The Scary Role of Fear in Politics

In an election year there are a number of things that you can expect: promises,lies, aspirations, grand narratives, ho-hum narratives, pork-barreling, lies, lots of baby holding and frenetic campaigning, just to name a handful of things. But there is at least one other thing that is always present during election campaigns, and it’s a four letter word beginning with ‘f’. No it’s not that naughty word your parents told you never to say and then went ahead and used it themselves countless times. The word is fear and it will play a central role in the 6-10 months ahead.

But it would be naive to think that fear is simply a feature, perhaps even a creature born of elections. It’s not. Fear is an ever-present and mostly unfortunate reality when it comes to politics. It’s there, present almost daily in the political discourse in one form or another. And it will remain a major feature of politics, even if a slightly obscured one at times.

If there is anything of which fear is a creature, other than elections, it’s power. The overwhelming hunger for power has the ability to make politicians do a number of things and that includes creating and manufacturing fear. Fear is an all-powerful thing in politics. It can shift votes. Fear can sometimes mean the difference between taking government and staying in opposition or between staying in power and relinquishing the government benches.

The way fear is used during election campaigns is much the same as when it is taken advantage of in day-to-day politics. First and foremost, politicians want you to fear the opposition. So there is a relentless campaign from left and right to scare the pants off you, the undecided voter, because, well, clearly the rusted on supporters of a party are not going to be willingly sucked into believing the other side’s nonsense.  And this is often done by political leaders asking you, attempting to persuade you, by cajoling you into to fearing the future under their political enemies.

There are also politicians, unfortunately, who want you to fear others – to fear the outsider. Interestingly though, most politicians will not illuminate that fear, will not advertise their attempts at this kind of fear-mongering to the world in black and white for all to see. Instead they will subtly prompt you in a slightly tangental way.

In one way or another, in 2013 we will be asked to, or it will be subtly suggested, that we need to fear where jobs and the economy are headed and what the other side of politics might well do to jobs and the economy. And we will be asked to fear other factors external to Australia. For instance, we might be prompted with such loaded phrases as “peaceful invasion”.

As a voting public, we really should know that our politicians are trying to appeal to human emotions. We should be able to realise when we are being fed fact and when we are being force-fed fear. Some of us do know and we go along with that fear. Some of us illuminate the fact that we are at different but often regular points in the electoral cycle, being subjected to scare campaigns. And there are some of us who are just plain naive and like to think the best of everyone, even politicians engaged in a game of power.

The good news is that fear, even subtle attempts to imbue it in us, can be countered with facts. This requires heightened political engagement and a little research.

Above all else, know that even when you think you are not being played, you may well have actually fallen into the trap of believing something that falls into the category of fear.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on January 24, 2013, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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