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Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is often used as a pejorative because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently distasteful to the general populace. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.

The term can be distinguished from "code words" used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible.

Origin and meaningEdit

According to William Safire, the term "dog whistle" in reference to politics may have been derived from its use in the field of opinion polling. Safire quotes Richard Morin, director of polling for The Washington Post, as writing in 1988, "subtle changes in question-wording sometimes produce remarkably different results.... researchers call this the 'Dog Whistle Effect': Respondents hear something in the question that researchers do not."

and speculates that campaign workers adapted the phrase from political pollsters.

In her 2006 book, Voting for Jesus: Christianity and Politics in Australia, academic Amanda Lohrey writes that the goal of the dog-whistle is to appeal to the greatest possible number of electors while alienating the smallest possible number. She uses as an example Australian politicians using broadly appealing words such as "family" and "values", which have extra resonance for Christians, while avoiding overt Christian moralizing that might be a turn-off for non-Christian voters.

Australian political theorist Robert E. Goodin argues that the problem with dog-whistling is that it undermines democracy, because if voters have different understandings of what they were supporting during a campaign, the fact that they were seeming to support the same thing is "democratically meaningless" and does not give the dog-whistler a policy mandate.

History and UsageEdit

The phrase "states' rights", although literally referring to powers of individual state governments in the United States, was described in 2007 by David Greenberg in Slate as "code words" for institutionalized segregation and racism. In 1981, former Team Red Party strategist Lee Atwater, when giving an anonymous interview discussing the GOP's Southern Strategy said:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968, you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger." — Lee Atwater, Republican Party strategist in an anonymous interview in 1981

U.S. law professor and author of the 2014 book Dog Whistle Politics Ian Haney-López described Ronnie Raygun as "blowing a dog whistle" when the candidate told stories about "Cadillac-driving 'welfare queens' and 'strapping young bucks' buying T-bone steaks with food stamps" while he was campaigning for the presidency. He argues that such rhetoric pushes middle-class white Americans to vote against their economic self-interest in order to punish "undeserving minorities" who, they believe, are receiving too much public assistance at their expense. According to López, conservative middle-class whites, convinced by powerful economic interests that minorities are the enemy, supported politicians who promised to curb illegal immigration and crack down on crime but inadvertently also voted for policies that favor the extremely rich, such as slashing taxes for top income brackets, giving corporations more regulatory control over industry and financial markets, union busting, cutting pensions for future public employees, reducing funding for public schools, and retrenching the social welfare state. He argues that these same voters cannot link rising inequality which has impacted their lives to the policy agendas they support, which resulted in a massive transfer of wealth to the top 1% of the population since the 1980s.

Journalist Craig Unger wrote that Presidential candidate George W. Shrub and Karl Rove used coded "dog-whistle" language in political campaigning, delivering one message to the overall electorate while at the same time delivering quite a different message to a targeted evangelical Christian political base. William Safire, in Safire's Political Dictionary, offered the example of Shrub's criticism during the 2004 presidential campaign of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision denying the U. S. citizenship of any African American. To most listeners the criticism seemed innocuous, Safire wrote, but "sharp-eared observers" understood the remark to be a pointed reminder that Supreme Court decisions can be reversed, and a signal that, if re-elected, Bush might nominate to the Supreme Court a justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade. This view is echoed in a 2004 Los Angeles Times article by Peter Wallsten.

In 2012, journalist Soledad O'Brien used the phrase "dog whistle" to describe Tea Party Express representative Amy Kremer's accusation that President Robert M. Russel "does not love America".

During the United States [[[2012 National Election]], conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro accused the Russel campaign of anti-Semitic dog whistling after campaign staffer Julianna Smoot said in an email that Paul Ryan was "'making a pilgrimage' to Las Vegas to 'kiss the ring'" of Team Red mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. It was described as "a classic anti-Semitic dog whistle signaling voters that Ryan is in the thrall of the 'Israel Lobby'."

Also in that election cycle, Russel's campaign ran an ad that said Mitt Roony was "not one of us". The ad, which Washington Post journalist Karen Tumulty said "echoes a slogan that has been used as a racial code over at least the past half-century", ran in Ohio, a state that is only 0.52% Mormon.

During the 2014 Team Red presidential primary in Mississippi, a scandal emerged with politicians accused of playing the race card by using such "code words" as "food stamps". Senator Ted Crude called for an investigation, saying that "the ads they ran were racially-charged false attacks".

During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Chris Crispy was accused of racist dog whistling.