Just minutes after the final presidential debate on October 22nd, political fact checkers were furiously scrutinizing the candidate’s claims for veracity. Who contradicted a previous statement? Who misrepresented or decontextualised the facts? Who was skating on thin ice, and who was just plain wrong? After all, ‘truth’ and ‘politics’ are two words rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence, and in today’s particularly intense political communications environment, the issue of truth has become a huge part of the national discourse.
As the 2012 presidential election entered the homestretch, Truth Central’s own Laura Simpson unveiled the findings of our Truth About Politics study at Advertising Week on the main stage of The New York Times Center. The presentation took place on October 3rd and was followed by a panel featuring journalists and political commentators Chris Hayes (MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes”), John Avlon (CNN contributor, senior columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast) and Jeremy Peters (political reporter – New York Times). McCann’s Chief Strategy Officer, Daryl Lee moderated the event.
In The Truth About Politics, we discovered the degree to which Americans distrust politicians and the political system as a whole. Sadly, over two-thirds of Americans believe that politicians are less truthful today than they were 20 years ago. Perhaps because the supply of truth in politics is so low, it is a more vital commodity than ever – more than 90% of Americans say that the truthfulness of a candidate will influence their voting decision.
Americans’ sentiments towards brands are not as severe, as only 46% affirm that brands are less truthful than 20 years ago. Still nearly 90% of American consumers say that the truthfulness of a brand or company plays a part in their decision to buy a product or service. As a result, people are beginning to take things into their own hands. Asked who has the most power to change the world today, 41% of Americans said ‘people like me’, ahead of politicians (17%), terrorist organizations (8%) and not-for-profit organizations (6%). The majority of Americans also feel that this tremendous empowerment is a result of technology. We asked Americans which brand they would choose to run government instead of political parties, and their top three choices were Apple, Microsoft and Google.
The panelists echoed the notion that an empowered American public now, more than ever, has the opportunity to usher in change. Commenting on these findings, Hayes said “[There is] this sort of broad based crisis of authority that’s happened in the country in which Americans’ trust in pillar institutions essentially across all categories has declined, and that makes constituting some broad social consensus about anything very difficult.” No wonder then, that people are making full use of more democratic platforms like social networks to discuss the issues that are important to them, subjecting both politicians and the media to the critical scrutiny of a much larger group of people.
As John Avlon said, “I think that is an interesting new evolution that Facebook and Twitter does provide. I think at least up until this point what we’ve seen is people getting their news from the Internet, which has created, I think, a self segregation of news and views that conform to their own political prejudices and biases… I’m hopeful that in the next evolution that social media will necessarily force people to have a broader conversation.”
Of course, the real winners in any election in the marketplace will be brands that facilitate this conversation, and behave truthfully and transparently. Brands that fail to do so will inevitably suffer from a deficit of trust and run the risk of losing portions of its consumer base.
For those of you who’re interested in finding out more about our Truth About Politics study, a recording of the entire session, including the presentation and panel discussion, is available below.