Competing by Undermining Opponents

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6425.htm)

Politicians need at least the tacit support of the population.  They are in competition with each other for that support, so they try to reduce the popularity of their opponents – with negative advertising, for example.  Competition between politicians is very public in democracies where politicians can speak and write about each other, and sometimes participate in television debates, but in authoritarian systems the competition for power takes place away from the public gaze.

Although open competition between politicians might be thought to be healthy, as a form of transparency in governance and to encourage them to perform well, it can have drawbacks.  Many people will remember the criticisms made during an election campaign, so that those politicians who are elected to office may have been weakened.

Criticisms might not matter if they were just – but people can be misled ( or swayed by propaganda ( and, as noted below, they can be influenced by ‘fake news’ on the Internet (  The overall effect of undermining opponents can be to diminish people’s confidence in the political system and to reduce the legitimacy of elected governments.