Skip to Content

Red Meat

“Red meat” is a term used in politics to refer to statements or policies that are designed to appeal to a political party’s base or to generate a strong emotional response from voters.

These statements or policies often involve controversial or divisive issues, such as immigration or gun control, and are meant to stir up strong feelings among supporters.

Red meat is often seen as a way for politicians to energize their base and rally support for their campaign or agenda.

It’s often associated with right-wing populist campaigns. Things that get crowds riled up and angry — such as Donald Trump’s “Lock Her Up” chants during the 2016 presidential election — are good examples of red meat.

Origin of “Red Meat”

The phrase was first seen in 1911 in the movie industry, describing movies that were sensationalized. It shifted into a political term in the 1940s.

A quote from the Baltimore Sun shows one of its first uses:

Most of the audiences… were looking for red meat in Dewey’s carefully reasoned discussions of world affairs. Since he disdained mudslinging they seized upon his withering treatment of bureaucracy and governmental incompetence as a satisfactory substitute.

A wedge issue

It can also be used to attack an opponent or to draw attention to a particular issue or serve as a wedge issue.

However, red meat can also be controversial and divisive, as it often involves stoking fear or resentment among voters.

This can lead to negative consequences, such as increasing polarization and worsening political discourse.

Red meat is often associated with political campaigning, but it can also be used by politicians in office to push for particular policies or to score political points.

It can be seen as a way for politicians to appeal to the more extreme elements of their party, rather than trying to build consensus or find common ground with opponents.

Red meat is often used by politicians in the form of speeches or campaign ads, where they can use strong language and rhetoric to stir up emotions among supporters. It can also take the form of policy proposals or legislation that is designed to appeal to a party’s base, even if it is unlikely to pass or be implemented.

More on “Red Meat”

Presidential elections are thought to be won in the middle, through independent voters in key swing states. But they wouldn’t matter except for the solid base of support each party begins with.

Playing to the base by candidates involves a rather cynical view of the electorate as a pack of slavering dogs. You offer “red-meat” rhetoric to keep them satiated. (William Safire notes that Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, in 1970 regularly asked his speechwriters: “Got some red meat in this to stir ’em up?”) For Republican candidates, this means emphasizing so-called hot button issues like abortion and gay marriage. Democrats, con-versely, are often forced to turn to arguments of class warfareand social justice, both animating issues for their base voters.

Arizona senator John McCain learned in October 2008 what can happen when the base is denied its protein. Appearing at a Minnesota rally, McCain tried to reshape the perception of himself as angry and impulsive, describing his presidential rival Barack Obama as a “decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The audience booed.

What does the cattle industry think of the term in a political context? Dan Murphy, a former vice president of the American Meat Institute and frequent media commentator on agriculture-related subjects, raised the question in a 2012 commentary and concluded: “As P. T. Barnum supposedly said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ And as long as ‘red meat’ stands for some-thing powerful, substantive and well, meaty, that ain’t bad.”

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Red Meat” in a sentence

  • The candidate’s speech was filled with red meat, as she attacked her opponent on hot-button issues to rally her supporters.
  • The politician’s proposal to build a wall along the southern border was pure red meat, designed to appeal to his party’s base.
  • Critics accused the politician of using red meat tactics to distract from the real issues and to divide the country.