Fear-mongering doesn’t work (mostly)

Politicians are getting better at the least constructive part of their job: getting publicity.

Take a look at the reaction of US politicians to the Boston bombing. Scrambling to make political capital, Obama’s allowed himself to be photographed in control of the situation from the White House. Other Washington politicians called for the surviving brother to be tried as an enemy combatant, and others for more government surveillance of the public.

Politicians are social entrepreneurs. Their capital is uncertainty. They use it to make votes.

They attempt to get the votes through publicity, And they’re getting better. Aided by media hungry for content, politicians find that expressing new, alternative or alarmist views attracts attention. Facts aren’t necessary.

Their skill at gaining attention is not helping them, nor the public agenda.

For example, despite attempts to ratchet up fear following the Boston bombing, it seems that the average American is not alarmed at all.

The Washington Post has published polling data that showed only 6 percent of Americans had changed their behaviors after the Boston bombing. Only 5 percent said they stayed at home or left work early following the bombing. 66 percent of respondents agreed that terrorists will always find a way to launch an attack.

A PEW poll showed only 4 out of 5 Americans think that terrorism is part of life and that the Government cannot do much more to prevent them.

Left to their own devices, the public is generally rational and measured.

For example, a PEW and Smithsonian poll shows that despite the doom and gloom spread by some politicians, Americans are very optimistic about the future.

This gap shows that when politicians try to generate uncertainty they are often disconnected from the good sense of the people they represent.

It also shows that in many cases, the politicians’ attempts at fear-mongering do not have the impact they seek. They may even be counter-productive for their political aspirations.

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