Greg Barnes: A classical guide to politics and Florida’s gubernatorial debate
By Greg Barnes
October 6, 2014
Any debate is an exercise in the art of persuasion. After all, each candidate is only given a very limited
amount of time to not only make a good impression on the audience, but also answer questions and voice
their opinions on a variety of topics.
As the race for Florida’s future fast approaches, voters have the responsibility to decide who will lead and
represent the fourth largest state in the nation. For many Floridians, the final choice will come down to actually
hearing the candidates speak on the various issues that matter most to the state, such as the economy and job
creation, health care, education and immigration.
In order to better analyze the upcoming Florida gubernatorial debates and make a decision, it would be wise to
examine the basic elements of persuasion that candidates often use. We can find no better guide than the man
who literally wrote the book on persuasion, Aristotle. Aristotle’s principle of Ethos (credibility), Logos (logic) and
Pathos (emotion) can serve as your guide.
A candidate’s credibility, in the mind of the voter, will be a determining factor in the voter’s choice. Credibility has
Competence: Candidates will need to demonstrate they possess the skill set to govern by emphasizing
experience, decision-making and leadership.
Trust: People will rarely vote for someone they don’t trust. Not only should each candidate cite unbiased
information, but their eye contact, posture, facial expressions and overall demeanor influence believability.
Charm: The old sales adage, “People buy from who they like,” applies here. Again, it isn’t always what you say, it
is how you say it. Each must remain calm and relaxed, and draw the audience to them.
Relatability: Any good leader needs to understand those they are leading. The candidate doesn’t need to be all
things to all people but simply show empathy and leave the voter thinking “He gets me.”
The candidates want to use logic to show their policies are justified by reason. To put it simply, ideas must pass
the “smell test.” Concepts like cause/effect, problem/solution and need/satisfaction should be applied to policy.
Given the limited time frame, the candidates need to make complex ideas seem simple.
While many people will tell you they use logic to make decisions, more often than not, they use logic to justify the
decisions they made emotionally. Both candidates will not only try to make a positive emotional connection with
the audience, but create a negative emotional association with their opponent.
While these ideas originated in Greece thousands of years ago, the candidate who masters ethos, logos and pathos
can win a debate in Florida in 2014.
Greg Barnes is a communications professor and the Speech and Debate Coach at Broward College.