Elements of Political Communication: General guidelines – Accuracy

Your organization or campaign publishes thousands of words, both printed and spoken. Without an accurate message, careful audiences can judge you as careless, apathetic, or worst of all, ignorant. Candidates and organizations must carefully consider the consequences of every element of the messages they create. Therefore, be truthful and correct. In most cases, you are not expected to cite your sources, but you should be certain your information is clear and correct before you publish it. Otherwise, audiences may question the validity of your entire piece.[1]

A man in a dark suit and tie speaks to sailors on an aircraft carrier. A sign in the background reads "Mission Accomplished"
Every element of a political message must be accurate.

Some research has indicated that the reliability of sources has little effect on a reader's long-term acceptance or rejection of a position;[2] however, the general trend of research over the past five decades indicates that highly credible sources are far more effective in terms of changing an audience's attitude or behavior.[3] Since incorrect assertions are more easily republished (and fact-checked) in today's media environment, you should err on the side of caution when citing specific information. Quoting advocacy groups’ studies or polls does little to help your argument. No group is universally accepted as a definitive source, so consider the cost–benefit ratio of using the findings before you include them. If you quote an authority, know the person's views and speciality intimately. Avoid referencing trendy intellectuals; name dropping of this kind will turn off a portion of your audience.


Which of these quoted studies is likely to be the most persuasive?
A: According to the American Moralistic Society, 69 percent of Americans believe that our moral values are getting worse.
B: According to a poll conducted on example.com, 69 percent of Americans believe that our moral values are getting worse.
C: According to the annual Gallup Values and Beliefs Poll from May 2011, 69 percent of Americans believe that our moral values are getting worse.
D: Almost 70 percent of Americans believe that our moral values are getting worse.
Answer: C. Source:[4] Regardless if the information is correct or not, critical readers will immediately be turned off by the partisan nature nature of the first source and the informal nature of the second (regardless of the site). Find a study from a reputable group instead.

Which is the most appropriate use of a quote?
A: Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that "there is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness."[5] He was right.
B: Shakespeare once wrote that "love was lost in the winter air/lo, it strideth from here to there."[6] He was right.
C: Ray Bradbury once wrote that "We know what we love, we are what we love."[7] He was right.
D: Pat Benetar once sang that "love is a battlefield". She was right.
Answer: D. Though the quote from Nietzche is accurate and correctly attributed, Nietzsche is not regarded as an authority on love, given his personal history. Quoting an inappropriate authority, even correctly, can demean your own cause. Although Shakespeare could be considered authority on the subject of love, the quote here is completely fabricated, as often happens with famous figures. Using quotes from authoritative subjects is very risky; before using a quote, ensure that the person actually said it. Bradbury did write something to the effect of the third quote in Something Wicked This Way Comes, but some words here have been switched, altering the intended meaning entirely. Pat Benetar's quote, although taken from pop culture, is accurate, effective, and pertinent to the subject at hand. Using an easily relatable example should not be beneath you. Appeal directly to your audience members, whomever they may be.

Which of these statements is the most accurate?
A: Sarah Palin quit her job as governor because of ethics violations and her association with the felon Ted Stevens.
B: Sarah Palin quit her job as governor amid a series of ethics investigations.
C: Sarah Palin quit her job as governor to stymie the partisan, trumped-up charges against her.
D: Sarah Palin quit her job as governor for mysterious reasons.
Answer: B. Though Palin did quit during a series of ethics investigations, it is unclear whether this was her primary motivation for leaving office. Ted Stevens may have been convicted of a felony, but a judge has since overturned his conviction and thus he should not be referred to as a felon.[8] The third example goes to the other extreme, making assumptions about the motives that can't be proven. The final choice hints at the possibility of a correlation, but the vague language feels stilted.