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Why Slogans Matter
1
2016-08-05

As the general election officially began, we set out to review the very basics - campaign slogans. These short sound bites are designed, to sum up, the candidates' overall positions and platforms in just a few easily repeatable words. The idea behind a campaign slogan is twofold: 1) convince voters to choose that candidate, and 2) create easy repeatability that can be chanted, repeated to friends, and maybe even go viral. So how did the two major candidates do with their slogans? Without considering the issues, the candidates’ likeability, their platforms, or any other factor that will sway voters this November, let’s dissect just the actual slogans.

Hillary Clinton: We’re Stronger Together

With a lifetime of politics under her belt, including stints as First Lady, Secretary of State, and United States Senator, Hillary Clinton should be a master of campaign slogans, right? Yet an analysis shows that her slogan is not quite up to par. Here’s why:

1. Evoking Socialism: Hillary Clinton fought a fierce battle in the primaries against Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders. The fact that she beat him indicates that perhaps her party, nevermind America as a whole, rejected that particular ideal. Presumably, Clinton’s team is hoping to draw in Sanders’ fervent supporters, but the vaguely socialist connotation of the slogan’s word choice could be a risk in the national election.

 

2. Copycat Branding: Donald Trump has run his entire campaign on the idea that he is the strong, tough leader that America needs. No matter what you think of him, the bravado some might say is the total of what he is offering. While the Clinton campaign appears to be trying to differentiate its candidate by pointing out that no one person is as strong as an entire community working together, that idea is a bit high-minded for a slogan. Using the word “strong” enhances the appearance that Clinton is responding to Trump rather than defining the narrative herself.

 

3. Possible Alienation of Voters: Studies consistently show that the word “together” evokes the stereotypically feminine ideals of cooperation and empathy. Its use in a campaign slogan also implies that we should all aspire to work cooperatively with others. That message resonates with those who embrace those ideas, but what of those who embody the stereotypically male traits of independence, stoicism - the refusal to ask for directions? It will be a tough sell to convince these voters that they should suddenly reject individualism and embrace cooperation.

 

Donald Trump: Make America Great Again

Donald Trump’s brash, arrogant, dismissive manner has earned him rebukes and outright disdain from large segments of the voting public, and even key members of his own party. No matter what you think of him, the numbers show that he is a highly polarizing figure. Surely his campaign slogan is just as boorish and inflammatory, right? Surprisingly, he seems to have hit the mark with a slogan that will resonate with quite a few voters. Here’s how:

1. Aspirational Wording: Wherever your personal politics fall, and whatever your view of the issues, it is hard to deny that making America great is an excellent goal. The fact that the word “great” is so nebulous and non-specific makes this even stronger, as each person is free to project his or her unique vision of an ideal, 'great' America onto it.

 

2. American Identity: The inclusion of the word “America” suggests patriotism and national pride. We might all be wildly different from each other, but we all think of ourselves as Americans and are proud of that identity.

 

3. Loss and Hope: Notice that the slogan doesn’t tell us to make America great. It tells us to make America great *again*, suggesting that we were once great, but lost our way. However, the slogan assures us, we can make it right. Tapping into very primal emotions that acknowledge our individual and collective grief, and gives us hope for the future.

 

4. Nonthreatening and Inarguable Word Choices: While Clinton’s slogan uses a high-minded appeal to the power of collectivism, Trump’s slogan is intentionally so vague as to be all-inclusive. There is no direct way to disagree with the slogan’s content, it does not highlight any particular viewpoint, and it is simplistic enough to make an excellent soundbite.

Of course, elections are not decided by campaign slogans. Debates, press conferences, social media, and many other factors will play into the final results. Still, in a tightly contested race, every element matters. A slogan should provide a simple, tightly focused message in a compact package that is easy to remember and repeat. The power of a well-designed slogan should never be overlooked, as you never know when it might tip an undecided voter into one column or the other. Disclaimer: Internal polling of First Source Interactive employees shows support for both candidates as well as neither. We will focus our election analysis on the branding and marketing aspects of the campaign and avoid political positions (which don't matter anyway).
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