In the lead up to the 2016 mayoral election, Politics students would have been aware of the controversy surrounding Zac Goldsmith’s campaign strategy.

Goldsmith’s recourse to words like “radical” and “divisive” in descriptions of Muslim opponent, Sadiq Khan, has been argued by some to be a form of dog-whistling tactics – the signature playbook of Australian strategist, Lynton Crosby, who is most notably remembered for his involvement in both the 2005 and 2015 UK general election.

The term ‘dog-whistling’ is an analogy that draws on the distinction between the supreme aural faculties of a dog, capable of detecting high-frequency whistles, and the inferior hearing of humans, to whom these sounds often remain inaudible. It refers to a deceptive form of political campaigning that utilises coded language calculated to have one meaning to the general population and another, more specific resonance to a targeted subgroup.

PPE students should consider how dog-whistling political tactics have played out throughout History, particularly in light of the recent rise of European far-right parties. Geography students should also think on the differences in political tactics by country or polity; for example, how the norms of political discourse in the USA differ greatly from the UK despite many other political similarities.

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