chapter  13
14 Pages

Persuasion as Social Interaction

Of course, losing or winning an election is a complexly determined outcome. Yet, none of the many factors that may affect the outcome will matter much if a candidate lacks motivation to seek voters’ support or the ability to do so. Motivation to inuence and the ability to generate persuasive arguments are conditions sine qua non for persuasion to occur. What determines them? In this chapter, I will explore the possible social origins of persuasive motivation and persuasive efcacy. Specically, I will focus on the role of social support in sustaining motivation and ability to persuade. As McCain’s example illustrates, a persuader’s motivation to inuence may survive a decrease in social support. Persuasive efcacy, however, appears to be more sensitive to the uctuations in social support. With his numbers declining, McCain’s persuasiveness eroded to the point where many wondered what had happened to “the old” McCain. Interestingly, during the same period, his opponent’s persuasiveness was on the upward trajectory. As social support

for Barack Obama surged, his message became increasingly convincing, even to those who did not count themselves among his admirers. The parallel between the persuasiveness trajectory and the support trajectory is intriguing. The traditional persuasion paradigm would suggest that changes in persuasiveness likely brought about changes in social support. Yet, the opposite might have been just as true. If indeed changes in social support shaped the strength of their messages, political candidates were transformed from agents of inuence to targets of inuence.