Sunday, January 24, 2010

The remergence of "dog whistle" politics

In his Australia Day speech to the Australia Day Council Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has embraced the dog whistling strategy of John Howard, his political mentor, by appealing to the racist leanings of voters.

Howard was the master of "dog whistle politics" and built a number of election victories upon appeals to racially charged Australian nationalism. Abbott's speech to the Australia Day Council is a perfect example of the style of political talk that has come to be known as "dog whistling".

Dog whistling is a form of political speech that uses particular words, phrases and ideas to appeal to conscious and unconscious racist concepts and attitudes in targeted population groups. Politicians use certain words and phrases to send a sharp message which, like a dog whistle that is inaudible to humans, is heard primarily by the people at which it is aimed.

Abbott's speech is littered with phrases and ideas such as "ethnic gangs", "ethnic street crime" " lack of respect for Australian values" "illegal immigrants", "people smugglers", "borders under threat", "queue jumpers", "tough border protection". These phrases activate and engage racial stereotypes, prejudices and imagined fears in voters. In his speech Tony Abbott avoids any overtly racist terminology, often criticizing and disowning the prejudice and racist attitudes that he seeks to connect with and engage.

Here is the skill of politicians like Tony Abbott who deploy dog whistling politics- plausible deniability. They have the ability to appear reasonable and balanced and deny or deflect criticism from those critical of the prejudice and racism to which they are covertly appealing.


P Blumenthal said...

"racist leanings of voters."

Can you explain this? Why shouldn't people be concerned if groups are overrepresented in crime? Do you consider that Japanese wouldn't notice if europeans moved their and had higher crime rates than the locals?

The reality is that groups do differ in crime rates. Chinese commit less crime than whites in all the countries where they live side by side.

The reality is that groups differ in terms of testosterone levels, MAO-A variants and intelligence, all factors which mediate environmental factors on crime.

It would be negligent not to notice this and apply more stringent skill based criteria to high crime populations.

Colin Penter said...

P.Blumenthal, many thanks for your interest in my blog and for contributing your comments. The piece was not about the incidence of crime in particular ethnic or racial groups. I was writing about the use and deployment of racial and ethnic stereotypes by politicians in this country (Australia) to increase their electoral appeal In this country we have a long and tawdry history of politicians using racial and ethnic stereotypes to justify particular policies or appeal to particular voters.