Negations and Reversals in Persuasion, Or, Team Trump’s Tweet Trip-up

Today, Donald Trump’s official Twitter account posted the following tweet.

Let’s unpack the persuasion in this tweet from the perspective of associations and negations (I’ll talk about the final leading question in a moment).

First, the negations and reversals. The mind processes negations by understanding the core un-negated idea first, and then negating it. Take the example, “The dog isn’t running.” You have to think of a dog running first, before you can negate it. (I thought of a dog running, and then it abruptly stopped and just sat there.)

So, looking at it that way, “tax cut” is processed as “not tax” and “end the big tax cuts” is processed as “not (not tax).” “Raise taxes” is processed as “tax” because it has no negation. So now we have:

with Nancy Pelosi wanting to not (not tax) and tax

It takes the mind a moment to sort that out.

Now let’s consider the associations. The first sentence qualifies his audience to Republicans, so let’s take that position for this exercise. Assuming they (we) have bad/negative associations to tax and to Nancy Pelosi, and good/positive associations to the rest – energy, excitement, winning, and a strong economy – the associations go like this:

Good. Good, and good. Good, and with bad wanting to not (not bad) and bad, why wouldn’t we win?

Wait, what?

The shift from good associations to bad associations is jarring, as is the shift from easily processed ideas to a complicated thing to sort out. That also muddles the pre-suasion / context for the final question.

Now, if the associations (i.e. emotional pre-suasion) up to this point had been super clear and unambiguous, the “why wouldn’t we win?” question might have been ok because it would be emotionally obvious that he meant it rhetorically. Consider this set of associations:

Good. Good, and good. Good, and with good, why wouldn’t we win?

The context is better.

That ending question is still not a great idea though, because questions demand answers and he probably didn’t want people thinking of reasons why he wouldn’t win.

The tweet is still effective overall, but the way it was structured with complicated negations and confused associations reduced its effectiveness.

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