Storytelling in politics


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Storytelling in politics

  1. 1. Storytelling in politics: A new tool for campaigning Elsa Pietrucci Supervisor: Rachel Cohen MA Political Communication Sociology Department September 2013
  2. 2. CONTENT TABLE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 5 ABSTRACT 6 INTRODUCTION 7 CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW 9 A. Theories...................................................................................................................... 9 B. Propaganda.............................................................................................................. 12 C. Political communication .........................................................................................14 D. Storytelling .............................................................................................................. 15 CHAPTER 2: THE POWER OF THE STORY 20 A. Narrative structure...................................................................................................20 B. Dramaturgy.............................................................................................................. 22 C. Illusion of intimacy..................................................................................................24 D. Symbolism............................................................................................................... 25 E. Emotions.................................................................................................................. 27 2
  3. 3. CHAPTER 3: AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS 30 A. Spin doctors and American specificities...............................................................30 B. Presidential elections..............................................................................................33 The ideal candidate frame..........................................................................................33 The 1992 election.......................................................................................................35 The 1996 election.......................................................................................................35 The 2000 election.......................................................................................................36 The 2004 election.......................................................................................................36 Reagan’s mythical America........................................................................................37 Barack Obama........................................................................................................... 38 Television advertising.................................................................................................40 CHAPTER 4: METHODOLOGY 43 A. research method......................................................................................................43 B. Other possible methods..........................................................................................45 C. Research design and timeline................................................................................46 D. The limitations and ethical issues..........................................................................47 CHAPTER 5: FINDINGS 50 A. Focus group videos.................................................................................................50 Feel good ad: “Morning in America”...........................................................................50 Fear ad: “Daisy”.......................................................................................................... 52 unimpassioned ad: “Trickle down”..............................................................................53 3
  4. 4. Storytelling ad: “Ashley story”.....................................................................................54 B. Findings and literature............................................................................................55 CONCLUSION 61 REFERENCES 63 Focus Group 1.............................................................................................................. 68 Focus Group 2.............................................................................................................. 74 Focus group 3.............................................................................................................. 80 Focus group 4.............................................................................................................. 85 Consent Form to Participate in a Focus Group ........................................................91 4
  5. 5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS As an introduction to this dissertation research, I wanted to thank sincerely people who gave me their support and contributed to the development of this research as well as the success of this great academic year. I sincerely thank Rachel Cohen who, as my dissertation supervisor, has always been attentive and helpful throughout the last six months. I also want to thank her for giving me inspiration, support, time and useful advices. I would like to thank a lot the focus group participants without whom I would not be able to do this research and for their involvement and seriousness during the groups activities. I express my gratitude to all the UN staff members and interns who helped me proofreading this dissertation and for their patience when I was very stressed at work. I do not forget my parents for their contribution, support and patience. I would like to express my gratitude to my sister who was kind enough to correct my work. Moreover, I want to thank my family and friends, for their support and encouragements during the making process of this final dissertation. Finally, a big thank you to City University London for giving me the opportunity to study in one of the most prestigious London university and for providing me with precious knowledge. I sincerely thank you all. 5
  6. 6. ABSTRACT Storytelling in politics is a pretty new technique of communication employed mostly in the United States. It is based on the idea that stories can impact the voters decision making process and is going along with various emotions such as fear, hope or compassion. Storytelling is now often use during American electoral campaign and appears mainly under the form of television advertising (TV ads). These short videos trying to convince voters are set up as short stories illustrating the candidates strengths in using music, images and others theatrical tools to trigger specific emotions to the viewers. This topic idea comes from a sociology of media academic background which triggered interrogations about political communication and its impact on democracy. While focusing on this questions, storytelling appeared as an interesting starting point for a new research. This interest for this new political communication tool raised mainly after reading Salmon (2008) “Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind” which provides a general view of the matter and its possible social implications. This research aims to better understand the impact of storytelling and through focus groups, is trying to catch the efficiency of such a technique. Four focus groups composed by 5 participants each have been set up in order to comprehend how people interpret and understand different types of TV ads. The findings of this research are not representative of the population because are only reflecting focus group results which can’t be generalised to a larger scale. However it gives information on how people interpret TV ads and the emotions triggered through the different videos shown. It helps understand how human interpretations can be biased by social and cultural background and how emotions are received by the participants. It also seems to support the idea of storytelling as an efficient communication tool due to the designation of the last video as the most efficient by the majority of the participants. This last video, “Ashley story”, is considered by Salmon (2008) as a political storytelling masterpiece. 6
  7. 7. INTRODUCTION “The essence of American presidential leadership, and the secret of presidential success, is storytelling” (Cornog, 2004:1) Stories are part of the human life since its beginning, first used to transmit tradition and teach how to behave in society. Recently, stories have been used for different purposes such as publicity, management or politics. Undeniably, storytelling in politics became a real technique of propaganda used mostly in the United States. It has often been provided through TV advertising (TV ads). Its efficiency hasn’t been proved, yet American candidates spend millions for their political communication every four years and use storytelling more and more often. The previous research about storytelling mainly focused on the story itself, how it could help improve leadership skills and a few attempted to interpret the real impact such stories had on voters. However, it is really difficult to result with clear conclusions about this impact due to the difficulty to understand and categorize human interpretations. This topic appeared pretty interesting after a first dissertation about the relationship between press, politics and democracy which raised several interrogations about the role of political communication and storytelling. Are political communication techniques really efficient and why has the use of storytelling increased within the last few years? These first questions led to other questions and became the starting point of this dissertation. This research does not pretend to give answers yet simply attempts to clarify and obtain a better understanding of the storytelling approach in politics. Most importantly, on why 7
  8. 8. and how stories could influence the decision making process. It is mandatory to have a look at the different components needed in a good story and why they are essential to impact receivers. It is why this research went through concepts such as symbolism, dramaturgy, narrative and emotions, along with a review of American politics and how the US presidents have used storytelling and similar concepts throughout history. Moreover, it is important to understand that storytelling in politics is mostly used in the United States and seems to work well with the Americans mainly because of their strong patriotism. Another American political tradition is television advertisements. This research will use as exemplary four videos which were previewed during focus group set ups that attempted to explain how a good story can impact citizens and how people receive and interpret these manipulated images. Through these qualitative methods, this dissertation aims to answer the following question: How can storytelling impact people’s mind and behavior? And sub-questions, who is the storyteller and what tool is being used? How do people comprehend political storytelling when they are targeted by it? And is it really efficient? This research begins with an important literature review transitioning from old propaganda to political communication to storytelling in politics. In a second part we will try to better understand how a story works and how it can be such powerful. In trying to answer this question, we will go through the different aspects of a story such as narrative construction, concept of dramaturgy, political personification, symbols and emotions. In a third chapter, we will focus on the United States, its spin doctors and presidential campaigns throughout history. Then a fourth part will be dedicated to the methodology chosen namely by focus groups. Last but not least, we will end with a fifth chapter in which we will try to provide a conclusion and explain the findings of the research. 8
  9. 9. CHAPTER 1: Literature review A. Theories Sociology of media focuses on mass communication and its impact on social life. It goes through 3 main steps: the first highlights media’s power and the principal work on it follows the idea that mass media can shape public opinion and make people lose their critical mind (Tchakotine,1939). The second enhances the limited power of media. This concept is mainly developed by Paul Lazarsfeld (2008) in proposing the “two step flow” model, which minimizes the direct media influence on public opinion. Its power would actually have an impact through opinion leaders and takes place in two stages: from the media to opinion leaders, and then from them to the people they are in contact with. There is a selective exposure to media actions because people understand information through their social environment and characteristics. The third evolution in media theory gives again a powerful influence to the media in shaping opinion through setting an agenda. This means deciding the topics in what the opinion will be interested in. In this concept of agenda, media doesn’t tell people what to think, but what they have to think about (Shaw & McCombs, 1977). Regarding politics, it is now more popular to think that people are influenced by longterm social forces and personal disposition. Mass media message from a candidate appears to be less efficient nowadays (Lazarsfeld (2008). One of the most important changes regarding the use of media is the popularisation of television all around the world. Since its invention many scholars have expressed a 9
  10. 10. critical point of view regarding this new media and how it is used to advertise and spread governmental communication. The democratic process seems to be slowed down by broadcasting political storytelling and thereby missing central information necessary to enhance a democratic process (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 4). Television appears to be one of the best ways of conveying political communication. Indeed, political campaigns use this medium to convince through image-making (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 5). The best examples are political ads which provide a new power through nonverbal behaviours. In triggering emotions and creating an intimate link between the candidate and the viewers, television allows a greater influence on voters (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 7). Images are not the only way to influence opinion. The power of broadcasting television resides also in camera shots, angles, expressions or body language; the communication is not only effective through the candidate but also helped by visual effects. All these artefacts are aimed to shape voters’ opinions and how they perceive the candidate. However, scientific research about the real impact of such visual manipulations have just begun and is not yet ready to prove any related positive outcomes (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 7). Television appears to be a perfect medium for political campaigns because of its facility to highlight candidates personalities, which is why most of the political storytelling on television focus on accentuating a particular aspect of the candidate’s character (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 100). A famous critical point of view regarding television is that of Pierre Bourdieu (1996) thoughts which focus on television artefacts and illusions. According to him, the political sphere is using television to oppress symbolically journalism and democracy. He notes few effects specific to image broadcasting such as the difference between stage and 10
  11. 11. backstage, and how the hidden part of a show is an efficient way to manipulate opinion through invisible censorship. Moreover, he points out the fact that everything is shown but at the same time hidden, which is confusing viewers’ interpretation of the political world. Even if most of the actual political campaigns are directed through television ads, scholars have not proved yet that it would have an impact on voters’ decisions. Few psychology studies assume that triggering feelings would not have any influence on the decision-making process (Brader, 2006: 2). Following the idea of powerful images, it is important to examine the Roland Barthes (1957) study. Before the popularisation of television, political communication used to take advantage of the power of visual effects. During the fifties, he remarked that media was mythologising the “bourgeoisie” in creating a specific way to categorize it into the collective imagination through pictures and images (Montémont, 2012: 132). He also proposed a theory describing ways in which candidate’s presentation in pictures could serve to influence peoples’ reception. Even if at that time pictures in magazines and other media had nothing to do with actual visual technologies, Barthes (1957) highlighted the already personal link with the reader created by the intimate feeling which provides a well scripted picture. “A picture is a mirror, it gives familiarity and well known feelings” (Barthes, 1957: 150). The point of this analysis is to show that a picture can highlight candidate’s intimacy and creates a close link with the viewers (Montémont, 2012: 133). Richard Sennett (1979) also studied the creation of intimate links between a candidate and the public opinion. He considered intimate representations in public life, criticizing the inner transparency as a trend for psychologism and in consequence to be an intimate view of the society (Montémont, 2012: 133). The public image is thereby contaminated by private life and Sennett (1979) following Max Weber’s theory of 11
  12. 12. charismatic authority considers personality as a political strength. Moreover, in the seventies Sennett (1979) noted that the media are enhancing this charismatic aspect and help creating an intimate link through new media technologies such as television, radio and computers (Montémont, 2012: 133). B. Propaganda “The whole basis of successful propaganda,” Bernays wrote, “is to have an objective and then to endeavor to arrive at it through an exact knowledge of the public, modifying circumstances to manipulate and sway that public” Bernays (2007: 125-126). Throughout history propaganda has progressed in different ways but the main point remains the same: how to manipulate opinion in order to control people and gain political legitimacy? One of the most relevant examples could be the Hitler movement in Germany during the thirties. Helped by his “spin doctor” Joseph Goebbels, Hitler knew how to attract people and convince them by using different methods such as lights and music effects during his meetings. Hitler’s public appearances were totally calculated and he was effective in using emotions and feelings to impress participants by making his audience waiting for him for hours, increasing lights and turning up the music progressively until the crucial moment of his arrival on stage. His apparition was followed by an explosion of lights and loud music, leading the audience to its excitation maximum. During the Cold War as well, filmmakers such as Leni Riefenstahl or Sergei Eisenstein were using fictional movies to stage and highlight the values of the regime they were 12
  13. 13. supporting. Now, with the addition of new media it is even easier to diversify propaganda’s tools (Montémont, 2012: 134) One of these new tools could be the storytelling used in politics, but to better understand the actual political communication practices it is important to be aware of the old means of propaganda. The reference book written by Bernays (2007) shows and explain how to manipulate public opinion. Step by step, the book describes the tools needed and how to use them efficiently. Following this theory, Tchakhotine(1992) demonstrates in his book how propaganda is effective in leading masses. He links most of its study to real examples such as Hitler’s propaganda practices, and had to face censorship and debates about his own theory. Propaganda still exists nowadays but under a different form called political communication. In trying to do the same thing but more discretely, modern tools and specialists are both using revised propaganda theories. Bernays (2004) is well known as the father of spin. He worked for the US government during the First World War and had the mission of advertising the war as a necessity for world peace. He tried to combine scientific practices with public relations, advising politicians to understand population needs and to use media coverage in order to propose solutions to opinion issues (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 90). He advised a candidate campaigning for lower taxes that he should “not merely tell people that the high tariff increases the cost of the things they buy” but should “create circumstances which would make his contention dramatic and self-evident” (Bernays, 2007: 121). According to him, the main point in order to manipulate masses is to understand them, their feelings, behaviour and needs. In gathering knowledge in the fields of psychology, sociology, economy and statistics, governments can plan a successful propaganda (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 90). He also notices that to effectively employ political communication, verbal tools are not enough to 13
  14. 14. convince opinion and need to go along with emotions. It is in using new media broadcasting and emphasizing the candidate personality that persuasion is really possible (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 90). He was one of the first to advise leaders about having a person specialized in interpreting the opinion needs and linking it to the government. In short he was proposing a specialist in public relations: a “spin doctor” (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 90-91). After world war two, political communication started to change and became more and more focused on candidate’s personality and mass mediated communication tools (Brader, 2006: 19). C. Political communication In fact, the modern way to do propaganda is called political communication and even if it uses less obvious techniques, the goals stay the same: convincing people to follow a leader. The idea of political communication is not new and began with the idea of democratic vote. Since the democratic process goes along with votes, candidates and parties had to find a way to convince the public to vote for them (Riutort: 2007). Since the first signs of political leaders, they have had to justify their legitimacy to govern. Thereby, they also had to control their public image and convince opinion in using political communication (Riutort: 2007: 8). Communication appears to be an essential tool for politicians and year after year, its techniques change following the new media pulse. These social transformations led to a new way of communicating in politics and changed the rules of campaigning (Riutort: 2007: 18). 14
  15. 15. The expectation of effective communication is unfortunately hard to verify but government and candidates still spend a lot of money on trying to control voters’ behaviours through triggering emotions. Campaigning is a way of gathering more supporters and boosting others to be more involved in political life (Brader, 2006: 20). The main point of political communication is to make the candidate as attractive as possible. In order to do so it is necessary to highlight the best part of the candidate’s personality, past experience or personal environment. Communicating in politics is actually framing a story about a candidate. In using narrative, it is possible to create sense and make people focus on what the communicators wants. Images are also an important part of political communication and help reinforce and support the communication framework (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 98). D. Storytelling Political communication is changing step by step to adapt itself to new media and new tools such as storytelling. Originally used to describe the action of telling a story, reading books to children or how fairy tales were transmitted, this new term is now used in other fields. In marketing and publicity for example, storytelling is a new practice which allows one to frame a story about a brand or a company. Moreover, it can be used as a leadership technique in management to help leaders communicate more easily with their employees. This new way of communicating appears to be quite efficient in these areas and a few books demonstrate this new interest for storytelling. Denning (2005) wrote a 15
  16. 16. guide of how to become a leader in using stories. He argues that saying the right story at one particular right moment can develop leadership competency. In advertising as well, storytelling can be employed in order to create a story around a product to improve sales. Godin (2006) notices that every brand is telling its own story, which help buyers to remember the product through the atmosphere created by the story told. A brand with a story has better chances to succeed financially (Durand, 2011). It is important to understand how this practice is employed in different fields before applying it to politics because it is exactly the same process but the product is different. Storytelling started to be used in politics a few years ago, and one book can be used as reference: “Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind”. In this book Salmon (2008) argues that to have an efficient communication a good story is needed. This tool is often used in the United States during political campaigns. According to him, telling stories in politics is the best way to reach people’s interests. “If you communicate without stories, you don’t communicate” (Salmon, 2008: 118). He explains the impact on people through the power of emotions and feelings triggered by stories told. In collective imagination human beings are easily touched by narrative construction because stories are employed in every socialisation step, such as childhood norms transmission or simple education. In this case stories are used to manipulate people’s unconscious in creating needs and interpretations. He even qualified this practice as a misinformation tool (Salmon, 2008: 13). To describe the phenomena Salmon (2008) gives a simple example of the intense attraction to television series. According to him, people who are actually fans of TV shows are drawn in because they are telling a story which reminds the audience of old feelings from their own childhood, for instance stories such as the famous Walt Disney cartoons. He gives the example of Peter Brook who noticed that his colleagues favoured 16
  17. 17. the TV show West Wing over watching CNN news (Salmon, 2008: 16). It is through the power of stories that narrative gears are set up to make people identify themselves with determined social models and to follow a specific protocol (Salmon, 2008: 17). “It is simply a Hold Up on our imaginary” (Salmon, 2008: 20) In sociology, research about storytelling mostly focused on interpreting texts that explore the power of stories in real context. Most sociologists are rather critical about the real impact of such a practice, but they recognize the importance of social representations and how these can lead people to act in a way better than another. If culture can change power relations, can narratives transform institutional context and affect people’s behaviour? (Polletta, 2006: 168). Stories have been part of humanity since its beginning. Stories were told about every leader such as King David and King Arthur; these narratives are sources of different human traditions and always have influenced people’s actions. These stories and their impact on opinion can be explained by the fact that they are projecting a population’s emotions such as hopes and fear and are expressed through a leader which could either be a king or our actual president or prime minister (Smith, 2009: 3). People’s behaviour is often led by their beliefs and ideologies which can be triggered or changed by specific feelings, symbols or even mass delusions. It is why politicians have to tell a story which can touch as much people as possible in order to be efficient (Smith, 2009: 5). “The political world of make-believe mingles with the real world in strange ways, for the make-believe world may often mold the real one.” (Morgan, 1988: 13). The vision of Storytelling as a powerful tool is not shared by every scholar and Salmon (2008) faced several critics such as Berut (2010) in an article starting with this question: “Storytelling: a new narrative propaganda?” 17
  18. 18. In this article Berut (2010) tries to show that the storytelling isn’t as powerful as Salmon describes it in his book but is powerful instead because of its use of symbolisation. According to him, this practice can have a moderate impact on people but is not giving full power to leaders who are using it. Berut (2010), emphasizes the fact that Salmon sees storytelling as a dangerous political weapon only powerful in manipulating emotions. Salmon would reduce political analysis to a simple staging which enables the ones controlling it to understand this communication tool Berut(2010). Storytelling becomes a symbol of cynical and manipulative political communication that few people think they can describe Berut(2010). The most important critique follows the idea that spin doctors and other communication gurus are described as competent enough to manipulate opinion through stories, and one of the examples used by Salmon is Ashley’s story during the George W Bush campaign in 2004 Berut(2010). According to Berut (2010) it is about how and who is creating these stories that determine storytelling limits. For him telling stories in politics can be efficient but is not powerful enough to control and manipulate public opinion. Moreover, the whole process would not be dependant on hidden spin doctors because of counter powers such as journalists or other competitors Berut(2010). The main belief related to the power of storytelling is in its capacity to manipulate using narrative codes and how the receivers interpret them. These codes would have the power to turn politics into a fiction and thereby trigger specific feelings. Berut(2010) criticizes the fact that politics can’t be summarized as emotional reactions instead of a debate of ideas Berut(2010). However in the United States, politics has often been practiced along with the ideas of emotions, myth and fiction. For instance Reagan used to narrate American public life through stories, anecdotes or war movies references ( Schwartzenberg, 2009: 337). 18
  19. 19. “Politics it is then a place for legends and dreams in blurring perceptions.” ( Schwartzenberg, 2009: 337). Politics is now a place where candidates fight through stories rather than with ideas; storytelling ousts logical thinking and it is now narration before explication and arguments (Schwartzenberg, 2009: 334). Berut (2010) still argues that narrative does not have enough power to control how people interpret the message and emotion can’t replace totally a practical mind and human interpretation based on each one’s experience. Storytelling would be more an imperfect tool based on complex narrative codes which can’t be entirely controlled by a small group of people manipulating the masses Berut(2010). Regarding the power of narratives, it can be used efficiently in touching the receiver’s personal experience, and stories are a natural need which is closely linked to the symbolic nature of socialisation (Quéré, 1982: 149). To conclude, storytelling can be an interesting analytical tool to understand how social norms are shaped and used to highlight the complexity of the political world through its manipulation and counter powers. However according to Berut(2010) storytelling is not the new powerful propaganda weapon but instead an opportunity to better understand the impact of narration on human beings. Following this literature review and after having compared the two main visions about the power of storytelling, it is time to deeper understand how a story works and where its potential power comes from. 19
  20. 20. CHAPTER 2: The power of the story “Without a good story there is no power and no glory” (Cornog, 2004: 2) A. Narrative structure To start evaluating the power of stories it is necessary to understand how they are structured. Stories contain a beginning, middle, and end. They reveal realities that call out the audience; they all include characters, and always convey a message or an idea. Polletta (2006: 8-9). According to Simmons (2007: 23-24) six different kinds of stories can be observed: Who-I-Am Stories, Why-I-Am-Here Stories, which help legitimize the candidate, Teaching Stories, containing morals gained from personal experiences, Vision Stories, stories that justify present issues for a better future, Values-in-Action Stories which illustrate values through actions made or planned to be made, and finally Know-WhatYou-Are-Thinking Stories which create a link between the storyteller and the audience through sharing secrets. Story and politics might appear as a strange combination but several scholars have noticed a link between a winning candidate and a good story. For instance, according to Polletta (2006: VII), during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, George W. Bush prevailed over John Kerry because he had a better story to tell. Despite what can be seen as problems in his first term, such as engaging in multiple wars in the 20
  21. 21. Middle East, he still defeated Kerry, a respected Vietnam War hero Polletta (2006: VII). With the candidates having the same amount of money and support, what made the difference? According to Polletta (2006: VII) the democrats were missing a good story while the republicans were proposing “heroes” vs “bad guys”. In U.S. politics, republicans and democrats generally tell different stories. They fight to change policies by using two different types of stories, the causal stories with a multiple of policy choices and the second story which focus on social conflicts narratives (Mann, 2000: 172). Stories play an important part in politics as they can be used to divert people’s attention. For example, a sexual scandal case erased by a war or a threat (Simmons (2007: 11). Stories are subjective. They are interpreted by people as good, bad, important or not. In fact, a reaction to a story can be completely different person to person. People reframe a story told by interpreting it differently, which makes it difficult to really know in advance, the effect of a story. (Simmons (2007: 13-14).Communication is all about stories and stories have been used to communicate since the beginning of humanity. Before science, stories were the way humans used to think. (Simmons (2007: 15). The power of the story can also reside in the fact that detailed narratives link the audience’s imagination with their real experiences (Simmons (2007: 19). Moreover, a story is often presented to a group, which allows the teller to impact on more than one person’s feelings (Simmons (2007: 12). Another important thing about stories is their framework, understood by everyone structure allows people to feel familiar and then more easily influenced by it (Mann, 2000: 165). Stories are part of the human tradition of communication and help people organize ideas through a narrative framework and a meaningful context. They also allow people to make events more logical and link people, living, action and personal experience and in 21
  22. 22. gathering imaginary and real life into a story make it becoming understandable (Harris, 2000: 60). Often, a good story has to be set up in a structured way such as a play. In politics, staging is everywhere all the time and everything needs to be calculated in advance. B. Dramaturgy “Rather than creating communication, it exhausts itself in the act of Staging communication” (Baudrillard 1994) The main study about using the theater’s tools to have a stronger impact on people is the Theory of Dramaturgy from Erving Goffman (1990). This theory follows the idea that the best way to convince people is to stage social scenes using roles, script, costumes and stage Goffman (1990). According to him, it is necessary to set up a fictional environment to manipulate people’s perception and then try to control and impact their behaviors. To illustrate this theory in a political environment we can use U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech about terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden’s death (1). In this video, we can analyze the story using the four tools proposed by Goffman. First, the staging is precise and well set, made by the red carpet, the pulpit with USA written on it, and the American flag. Obama plays the role of President of the United States or leader of anti-terrorism. Script is the speech he delivers using carefully chosen words and body language. How Obama is dressed up with a formal dark suit and a red tie is the costume. 22
  23. 23. According to Goffman (1990) and his idea of “self presentation”, candidates try to show their best image through videos, speech or any public appearance (Danton, 2002: 184). However, public image is not controlled solely by communication specialists, it is also manipulated by the media following the theory of agenda setting (Shaw & McCombs, 1977). During a political campaign the candidate and their team can try as much as possible to create a positive image of the candidate but they don’t have the full power of controlling media appearance. As soon as media is needed to advertize a campaign the media outlets can choose to angle information as they choose. They are framing a story about the candidate ( Harris, Moffitt, Squires, 2010: 195). Depending on if the media is partisan or not the media frame created by them can be totally different and stage the candidate’s life in a completely different ways ( Harris, Moffitt, Squires, 2010: 197). For instance, Michelle Obama’s public image was framed by the media as for every first lady but in her case the classification has been changed from a supporting wife to potential policy adviser. Since 2000, candidate’s wife’s have gained a role more important than just a companion (Harris, Moffitt, Squires, 2010: 248). Media frames a candidate's public image by distilling it into messages or ideas and then candidates have to fight to maintain a positive image or control it through private or public media (Harris, Moffitt, Squires, 2010: 194). Just as it is in theater, everybody has a role. There is a script, costumes, and everyone is following specific staging to create a fake political world where opponents fight each other for the whole public to see. Through positive media appearance, candidates try to create an intimate link with voters to gain their votes. 23
  24. 24. C. Illusion of intimacy Modern political communication is all about the candidate or president rather than the congress or the party (Popkin, 1991: 90) It is real personification of politics. In order to make the voters feel closer, communicators create a sense of closeness between candidate and audience. They do so by using narratives and small stories much like those seen on television series, with suspense, twists, and turns. This television effect phenomenon is called “the illusion of intimacy” by Keeter (1987). This is observable in most developed countries, take for example, France. Since the Third French Republic, politicians’ private lives have been used to influence the public opinion in order to improve political campaign communication. Victor Hugo was one of the first to use his grandfather's status or the pain of being exiled to get closer to the citizens and build a nice public image in order to be elected at the French National Assembly (Stein, 2012: 45). The main goal of using tools such as storytelling is to make citizens focus on the candidate's personality as a product to sell. This practice is imported from advertizing adapted to politics by spin doctors. (Nachtergael, 2012: 134). The fact that this movie was shown in theaters mystifies the whole story and magnifies the topic (Nachtergael, 2012: 137). These political stories of candidates private life have actually an important political function to feed intimate fantasy of power transparency which let think people that they can reach political world but this is only a myth communicated through storytelling and political communication (Nachtergael, 2012: 140). 24
  25. 25. In order to connect the issues to the candidate and to communicate opinion quickly political specialists use mostly symbols which allow a rapid understanding and comprehension from receivers (Popkin, 1991: 90). D. Symbolism “A campaign is nothing if not a series of seductions” Mann, 2000: 162). In order to have an efficient story, a clear and meaningful framework is needed and is often accompanied with symbols. According to Baudrillard (1983) every product need to have meaningful symbols to help people identify themselves to it. It is the same process for a good story in politics, it is all about symbolism. Stories have been shared as a way to communicate since the beginning of humanity and appear as a sense-making tool in every culture but symbols are not universal and vary depending on people's perception or socialization. This lack of sameness is why myths and legend are often used to enhance social links and citizenship (Polletta, 2006: 21142). In every type of advertising it is not rare to see symbols or meaningful things such as flags, puppies, or shrieking infants as they are used in order to have an emotional impact on people through adapted representations (Brader, 2006: 64). Non verbal cues are as important as words and highlight a message through unconscious interpretations. Three kinds of nonverbal behavior involving emotional reactions in politics observed by Lanzetta (1985) are anger and threat, fear and evasion, and happiness and reassurance. 25
  26. 26. Meaning and symbols are often more powerful than anything and people like or dislike fact based on what these symbols represent for them (Simmons, 2007:16). Stories which impact the most are generally the ones conveying fears, fear is very strong and stays longer in minds than happy stories, for instance scary urban legends are always the one that people remember and hope or love stories appear to be easier to forget (Simmons, 2007:185). Knowing all these observations allow spin doctors and communication teams to play with the human imagination and interpretation of symbols and resulting feelings, however these theories are not truly verifiable and nothing is never sure about non rational decision making (Simmons, 2007:187). During a political campaign it is actually a symbols war going on between the opposing candidates. In using clear and well known symbols, one candidate can be more successful than another in communicating (Popkin, 1991: 103-104). Stories need symbols to be more understandable and to impact more easily targeted audiences, Stories use symbols to get meanings to create emotions. It is why in politics in gathering all these parts they often create legend or myth about a candidate or a president. For instance, Reagan created a story about Soviet Union as a vile enemy that he had to fight with new technologies (Mann, 2000: 173-174). As an example of symbolic communication when George Clinton was president of the United States, he announced, by himself, a simple security car policy. Behind this policy, however, there was a story, a personal story which was full of emotions and symbols. He noticed that one member of the panel expert lost his niece in a car accident and added a small personal anecdote to gain parent's trust immediately. The main goal of this way to communicate was to change the way voters see presidential role (Mann, 2000: 185-186). 26
  27. 27. In adding symbols, meanings, emotions and personal narratives you can create an efficient story with all the elements needed to influence people. A good story is all about feelings and emotions. E. Emotions “Its appeal to emotions rather than reason” (Polletta, 2006: xi) Stories are used mainly to trigger emotions and appeal to feelings more than reason. In general a person who tells a story is trying to gain the audience’s empathy (Polletta, 2006: 82). A few psychology studies have pointed out that enthusiasm can trigger citizenship motivation and reinforce existing fidelity and in contrast, fear can push people to rethink their initial choice and It appears to be quite the same process and outcomes with sounds such as scary or threatening noises (Brader, 2006: 13-68). Another study on emotions highlights people's process of information shaping and how using emotions in political campaign can have an impact on their political choices. Fear can have a particularly strong impact on people behavior and can lead to unexpected political choices while enthusiasm even though it also has an important impact, it acts more as a strengthener than as a convincer (Brader, 2006: 111-144). When spreading a political message using feelings the main goal is to tell people what to be scared of or hopeful about and what they must do with these feelings. This last political psychology study highlights the power of emotions in influencing people's behavior (Brader, 2006: 185). 27
  28. 28. Ronald Reagan's successful elections reflect the power of emotional appeals in political campaign according to the economist Richard Wirthlin in 1980 and 1984 people voted for him because they felt close from his way to put values before policy, they trusted him and were persuaded of his honesty. As a result it wasn’t important anymore to agree or not with his policy because people were already conquered by the man (Westen, 2008: 12). Every American president came with a story, Jimmy carter played on the idea of a reliable government after the Watergate scandal and Bill Clinton brought new hope for the American dream. These stories touch people because they are reading emotions and then making conclusions in giving sense to the data (Westen, 2008: 14-25). Emotions are essential in American politics and Republicans and Democrats use them differently.. The more conservative politicians generally use feelings more often than the more liberal minded ones who think that emotions are demagoguery (Westen, 2008: 3644). According to Westen (2008: 99), two kinds of constraints can impact people's perception. Cognitive constraint coming from the accessible information and the emotional constraint which is linked to interpretation feelings. These two unconsciously affect fight to set up brain conclusion and interpretation differently for everybody. A good candidate would be the one who trigger emotions through making you laugh or cry, it is simply having charisma such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had. Few researches highlight the importance of positive emotions in political campaign and the necessity to identify the candidate through happiness and hope (Westen, 2008: 284). In order to spread positive emotions, a candidate has to manage his communication in order to calculate every verbal and nonverbal behaviour. People are going to interpret unconsciously every facial expression, body language, and voice sound from candidate’s appearance. The whole challenge is to choose the right candidate to run the 28
  29. 29. campaign, a person with a gathering of strong political intelligence, good non-verbal skills, and a solid emotional appeal such as Reagan with his public image of proud and powerful America (Westen, 2008: 294-301). But fear and negative emotions are also part of the political game and are mostly used in TV ads, many scholars argue that this kind of negative campaigning is growing and kills the quality of political information. However, triggering negative emotions seem to be quite effective and actually helped George W bush to win in 2004 where a huge portion of his campaign budget was dedicated to attack ads (Westen, 2008: 317-333). In stimulating human feelings with stories, they(who?) try to give a specific direction to these emotions and it is why during an election both sides have to counter the opponent using emotional associations and always respond to an attack using the same emotional weapons (Westen, 2008: 337). Every political message needs to include feelings to have a real impact on voters. It can be fear or hope, using flags for patriotism or scary music to trigger negative emotions. In any case, the most important thing is to make people feel something. Tv ads are the most used tool in American political campaigning and it seems to match perfectly the narrative and emotional needs for campaigning. Eisenhower, already in 1952 bet everything on narratives about himself more than ideological principles, through an ad telling his own story he highlighted his hero status and legitimised himself as a president (Westen, 2008: 302). In the following chapter we will explore deeply how political TV ads work in the United States and try to understand why this country uses the most storytelling in politics through its mysterious spin doctors. 29
  30. 30. CHAPTER 3: American presidential campaigns “A charming candidate is the alchemist’s secret that can transmute a prosaic platform into the gold of votes” Bernays (2007: 117) A. Spin doctors and American specificities Who are the spin doctors? This term was first used in 1984 by the advisers of former US president Ronald Reagan. They are political communication specialists and are called by candidates to help them during their electoral campaign. Salmon (2008) suggests they are agents of influence providing arguments, images and staging in order to create a specific opinion reaction. For the 2004 elections candidates spent over $ 1 billion to advertise mainly through televised ads. The number of communication specialists has grown significantly in political campaigns which illustrates how important is to find new ways to influence voters (Brader, 2006: 177). Candidates are advertised as a product to sell and spin doctors are in charge of their public image, for instance, John Beckley is considered as the first political campaign manager and was in charge of Thomas Jefferson’s campaign in 1796 where he used “thirty thousand sample ballots and thousands of political handbills extolling Jefferson’s virtues” (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 89). Regarding the Reagan presidency, the president hired Michael Deaver as a media manager, he often used symbols during public appearances or televised events to let 30
  31. 31. powerful images into people's minds (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 95). Spin doctors were the first to adapt storytelling in politics, emphasizing drama and conflict to keep people interested and through image making and frame control. Originally political advisers used to use focus groups and surveys, however, now along with that they also use narratives to convince and control voters in connecting candidates to symbols and specific issues (Grabe, Maria Elizabeth; Bucy, Erik Page., 2009: 97). Stories have to be persuasive to be efficient so communication specialists have to make the story credible and the characters authentic. Stories are making candidates closer to people’s reality using their private life to create a human scale understanding (Smith, 2009: 82). Nowadays, campaigning is a permanent job and needs to be done before, during and after elections, it never stops. When spin doctors are finished with electoral campaign they have to shape and maintain a good public image for the candidates elected. It is now an essential job in modern politics (Mann, 2000: 220). Storytelling is mostly used in American politics and that can be explained by three reasons. American patriotism, the talent of people using it such as Reagan and the the modern transformation of society which favors small stories illustrating new norms and social behavior (Salmon, 2008: 121). Ronald Reagan was the first president to use storytelling. Even if most of the time his stories were totally made up he was able to touch public opinion, he was one of the best storytellers of political history (Salmon, 2008: 108). When he wanted to make Americans opposed to welfare state he invented a story about “ the queen welfare” who bought a Cadillac with government aids. The story morality in this case is clear, Americans who work hard are the heroes, the queen welfare was the bad guy and poor people from middle class surrounded by taxes are the victims (Salmon, 2008: 108). 31
  32. 32. The American particularity in politics is their unique way to demonstrate everything by using symbols, business processions badges in order to boost enthusiasm (Brader, 2006: 147). In American minds the “ we” notion is strong, as well as the American dream. So strong that even when activists are complaining about war they use terms such as “we“ invaded Iraq and “we” are killing innocents (Smith, 2009: 8). Regarding the American institutions such as the Supreme Court and the US Constitution, it has been noticed by researchers that they have a role in shaping the cultural imagination and the American presidency is reinforcing it through a particular presidential type (Smith, 2009: 7). Americans have always imagined their president in the way they wanted to, creating a kind of fiction of authority (Smith, 2009: 247-248). Moreover, stories are an important part of American policy such as the Iraq war and the supposed mass destruction weapons, it doesn’t appear as a lie but a well thought construction, a fiction which has “ started today” as Bush officials at that time declared adding that the United States is ready to write its own story. In every US political story, presidents are the principal actors, they are making history following a narrative plan elaborated by others (Smith, 2009: 247-248). Nowadays, the American way to do politics appears as dangerous for democracy because campaigns are run in a very negative way with candidates fights through TV ads and disinformation. Spin doctors can even be considered as a “ fifth estate” by their powerful influence on the American political sphere (Thurber, 2000: 65-113). 32
  33. 33. B. Presidential elections Since the beginning of American politics, presidents used stories to trigger emotions and influence voters. As a modern example we can use George W Bush and Ashley story which used the 11 September emotional memories to impact on people’s political choices. In another storytelling style, the democratic candidate John Kerry was using his hero image but his TV ads from his supporter Real Voice were instead mostly triggering anger and anxiety in showing family of soldiers killed in Iraq (Brader, 2006: 178). It is possible to classify three different presidential public image used by american president throughout the history, the common man, the master politician, and the Washington outsider. These different presidential characteristics are made up in order to highlight one single point of president personality and then attract public opinion interest on this particular well chosen narrative (Grabe, 2009: 88). The ideal candidate frame Following the analysis of past presidential public image we can observe three structures which can be named as ideal candidate frames. In order to succeed three main dimensions are needed. The candidate has to be firstly qualified for his job and highly reliable, in short he has to be a real statesman. He also needs to be liked by the voters 33
  34. 34. through compassion and empathy and the third one populist narratives (Grabe, 2009: 101). Regarding the statesmanship quality the candidate has to inspire leadership skills, authority and project power. In order to highlight this side through images, two principal techniques need to be used: associational juxtaposition and mise-en-scene (Grabe, 2009: 102). Juxtaposition can be when “a shot of the American flag is juxtaposed with, or shown before, a shot of a candidate to communicate patriotism” explains Grabe (2009: 102), this association tries to manipulate people interpretations and create links between two totally different things. Another important part of the candidate frame is compassion. As soon as the candidate is well known as a statesman he needs to attract people deeper through specific feelings. Voters like to have a warm and compassionate president that they can freely and truly love and admire. Regarding images the best way to use narrative in this case is to link candidate act or decision to famous symbols of compassion such as children and family. It is why most of the time American presidents are surrounded by a loving wife and children (Grabe, 2009: 104). The last kind of narrative is the populist. A candidate who use this way to communicate insists on his opposition to an aristocratic elite. In using images, the populist tries to highlight his modest background and how he succeed without coming from a rich family (Grabe, 2009: 105). For instance, John Kerry wasn’t able to give a populist image when he was publicly showing himself windsurfing, snowboarding, and skiing which are very elitist sports he didn’t create a link with voters and particularly because democrats are mostly targeting middle class (Grabe, 2009: 104). However Jimmy Carter in his campaign of 1976 successfully spread a simple image of himself in advertising where he was wearing jeans hanging out in his farm like a proper american. The populist frame is 34
  35. 35. also observable through speeches such as Reagan’s who was always using simple and understandable words along with short sentences and common language (Grabe, 2009: 106). The 1992 election During the 1992 election Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were campaigning for the American presidency. In the Bush camp, three bodies were in charge to run the campaign reelection, the White House, a reelection committee, and Bush’s outside consultants. George H. W Bush use mostly the populist frame like in 1988. He was shown as a country music lover living in a farm in Texas but use to govern in a more aristocratic way focusing more on international matters than domestic policy (Grabe, 2009: 112). In response the Clinton camp, which won, used a populist frame as well showing the candidate as a humble person from Arkansas highlighting his compassion skills and spreading hope (Grabe, 2009: 113). The 1996 election During this election Bill Clinton won again using enthusiasm, hope and energetic ads. The Clinton camp actually used in this campaign the traditional Republican issues making his opponent Bob Dole sounds just like an echos and not a real choice (Grabe, 2009: 118-119). Regarding the Dole camp the campaign was not a success due to an absence of a clear message and dynamism to run the campaign (Grabe, 2009:119). 35
  36. 36. The 2000 election This campaign is interesting because it was the first time that so many non verbal messages were spread, the physical presence of the candidate was as much important as his speaking (Danton, 2002: 191). In the Al Gore camp, they were clearly focusing on health care and other social issues, it was a totally populist frame using this clear slogan : The People versus the Powerful. The Gore problem was his incapability to follow strict communication rules which led him to many public akward moments and appears in the eyes of the voters as rigid and unfriendly (Grabe, 2009:122). The Bush camp in contrast made the candidate appears through a populist image and sounds like a real republican, a compassionate conservative. They used this frame to increase Gore public image of a stiff guy in offering in contrast a Bush honest and plainspoken (Grabe, 2009:122). The 2004 election The 2004 election is considered by journalists as the most emotional and fear driven campaign. In October the New York Times even used a meaningful title : “Scary ads take campaign to a grimm new level” (Brader, 2006: 3). During this campaign the Bush camp was more focusing on countering Gore camp than on their own candidate. They insisted on the fact that Kerry was an elitist to highlight the populist frame of Bush and showing himself as a strong leader (Grabe, 2009: 124). In the Kerry camp the campaign seemed to be disorganized, unfocused and undisciplined which was maybe why Bush won that easily (Grabe, 2009: 125). 36
  37. 37. We are going now to focus on two different presidents who used a very powerful story, an only american story. The first one is Ronald Reagan one of the first candidates in American history who understood the power of a good story. Reagan’s mythical America “I tell this story just to remind you of the magical, intoxicating power of America. we may sometimes forget it, but others do not. (Ronald Wilson Reagan January 19th 1989 remarks at the presentation ceremony for the presidential Medal of Freedom) Reagan was the first to use this efficient story about a powerful America where families can live in peace in a country blessed by God. Moreover, he told a story of Americans as heroes living in a saga where they have to fight villains inside and outside the country (Hanska, 2012: 20). He was actually creating an american way of life and a mythical America concept. In his story, Reagan administration is needed to bring happiness and friendship into the society, his concept of tomorrow is always better than before and can’t be done without him but also the citizens themselves who feel like they have a real role in Reagan mythical America and can impact on the end of the story (Hanska, 2012: 7-8). To make his story credible and to convince people to believe on it, Reagan used a lot of emotional appeals such as honesty and sincerity through thee old myth of the Western heroes (Hanska, 2012: 25). he was also using a lot of religious symbols and meanings that Americans could easily understand and would convince the fifty-six percent of them who believe that religion is the best answer to most of the questions (Hanska, 2012: 75- 37
  38. 38. 136). In this American story, god has an important role and is powerfully used to create this mythical fiction starting from God to end with heroes (Hanska, 2012: 144). Barack Obama The second president who used a well thought story is Obama. In using his life he created a American dream narrative based on his own personal story which can be reduce at : “only in America could the son of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother …” (Harris, 2010: 5). During this he highlighted the fact that he is an African American who succeed in reaching the presidency, this is a perfect american dream story in linking his personal story to the greatest american nation which allow anybody to realize their dream through equality and opportunity for all (Harris, 2010: 5). The Obama frame is in fact a national success which highlights the power of the nation as ultimately righteous (Harris, 2010: 7). Moreover, during the 2008 campaign, Obama camp didn’t only try to control the candidate image but also how the supporters and volunteers were acting, everybody had to follow the same message and make it coherent. These supporters were extremely involved and were also taking initiatives such as a YouTube videos about Obama proliferated and they were encouraged to do such things instead of other campaign which tried to monitor everything. Obama campaign appeared as a result as a two-way and interactive campaign (Harris, 2010: 51). In using internet and social media Obama created a new way to campaign and was able to make most of American gathering again in a common dream. He succeeded in giving hope to every american and not only the black community (Harris, 2010: 65). Moreover, 38
  39. 39. he was able to motivate supporters and spread a powerful message about american strengths. People were really into this campaign because it was also meaning something personal to them, that they could also live the American dream (Harris, 2010: 72). Above all, the way he led the campaign was really smart because couldn’t actually be against Obama’s message without being against the American dream itself (Harris, 2010: 73). After having examined few Americans electoral campaign, it is clear that they are often framing stories about the country linked to the candidate in order to make citizens more involved but many other came also with their own story to be elected such as George W Bush and his ‘‘Freedom is on the march’’. In the same way as obama it was difficult to be publicly against freedom and then made harder to be against Bush story (Simmons, 2007: 184). In the case of Lincoln, he used religious and classical symbols in order to justify his right to the presidency. He presented itself as a kind of messy in the cloud, surrounded by angels and strong symbols such as “Columbia” and “Liberty”. He actually was creating a myth around his character to legitimise his natural right to govern (Smith, 2009: 88). Indeed, using stories in politics is not a new thing but it is now becoming a real qualified work and this is mostly the result of the use of TV ads. Electoral campaign are now mostly a battle through television and for instance the 2004 election came with over a million campaign tv ads which were using emotions such as fear and anger or hope and joy (Brader, 2006: 147). 39
  40. 40. Television advertising TV ad is a really common tool for electoral campaign in the United States and appears at a perfect way to set up narratives using images. TV ads are often the theater of battles between candidates, it s actually a fight between two candidates frame and message. TV ads are often made by Interest group, and not by the candidate team, which support openly one side of the competition it is why they don't get the same trust credit as journalists. Several researchers have already tried to understand the real impact of these tv ads on voters and it seems to be linked to emotions, image and narratives (Brader, 2006: 2). Few characteristics are observable in TV ads such as the simple message content, the topics chosen ( issues, characters, records), they also contain more than just words and are using sounds, images and relevant music. They try to trigger specific emotions to the voters and make him act or think in a specific way, the power of ads seems to belong to the unification of images and sounds in a specific narrative frame (Brader, 2006: 4). The power of such TV advertising seems to reside in symbols and meaning which need to be linked to the race, culture and other specificities of the people targeted (Ridout, 2011: 145). In terms of findings, Ridout (2011) argues that is it impossible to have an unified theory about the real power of such ads but he notices that there is a real effect when these ads are triggering specific emotions such as hope and fear. It was often asked by psychologists if fear ads were more effective than enthusiastic ads and we will go through different kind of tv ads used during American campaign and try to understand the different impact that positive and negative ads can have on voters. 40
  41. 41. According to Kaid and Johnston (2001), video ads have three characteristics, the verbal, the nonverbal and production techniques. During the 1992 and 2004 campaign respectively Bill Clinton and John Kerry used different types of ads to run against Bush. In surface the two ads seem very similar but when going deeper the difference in emotions triggered and networks activated is getting obvious (Westen, 2008: 4). The Clinton’s ad “Hope” (2)had a very simple narrative, showing him as a regular Arkansas governor along with a background music and specific images recalling small and quiet American towns. In this ad there is nothing about policy but just a creation of positive associations with Clinton as a Man from Hope in direct correlation with the American Dream. In this video Clinton is actually telling his life story which started in the small town named Hope indeed, the name of the town is directly related to the feeling of hope in small American towns. His voice is accompanied by simple images of the city of Hope, a train and nice countryside, he is telling that what he accomplished is possible for everybody trying to give hope to Americans and using the populist frame highlighting his simple social background (Westen, 2008: 5). According to Western (2008: 6), the Clinton narrative can be summarized by three simple sentences, “Through hard work, caring, and determination, I know what it’s like to live the American dream. In my home state, I’ve done everything possible to help others realize that dream. And as your president, I’ll do everything I can to help people all over this country realize their dreams like I’ve done in Arkansas.” and this hope feeling increases when a child is shown at the end followed by this very meaningful last sentence “bringing hope back to the American dream.” 41
  42. 42. In contrast, the Kerry’s ad of 2004 “Heart” (3) was telling a story about how John Kerry is the man needed for president. At first glance, these two ads are quite similar in using positive feelings and the American dream as principal narrative and they both start with their birthplace and environment. Regarding Kerry story he insisted on the fact that he was born in a military family and he used this to legitimate himself as a potential president who will be a strong leader fighting the never ending “war on terror”. The ad is set up through patriotic music, military symbols and kerry as a war hero. As the same way as Clinton, Kerry used his own voice in background to tell his own story. However, one of his most important mistake was to talk about Yale and his several childhood privileges and couldn’t tell a coherent story. Moreover, his face expression in the second part of the ad was cold and impassive which didn’t trigger any positive and hopeful emotions (Westen, 2008: 9-11). The difference between Clinton and Kerry ad is the understanding of American psychology and how people will interpret exposed symbols. Kerry didn’t pay enough attention to the importance of a coherent story in politics and how much “Political persuasion is about networks and narratives.” (Western, 2008: 12) The art of using tv ads in political campaign needs to be really well thought and a bad story can ruin a campaign and send the wrong message to the voters like it happened to John Kerry in 2004. After having analysed and review the different studies and thoughts about storytelling in politics it is time to link this literature review to the methodology and findings of this dissertation. 42
  43. 43. CHAPTER 4: Methodology “The task of the sociologist... is to describe the essential characteristics of social facts, demonstrate how they come into being, enter into relationships with one another, act on each other and function together to form social wholes” ( Hughes, 1990:25) In order to have an efficient social research methodology it is important to ask the right questions and to understand the different possibilities. The principal aim of social research is to identify a reality through experience and reasoning (Cohen and Manion, 1994:5). Three main points of social research are proposed by Walliman (2005: 41) as the exploration, the testing-out and the problem-solving and during the growth of the research; it is very essential to test and try to refute the theory using hypothesis. Moreover, to make a research successful it is important to remember that a researcher can’t possibly be fully objective and is always influenced by his environment and background (Walliman, 2005:76). As soon as these research characteristics are understood, it is time to choose a specific research method. A. research method Regarding my dissertation topic which focuses on how people experience storytelling in politics, it would be difficult to use quantitative methods. As a result, using focus group 43
  44. 44. appeared as an effective way to understand people’s interpretations. Following this idea, I organised four focus groups each composed with five people of different nationalities in order to see if their cultural background would affect their political interpretations. I showed the focus group participants four different television ads made by American political candidates for their presidency campaigns at different periods of time. The first one, “Good morning America,” was launched in 1984 by Ronald Reagan who was running against Walter Mondale. The second ad, “Daisy,” was made by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to use against Barry Goldwater. The third one is “Trickle down” used by Ross Perot in 1992 when he lost the campaign against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. The last one, known as “Ashley story,” was launched by George W. Bush in 2004 against John Kerry. George W. Bush won even after his first term stained by several unsolved issues and many scholars regard his video as a representation of his effective communication. I chose these video in order to have respectively an ad appealing to hope and happiness, one triggering mostly fear, another unimpassioned and a last one often brought as an example of successful storytelling. The main goal of these focus groups was to see how people interpret these ads and if the emotional responses are what the ads makers wanted to trigger. I wanted to understand which ad would convince the audience the most and persuade him/her to vote for one candidate against the other. Moreover, I wanted to understand why such ad is more effective than the others. In general terms, focus groups are useful in attaining a direct access to participants’ perceptions and emotions by observing their interactions in a group (Tonkiss, 2004:128). This is a serious advantage for my topic because in politics, group opinion or public opinion is much more important than individual opinion and focus group show a small scale of the society and how people influence each other in choices and interpretations. In interpreting blank, shy people, strong personality or argumentations between the 44
  45. 45. participants it is possible to analyze and have a better look at what is really going on into reality. When conducting focus group activities, researchers need to follow several rules. For example, group members have to be homogeneous and unknown to each other (Morgan, 1997). It is also very important to understand that the results are not adaptable to a larger population and can only be analysed in a group scale (Tonkiss, 2004:237). B. Other possible methods When starting the research, one needs to choose between quantitative and qualitative approaches. Natural science is more familiar with quantitative methods. But when social science started using it, researchers realised that it wasn’t the best way to understand most part of human relationships and behaviours. The difficulty resides in the fact that quantifying human feelings and emotions is really hard (Walliman, 2005:174). Quantitative analysis is much more effective when used to give precisions, statistics and sophisticated analyses. But data it is less effective in describing human experiences, interpretations and reactions. Moreover, quantitative research result tends to generalise human behaviours instead of interpreting their experiences (Walliman, 2005:174). In short, qualitative method fits much better for social and human science but it also has a few limitations such as the difficulty to interpret subjective data and extend the result generally. Moreover, it is important to consider the time needed when qualitative research is conducted and also the fact that the researcher’s presence can be an issue along with anonymity and confidentiality matters. However, qualitative research also has a lot of strengthens such as its capability to present a view from the heart of the field 45
  46. 46. which allows the researcher to better understand hidden mechanisms of human social behaviour (Hughes, n.d.). Regarding my dissertation, it appeared to be quite difficult to quantify human interpretations of storytelling in politics. Qualitative methods can better reach the goals of this research. However, among all the different qualitative methods, focus group seemed to be the most relevant choice for my topic. Participant observation is a very interesting method but it is better applied to everyday interactions and other fields accessible to the researcher (Suter, 2000), Regarding storytelling, it is quite difficult to access to the field and analyse all opinions and reactions at the same time. In opposition, focus group appeared as a good way to understand political behavior and interpretations through small groups. C. Research design and timeline When setting up focus group, it is important to think through a few issues such as where, who, when and how. First, I decided to conduct only four focus groups to have enough time for interpreting findings, reading secondary sources and writing the dissertation. Each group was composed of five members. I set up such small, intimate groups because I wanted to encourage each member, even the shyest one, to participate in discussion. On average, each focus group meeting lasted one hour, which was a perfect duration to show the four videos one after another and discuss them in groups. Second issue is about participant recruitment. Focus groups need to be quite homogeneous and to do so the four groups were composed with people aged between 20 and 29 years old. In each group, however, every member is originally from a different country, so that I would understand if cultural backgrounds affect their political interpretations. As soon as I understood my selection criteria, I started the recruitment 46
  47. 47. process through social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as the United Nations network via my current internship. The third issue regards the venue for the focus group to gather. The cheapest and the most convenient place I found was at the New York Public Library, which allowed us to work in a private, well-equipped studio. Moreover, it is important to take notes and record the focus group at the same time in order to be sure to keep at least a trace of the work done. It is why having an assistant is really helpful and after the first focus group I asked a friend to help me in launching the videos and with few other things such as turning off the light when needed. I also prepared a consent form that every participant had to sign, a document available in the appendices. Furthermore, the entire research process needs to be planned well. The first step is reading secondary sources to gain understanding of the topic chosen. I started the reading process from April and completed it in late July. I started the focus group activities on the 28/05/2013 which was followed by the second one on the 05/06/2013, the third one on the 12/06/2013 and the last one the11/07/2013. My drafting process of the dissertation started in August and ended in mid September, and the rest of the month was dedicated to proofreading and editing. D. The limitations and ethical issues According to Frankland and Bloor (1999:153), the limitations of focus groups are related to data collection. Focus group activity should be done carefully because afterwards it will be almost impossible to create the same environment, with the same people and interactions again. 47
  48. 48. In order to conduct an effective focus group, it is better to know the goals beforehand so it is easier to collect the right amount of data needed. In terms of my research, I hope to use focus groups in order to understand if storytelling in politics is really convincing and how it works through TV ads. The second issue that I wanted to explore was how people interpret these TV ads and whether the emotional responses really affect voter behaviors. Moreover, in a group, individuals would behave differently due to the interaction of their diverse personality and traits. For instance, a shy person can have even greater difficulties to impose his viewpoint while facing the others members of the group. In the fourth focus group, for example, L. didn’t dare to say that the most compelling video, which would make her to vote, was the one titled “Daisy”. She lied because the other participants all voted for the first or the last one and she felt intimidated. Also, she wasn’t honest perhaps because the conservation was on the record and as a Chinese, she was scared of any reprisals. I was knowledgeable of this situation because a few days after the focus group, I received an email from one of the participants who talked to L. right after the group activity; she thought this insight would be useful for my research. However, people hiding their true opinions is not the only issue to take notice when analyzing findings, some people were really confident and spoke a lot during the exercise, greatly influencing others. These group interaction bias have to be taken into consideration when analyzing the data. I observed another difficulty is how to lead the group discussion without interfering too much with the participants. Thus, after the first focus group, I received help from an assistant who smoothed the process of launching videos and turning on/off the light while I was taking notes and recording the discussion. During my last focus group, I had to face another frustration, which was the no-show of one of the participants. I had to complete the group activity anyway with only four 48
  49. 49. members, and this issue has to be considered when comparing the results between groups. Concerning the data analysis, it is very hard to generate a conclusion for the focus group findings. I can point out different individuals’ interpretations of the videos, their emotional responses to the TV ads and political messages, but that doesn’t mean that the whole population would also react like the 19 focus group participants. Moreover, many things can be taken into consideration such as social and cultural background, political opinion and personality to explain why some videos were more effective than the others. In short, the main problem in my analysis is the subjectivity in interpretations and the difficulty to understand fully human behaviour. The ethical dimension is also important to social research. When working with fellow human beings it is important for the researcher to be aware of possible ethical issues. According to (Ali and Kelly, 2004:60), the researcher has to be very careful about social differences among the participants which could lead to power abuses. Moreover, the researcher needs to be honest in providing her work and avoid any plagiarism. In terms of this research, it was important to bear in mind that any finding can’t be generalised and applied to a larger population in order to create a global theory about storytelling. Scientist objectivity is a necessity in social research according to Walliman (2005:240245) and when using focus group it is important to avoid any risks for the participants and letting them know about the implication of the study. Moreover, it is better to have them signing a consent form and respect their anonymity and confidentiality of certain information (Morgan,1998:86) To conclude, social research methods need to be used very carefully and the researcher has to be respectful and aware of ethical and other possible issues interfering qualitative research. 49
  50. 50. CHAPTER 5: Findings A. Focus group videos Regarding my research, I chose to use focus groups in order to understand people's reactions when facing different kind of storytelling TV ads. Four groups with five members each were set up and the participants watched four videos. The TV ads shown were chosen carefully in order for each ad to trigger a different emotion and to check the reactions of each group to these different storytelling techniques. One video is a story about hope and triggers mainly enthusiasm. It can be called a “feel-good ad”. Another ad, called fear ad, shows fearful images and, the third one does not provoke any particular emotion and can be defined as “unimpassioned ad”. The last video displayed is one of the most successful storytelling ads in American politics and generates many mixed emotions such as compassion, hope, sadness and the strongest one is 9/11 American traumatism. This ad is well known as “Ashley Story”. Feel good ad: “Morning in America” This is the first video shown to focus groups and was made in 1984 by Ronald Reagan camp. He was running this campaign in order to be reelected after a first mandate and played mainly on hope and happiness feelings focusing on the fact that what had been 50
  51. 51. done during its first presidency shouldn’t be stopped now. He emphasized his storytelling ad on the perfect American way of life, simple, peaceful and patriotic. According to Westen (2008: 302), in 1980 America needed a president who would give hope again, make people proud of their country and increase national economy. Ronald Reagan understood that and played on the fact that he was the right person to start it and continue it in 1984. For his reelection he tried to convince through a meaningful campaign that the country was actually doing better than four years before so why would people want to have a leadership change? (Brader, 2006:1). The ad actually shows normal and positive life steps such as a wedding, family, peaceful neighborhoods and happy Americans. The music and the narrator’s voice are made to activate feelings which replace any political arguments. Through positive emotions this ad tries to shape viewers interpretation. This ad is made like a movie with an emotional soundtrack, sentimental or nostalgic themes and meaningful symbols such as flags. The main purpose is to prompt specific emotions and not to really discuss politics, using sentimentalism, patriotism, visuals rich in colors, warm light and happy families this ad was one of the most successful during the 1984 election (Brader, 2006:2-5-6). To better understand this ad it is important to know the context of the year 1984. The economy was increasing, oil prices were low and interest rates were high. Reagan was seen as a hopeful president who gave back public confidence to the military. “Prouder, Stronger, Better” is an ads which gather all the parts of the American dream in showing normal Americans through their lives steps along with a music and a montage close to beer advertising. According to Philip Dusenbery, Reagan campaign consultant, this ad was made to trigger emotions rather than political thoughts. Reagan’s reelection campaign ads were made by the Tuesday Team which oriented the campaign toward the idea of optimism restoration through ads showing idyllic lives. Moreover, the voice 51
  52. 52. chosen as background for this ad is a well known voice already used for many commercials such as cars and insurance (Thelivingroomcandidate, 1984). Fear ad: “Daisy” Lyndon B. Johnson took the office right after Kennedy’s death in November 1963. He won a positive public image after winning the battle to pass the landmark civil Rights Act which gave African-American access to all public facilities. This famous ad named “Peace Little Girl” (Daisy), was broadcast only once on 7 September 1964. This ad shows a little girl counting until ten while picking the petals off a daisy flower, when she reaches nine; a scary adult voice takes the counting over and gives way to a nuclear explosion. The ad was actually using public fear of a nuclear war to shape voters behavior and was highlighting the fact that if Johnson was elected nothing like this would happen. This ad was harshly criticized but made the buzz and even appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. At the time, this kind of ad was utterly innovative and was very strong in emotions generated through provocative music, images and the catchy closing sentence "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The Stakes Are Too High for You to Stay at Home" (Thelivingroomcandidate, 1964). This ad was made to initiate public anxieties and fear to make people react and vote for Johnson in associating their fears to the opponent Goldwater. The Daisy ad stimulated attentiveness and encouraged people to reconsider their choices. This ad was extremely controversial because it was associating a young girl and a nuclear explosion (Brader, 2006: 7). 52
  53. 53. unimpassioned ad: “Trickle down” During this election the main topic was economics and internal issues because the Cold War wasn’t on the front page anymore after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Clinton and Perot were indeed focusing on economic matters which were the favorite concern of the surprisingly independent party. It was the first time in American politics that, neither a democrat nor a republican candidate ran for presidency. Ross Perot built his campaign around the American economy and his ad “Trickle Down” is a perfect demonstration of his party concentration on deficit reduction. He stressed that the American economy was failing because of its debt and the trickle down breakdown and put himself as the man who was best qualified to fix the problem. His campaign was mostly self-funded and had a lot of public support which allowed him to gain 20 percent of the popular votes. Through his tough advertisement he got a relative success and was able to strongly damage Bush campaign in criticizing how he handled the American economy (Thelivingroomcandidate, 1992). unimpassioned ads are mainly made up of arguments and information they are generally not the ones people talk about during elections and according to Kern (1989) they appear as less effective due to their lack of emotions. The ad mostly includes a script which scrolls up the screen while the narrator speaks and raindrops in the background. The most common unimpassioned ad is “Talking Head,” which shows the candidate’s face simply talking in front of the camera. It is in this kind of ads that body language and facial expression are the most important in order to trigger emotions in the viewers (Brader, 2006: 11) 53
  54. 54. Storytelling ad: “Ashley story” This ad is often considered by specialists as a masterpiece of storytelling. This video was shown in nine contested states in the month before the elections in 2004. At that time, The Iraq war was the main issue of the campaign as well as domestic concerns such as the economy, healthcare and jobs. After three presidential elections focusing mainly on domestic concerns in 2004 the entire campaign highlighted military issues and foreign affairs (Thelivingroomcandidate, 2004). It is following this political trend that Progress For America Voter Fund, a private but pro Bush organization, launched this TV ad featuring its main character: Ashley Faulkner, 16 years old, who lost her mother during the 9/11 events. The video starts with the Ashley’s father voice “My wife Wendy was murdered by terrorists on September 11th” then the father tells the story of their tragedy and how Ashley was affected by her mother’s death. The clip continues with Ashley meeting George W. Bush and the father’s voice in the background telling how much this meeting helped his daughter and how the President cared about her. This campaign was very powerful and efficient because it was using really strong emotions, only three years after 9/11; Americans were still affected by the tragedy. The ad actually played on feelings such as sadness, compassion, patriotism and hope. The organization succeeded in showing Ashley as the symbol of American hope which could get over this tragedy but helped by George W. Bush it would be easier. People who watched the video couldn’t be against the president because it would have meant being against America and its need to take revenge. George W. Bush showed himself as a saver and a protector for Ashley and all the 9/11 victims. He appeared as the only one who could counter terrorism. 54
  55. 55. This ad is considered as one of the best in American political history because it provides a complex message with several strong emotions and was launched at the right moment using the right feelings. B. Findings and literature Using focus groups was really interesting because it allowed me to see different points of view and interpretations of the four TV ads shown. However, group members are always influenced by others and some groups worked better than others so it is sometimes difficult to lead participants to the topic which matter the most. At the same time I didn’t want to lead them too much by interfering too often in the conversation so I tried to ask questions only when there were blanks or they were going too far from the initial topic. For instance, groups 1, 2 and 4 worked very well, they were pushing each other towards interesting reflection but group 3 was a bit messier. They had difficulties to understand some of the ads such as the “Daisy” one and were focused too much on the message content and what it implied on a political level and not that much on emotions, feelings, images, sounds and other background features. Besides, focus groups represent a small scale of society with people from different backgrounds and cultural upbringings so they interpret and understand things completely differently sometimes such as the choice of the most efficient ad even if most of the participants went for the “Ashley Story” but few of them preferred either the first, second or the third. There were mainly different points of view regarding the “Trickle down” ad, which was either understood as an unemotional ad, a sad ad and an ad triggering hope. These differences can be explained by how participants understand rain and what raindrops mean for them. Moreover, it is often noticeable that during the group 55
  56. 56. activities the members were influencing each other and when someone was sure of their argument, only a few dared to contradict them and most of the time, points of view were eventually quite similar. It is now relevant to link the focus groups’ results to literature, developed in the chapters above. Regarding the Salmon (2008) theory of storytelling we can notice that videos 1, 2 and 4 were trying to tell a story. In the first one “Good Morning America” it is a story of a perfect American living with his family, involved in the church, flags, happiness and hope. It is actually the story of the American dream. The second one: “Daisy” was a totally different story focusing on nuclear issues and America in danger triggering mainly fear. The story of a president who will save America like most of American president had done before. The fourth one “Ashley Story” was considered by Salmon (2008) as a masterpiece of storytelling and it seems to be confirmed by most of the participants who designated this video as the most efficient one. Regarding the narrative characteristic of these videos, according to Simmons (2007: 2324) there are six different kind of stories. Among them there is the Why-I-Am-Here Stories, which help legitimize the candidate who can be associated with the “Morning in America” ad in which Ronald Reagan tries to show how important it is to vote for him again because he made America better during his first mandate. There is also the Vision Stories which justify the present issues for a better future and can be related to the “Daisy” ad where Lyndon B. Johnson tries to scare voters with nuclear issues and present himself as the solution to avoid them. The third video “Trickle Down” could be the Values-in-Action Stories which help illustrate values through actions made or planned to be made in proposing an alternative to an economic model which failed. The last one “Ashley Story” would be more like a Teaching Story containing morals, gained from personal experience in using the 9/11 tragedy to get people to vote. 56
  57. 57. Best narratives appear to be simple ones with a straightforward and short message. For instance, during focus group number 1, a participant defended the third video by saying that “it exposes the problem and gives you a solution “. Following the concept of dramaturgy from Goffman (1990) we can notice that in the first video the staging is all about the American way of life and patriotism (featuring flags), music and happiness feelings. The role is being a good American, the script is it is better than four years ago, the costume are being dressed as a standard American and it is staged in a “nice” and quiet suburbs. The second video is very theatrical with strong and scary sounds, set up to produce fear. There are two main roles: the little girl who represents peace and the nuclear explosion which stands for the possible danger to come. The script is simple: voting for Lyndon B. Johnson is inevitable to avoid a dark future and the stage can be the video in black and white which pushes further the feeling of fear. The third video is the less theatrical and only the rain could be the staging and the voice and argument the script. The last video “Ashley Story” is a real play from the beginning to the end with several actors such as the girl, her father and George W. Bush, the script encapsulate that the tragedy is understood by the president who will take care of everybody, and the stage is a middle American family in a peaceful and nice American town. The personification of the candidate is also observable mainly in the last video for which a member of the second focus group commented “This kind of ad is good because it makes people feel closer to the candidate through compassion,” which supports Keeter, (1987) who states that in order to make voters feel closer, communicators need to create an intimate link with the candidates and to do so they are using narratives and small stories such as television series with suspense, twists and turns. 57