Repetition is Powerful

With the 2016 presidential election just behind us, let’s take a closer look at how Donald Trump was able to win the hearts and minds of half of the country. Here is a well-known excerpt from his presidential bid announcement on June 16, 2015.

Pay close attention to how he repeats key words and phrases.

How does Donald Trump persuade his audience?

One of the primary ways in which Trump persuades his audience is through repetition. Repetition is a persuasive technique often used by politicians, journalists, and advertisers – but why is it so effective?

According to several psychological studies, repeating simple words and phrases can convince us that they are true, even if they aren’t. This is partly because we tend to take repetition as a social cue; when we hear something more than once, we are inclined to accept it as true because we think that the rest of the group might also believe it. In addition, we are more likely to believe ideas that come easily to us; therefore, the more familiar we become with words and ideas, the more we will take them to be true.[1]

However, this is only accurate to a certain extent. Psychologists also found that the optimal number of times something should be repeated to maintain its effectiveness is between three and five; beyond this range, repetition can actually have the opposite effect. More importantly, studies show that using repetition as a persuasive tactic is most powerful when the audience is not paying close attention. This means that attentive listeners are less likely to be swayed by weak arguments just because they are being repeated.[1]

Here's a transcript of the speech you just watched.

Read through it and click on the key words and phrases that Trump repeated to highlight them. As you read, think critically about his repeated claims – are they strong or weak?
When you’re done, click “Check!” to see if you were able to find them all.

Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time.

When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.

When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.

Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.

It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably— probably— from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.

Where else is repetition used as a persuasive technique?

Think about other politicians who have repeated their claims to make them appear stronger.
Were their ideas actually valid or did they only seem valid because they were repeated?