Donald Trump image via Business Insider

Politics and the Fear Factor

The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not reflect the Tertangala or the University of Wollongong

The lead up to an election is always interesting, from student elections to ones on a national scale. There are the inspiring speeches and the foot-in-mouth moments – but is there enough discussion about policy?

The 2016 United States Presidential race is well under way, and it means that the candidates have been making speeches, and pushing their agendas for quite some time. Candidates all use different approaches, but the one that seems to be making the biggest appearance this time around is the spreading of fear and alleged solutions.

Why do candidates think that fear mongering is the way to get elected? Do they believe that the electorate is too dumb to understand actual policies?

Whatever the reason, it keeps happening. For instance, in order to create positivity around gun ownership, Republican Candidate Ted Cruz claimed Australia’s gun control laws led to a rise of sexual assault cases going on to say “there’s nothing that criminals and terrorists like more than unarmed victims.”

You can find the audio from Ted Cruz’s radio interview here.

Australian Opposition Bill Shorten hit back at this, writing;

Twenty years after the chilling tragedy of Port Arthur, along with many Australians, I regard gun law reform as John Howard’s finest achievement in office.”

“Contrary to your comments, reducing the number and restricting the availability of semi-automatic weapons did not lead to an increase in the rates of violent crime, rape or sexual assault.”

“Just as importantly, in the two decades that followed these changes, we have not witnessed a single other mass shooting on Australian soil. Not one.”

 “Please do not misrepresent the success of Australia’s gun reforms in a misguided defence of your own gun laws.”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker went through the claims made by Ted Cruz and found that whilst the data indicated that there was in fact an increase in sexual assault between 1996 and 2008 before decreasing again by 2014, there is no indication this relates to the 1996 buyback.

The Washington Post went on to say in their conclusion of the Fact Check on Cruz’s claims that; “The increase likely is affected by the increase in reporting, and there wasn’t prevalent use of handguns for self-defense before 1996, as Cruz suggests. There was no blanket exemption allowing people to use handguns for self-defense prior to 1996, though the explicit prohibition came through the 1996 changes.”

By Ted Cruz essentially saying “taking away guns means more women will be sexually assaulted”, he is playing on the fear that women already have about being attacked. He is saying you’ll be safer with something that can kill people behind your back or in your purse. There is so much wrong with that, like; how about you teach people not to attack others instead of telling people carrying guns is safer?

He isn’t the first Presidential Candidate to prey on people’s fears. Donald Trump insists on playing on the islamophobia card.

In a debate about national security, he explained his plan of keeping Muslims out and building a wall around Mexico.

He said, “We are not talking about isolation, we’re talking about security. We’re not talking about religion, we’re talking about security. Our country is out of control.”

The candidate went on to say; “They’re not coming to this country if I’m president. And if Obama has brought some to this country they are leaving, they’re going, they’re gone.”

How is this acceptable, and more important, why do we allow it? Shouldn’t we demand a higher-level campaign from people that are going to run one of the most influential countries in the world? Shouldn’t we demand it from our own government and party leaders? I mean, when did it become about convincing people that a threat was imminent and that whoever was pushing the idea of this threat was the only hope of salvation?

We should demand more from our candidates. The Newsroom had the right idea with their new debate format – we should put all potential candidates on a witness stand. Why should we accept living in fear? We should demand the facts. Political leaders are supposed to represent the public – so shouldn’t we ensure we ask the right questions to find the person that does?