Propaganda Analysis: Common Man Appeals

How to win the hearts of everyday people

Photo by Kelcy Gatson on Unsplash

One thing that politicians do all the time is appeal to the common man. They are far and away part of a different class, where they have power, wealth, and prestige. However, they wouldn’t be able to hold onto those things without appearing as if they were just like everyone else. This leads them to appeal to the common man (or the average person).

The general belief is that the common man is the faceless blob of the middle class that typically shares the beliefs that they have been left behind by “the elite” and their policies. They use ordinary language, they wear blue jeans and — historically — have worked with their hands to make a living. They use “common sense” in their everyday lives to make everyday decisions and they are ultimately chasing the American Dream.

Since this group is so large, they typically elect our leaders on the local and state level, and have massive sway over who the electoral college votes for in presidential elections. So, it is important that politicians of all kinds strive to win their favor, regardless of if they have to pander in order to do it.

Still, I argue that an appeal to the common man is nothing more than a way to adapt your message to your given audience.

For example, let’s say you have the opportunity to speak at the Academy Awards. In general, that audience doesn’t fit our idea of the common man at all. They are who we typically consider “the elite”. By adapting your message to that audience, and engaging with them in a way that the average attendee does, we can still appeal to the common person within that group.

With that said, if a leader wants to appeal to a sense of populism, they need to keep a few things in mind:

1. Watch the way you speak

How on earth could Donald Trump convince a massive subset of the United States that he was just like them? Largely through his speech. President Trump was not one to wax eloquently about any topic. He used plain language, pure and simple.

By doing this, he engaged with his audience at a subconscious level, and despite his inherited millions, his private jet, multiple homes, and Ivy League education he connected; and it was simply due to the fact that he spoke in such a way that his target audience could relate to.

Senator Bernie Sanders does the exact same thing, though their policies are mostly different. Although he is worth around $2m, makes $174k per year, owns a couple homes, and has a University of Chicago education, he uses simple words, and his ideas appeal to a large portion of young (and even older) people in the United States.

If you want to appeal to the average person, speak in a way that they are familiar.

2. Adapt to your audience

This is easier said than done. In essence, you want to gather data on who reads your articles (this can be done through Google analytics, your Medium stats, social ads analytics, personal surveys, etc), or who will be in the audience for your speech (you can make educated guesses based on the event topic, and ask the event host), and you want to change the way you engage to fit what they are comfortable with.

For example, if you want to write a guest post for an academic journal, you are not going to write it as if you are writing for Forbes. Why? because the audiences are most likely different. The audience for the academic journal you choose will understand jargon, they will appreciate a more robust argument, and they will be willing to get into the weeds. Forbes readers typically like conversational writing, and their guest articles can be helpful, but shallow.

Ultimately, do not change the message you want to convey, but alter the packaging (the words, or the way it is conveyed) so your target audience can appreciate it.

3. Inspire your audience with common causes

What causes do you believe in that the average person in your target audience does too?

Do you believe that wealth is disproportionately held by a small percentage of people? If so, a massive number of Republican and Democratic voters agree with you. Do you believe that the healthcare system is broken in the United States? Then you can appeal to a huge number of Americans. Do you believe that Americans should be doing “American jobs”? Then you can relate to President Trumps’ America First, and President Biden’s American jobs focus.

Regardless of our political beliefs, there are causes that we can all relate to. Odds are, you are passionate similar causes that other people are. Campaign on these causes, build movements around them as Liberal Democrats have around student-loan forgiveness. From there, choose language that will hyperbolize, find powerful metaphors that present your ideas as bigger than yourself, and make you/your movement larger than life.

I explore philanthropy, influence and persuasion, power and empire, as well as why businesses and nations last