Propaganda Techniques

Politicians have used propaganda techniques to manipulate public opinion for centuries, often without people realising that it is happening

In his book Propaganda, Bernays defined it as the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses”.  People don’t always realise that they are being manipulated; they can be persuaded to support people and policies that are not necessarily working in their best interests.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis paper, Propaganda Techniques, describes several ways of exerting influence – including making false connections, being selective about the truth and creating fear.  For example, President Putin is controlling Russian public opinion with outrageous falsehoods, as described in the article What TV is telling Russians – and why they believe it.

One of the most effective propaganda techniques is the endless repetition of snappy slogans.  For example, the slogan “take back control” was effective in the campaign to persuade Britain to leave the EU in a ‘Brexit’; It was incorporated in the Vote Leave campaign website identity.  Slogans were extensively used in the 2016 American presidential election, for example in the Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Rally in Sarasota, Florida: “make America great again”, “drain the swamp”, “build a great wall” and “crooked Hillary Clinton”.  These slogans have to be endlessly repeated, for maximum effect, but they risk trivialising political debate – as pointed out in a Guardian article: ‘Strong and stable leadership!’ Could Theresa May’s rhetorical carpet-bombing backfire?.

Politicians can use any of these techniques, and they can personally use the Internet to continuously reinforce their messages – with a stream of tweets, for example (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6424.htm.