or multiple other reasons to cover up reality.

EXAMPLE: When Clinton tried to cover up her private email server wrongdoing by offering multiple reasons why she did it; "It was more convenient to have one device," "It is very secure, its the same server my husband used when he was President," or "It was allowed."  Of course, all of these rationalizations hit reality when confronted by the FBI director's report.

Generalizing, Exaggerating or often using Hyperbole 

By using words like all, never, always, everyone, or exaggerations like huge, best, greatest or disaster, the person is trying to get others to agree with them based on their word rather than actual fact-checkable statements.  The person using this tactic attempts to create a world of black and white or either this or that thinking.

EXAMPLE: Trump frequently utilizes generalizations in his speeches and debates such as the phrase, "Everyone tells me.." or words of hyperbole like "It's gonna be HUUUUUGE." It is easy for people to fall into the trap of focusing on the word(s) that excite rather than listening and thinking if it sounds factual or not.

These are just a few of the very simple psychological tactics being used to persuade you during the debates, personal interviews and rallies. Other tactics are more covert.  Know about these three sneaky election time tricks before heading to the polls:

Ballot Order Effect

One of the most curious and maybe more unconscious psychological tactic in elections is ballot order.  This effect is completely independent of the candidates themselves, as they are not in charge of how people are listed on the ballots.  When you have a ballot in front of you, which name are you more likely to vote for?  According to the University of Vermont, it is the name listed first.

"In the research they found that name order effects were shown in forty-eight percent of 118 races studied. In these elections it was revealed that a candidate listed first on a ballot received, on average, two-and-half percent more of the vote than those listed after."

So what can you do to defend your precious votes from the ballot order effect?  Given that the effect is less effective in highly advertised elections where people know exactly who they are going to vote for, it seems as though your most effective defense is to know before you go.

This goes for not just who you will vote for as President, but who you will vote for in state and local elections as well.  Take time to search for what and who will be on your ballot in November, take your time to research the issues and people and be mindful to give the person who is listed first on the ballot as much consideration as the others listed : ) .

Push Polls

What is a push poll?  It is a poll designed to sway voters in a specific direction by asking questions with the sole purpose of creating doubt in voters of a certain candidate.  This tactic uses loaded or hypothetical questions to create shock or get people to listen.  These "polls" aren't really polls at all---they are just negative campaigning and nothing more than opinions.  

How do you (((sniff))) no pun intended in reference to Trump, out a push poll?  Well, typically they adhere to these characteristics:

  • They only ask one or two questions regarding a sole candidate or policy
  • They do not use a random sample
  • They do not disclose who is conducting the poll, or if they do, use some fake name
  • You can usually tell there is a huge bias in what they are asking (very positive/very negative)

Best defense? Just stay away.  Far, far away.

It is not a secret that we are faced with the two most unfavorable candidates in the history of US elections this year (no hyperbole there, that's a fact). However, the only way we as Americans can make sure this never happens again is if we become aware and defend ourselves from these tactics, speak up, vote, and demand better.  We definitely are capable of better.