What Is Political Rhetoric?

Lee Johnson

Political rhetoric is essentially classical rhetoric applied to a modern political situation. The basics of rhetoric — logos, pathos, and ethos — all apply to contemporary political discussion, and specific rhetorical devices are employed to increase the effect. For example, politicians frequently make use of anaphora, which is a form of repetition whereby consecutive sentences begin with the same word or phrase. Politicians also use other techniques in political rhetoric, such as confusion, diversion, association, omission, and composition. These techniques are all employed in speeches and public statements to win the favor of the listening audience.

Politicians often appeal to the emotions of voters in speeches.
Politicians often appeal to the emotions of voters in speeches.

Basic rhetoric can be effectively applied to political debates, and this is the basis of political rhetoric. The three main aspects of classical rhetoric are logos, ethos, and pathos, or logic, image, and emotional appeal. Politicians manipulate their image to create a more trustworthy, righteous, and intelligent version of themselves, which is presented to the public. Logic is used to create valid arguments, and can also be a valuable technique to point out flaws with the opposition’s arguments. Appeal to emotion is used frequently in speeches, and emotionally charged words can be used to incite a certain reaction from an audience.

Politicians are known for manipulating their image to create a more trustworthy version of themselves.
Politicians are known for manipulating their image to create a more trustworthy version of themselves.

Different rhetorical techniques are often applied by politicians, and these are designed to encourage the audience to agree with their points. Diversion is one technique often used in political rhetoric, and this can be applied in a variety of different ways. For example, a politician may shift the focus away from problems with his or her own policies to issues with an opponent’s policies. Attacking another politician’s personality or solution to a problem diverts attention away from the inherent flaws in the speaker’s argument.

Repetition is a powerful technique often used in political rhetoric. Slogans are a simple example of the use of repetition in politics, which ingrains important and usually crowd-pleasing policies into the listeners’ minds. Aside from the use of slogans, politicians also frequently make use of techniques such as anaphora, which is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive sentences. Repetition can create a sense of familiarity, which people generally react positively to.

Many other techniques are used in political rhetoric, and these are all designed to make the audience accept or agree with what is being said. This agreement is often a result of a politician's trustworthy image and frequent emotional appeals. Politicians often shroud their message in jargon to avoid betraying logical inconsistencies and create associations between unrelated things in order to produce an effect. Somebody may say, for example, that a politician cannot be trusted because his father used to be a member of the Nazi party. While this may seem bad, the political allegiances of the politician’s father doesn’t necessarily have any baring whatsoever on his or hers.

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Discussion Comments


@talentryto- I agree with you, because many voters take politicians at face value. We all need to learn to listen closer, and explore the issues more thoroughly before voting.


Though it is difficult to filter out political rhetoric, as voters we must learn how to do this. The truth is often hidden behind a lot of fast talk, though many voters don't realize this until after an election is over.

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