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Demonstration elections are "free elections" as a tool of public relations.
- Elections have been used by the United States as an instrument of management in Third World client states since the turn of the century. The functions which they have served, however, have changed in accordance with the shifting demands placed upon the managers. The aim in holding such elections has always been to ensure 'stability'. In the first half of this century the threat to stability came almost exclusively from within the client states, which were subject to internal turmoil and thus threatened with a loss of 'independence.' In recent decades, serious challenges have arisen from within the United States itself. It is this shift in functional need that has led to the emergence of elections oriented to influencing the home (U.S.) population, which we designate 'demonstration elections.'
- — Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead, Demonstration Elections: U.S.-staged elections in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador, South End Press, 1984, p. 1.
- A demonstration election depends largely on the cooperation of the mainstream media. The patriotic media's role is to include in its reporting certain information or visuals while excluding others. For example, off the media agenda are discussions of the right of government opponents to campaign (without being killed); the absence of large-scale financing of favored candidates by foreign governments or patrons; the presence of meaningful freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly; the ability of voters to cast their ballots freely and safely without intimidation by domestic or foreign military forces or "death squads"; the existence of a truly secret ballot; an honest counting of the ballots; and the assurance that the person who gets the most votes will win the election. On the agenda for a patriotic mass media are primarily election-day items: a large turnout (indicating voter support for the election itself and thus identifying the election with "democracy"); statements by political leaders and "ordinary people" that they are voting because they want freedom; and ineffective opposition to the election, perhaps even military attacks, by opponents of the government. (In an election that the United States opposes, such as the Nicaragua election in 1984, the media's priorities are reversed: on the agenda is the question of the pre-requisites of democracy; meaningless and thus off the agenda are the election-day events, the long lines of voters, etc.)
— Frank Brodhead, Reframing the Iraq Election, Znet, January 21, 2005.