What is dog whistling?

“Dog whistling”, or “dog whistle politics” is a relatively new term that’s emerged in politics over the past decade or so. It refers to the art of calling up your supporters and getting them riled up by using subtly coded language that appeals to their baser instincts.

I’ve used it recently and it’s riled up some readers who are not sympathetic to EM.

The wikipedia entry on dog whistling is quite interesting and suggests that the tactic and the terminology originated in Australia during the Howard years. The most famous case was the “We’ll decide who comes to this country and under what conditions” speech the then Prime Minister made during the 2001 federal election.

Dog-whistle politics, also known as the use of code words, is a type of political campaigning or speechmaking employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience. The term is usually used pejoratively by those that do not approve of the tactics. According to blogger Ian Welsh,

When you speak in code(…), most of the time the only people who hear and understand what you just said are the intended group, who have an understanding of the world and a use of words that is not shared by the majority of the population.

The term is an analogy to dog whistles built in such a way that humans cannot hear them due to their high frequency, but dogs can. [Wikipedia entry on dog-whistle politics]

(Hat tip to Mr B)

It is a favoured strategem of the cultural warriors too – those public intellectuals who insist on demagogic rhetoric, rather than rational debate.

It has overtones of Cold War imagery too and now sits very well in the Terror Frame – the viewing of all world events, history and politics through the muddied lens of anti-Islamic vilification.

Dog whistling is fundamentally dishonest.

I’ve put this definition up so that you might better understand these posts and the related comment threads.

Peter Lloyd new charges and dog whistling

Brawling with Blair – winding up the dribblejaws

8 Responses to What is dog whistling?

  1. Bemused says:

    Stop acting as though you don’t understand how the blogosphere works. A popular blogger links to a site and – lo and behold! – many readers click through. A few even take the time to comment. Sometimes the person linking the blog in question does so in rebuttal to something posted there. Unsurprisingly, many of the folks who clicked through generally agree with the POV of the blog they arrived from, which means they also may feel like throwing their 2c in if the purpose of the link was to rebut.

    But then, you know all this. You are copping out with this “dog whistle” red herring. You’re simply parading a smokescreen to dodge the perfectly valid – and certainly worthy of discussion – arguments levelled against you.

    Pathetic. Get an act, you hack.

  2. Bemused says:

    PS. you can attempt to obfuscate all you like with your irrelevant whinge about “dog whistling” (not that anyone’s buying it) , however your original declaration of “racist dog whistling” truly shows the full extent of your dissembling.

  3. Here this guy goes, trying to imply that his recent comm enters are racist, simply because they disagree with him.

    How (un)ethical.

    I wonder if this comment gets ethically censored too.

  4. Leon, what are you on? I haven’t censored any comments in this thread or any others. The only comments I don’t post are those that are clearly spam. While your comment makes about as much sense as the spam I delete; here you are.

    I haven’t tried to get away from the criticism, I have addressed it in previous replies.

  5. insider says:


    Problem with the concept of dogwhistling is that we now have people looking for it everywhere and it seems often it is more in the eye of the beholder than the supposed intended audience (look at The Standard for a demonstration of that).

    I think your interpretation of Blair’s article is a case in point. My NZ view of it is that he is kicking ABC for upholding ‘western’ values when usually they either ignore them or provide more exposure to non western (and from our pov lesser values), and the whole misguided concept of ‘fairness’ (which is a general slap at lefties I suspect). He specifically talks about the seeking of advantage as a western value.

    I can see nothing here attacking Singapore or Asians or people’s views about them. It is all about the inconsistency of the ABC and liberals/lefties on values and fairness. If anything, I would have thought the use of the cane would have appealed to the stereotypical right winger. In which case the dog whistle is surely, we need to get tough with crims and emulate the asians.

  6. […] National whistles up support for benefit bashing So the National Party, under millionaire leader John Key, has discovered the underclass. No, they’ve discovered (or rediscovered) the art of the dog whistle. […]

  7. […] the rest of the post describing dog whistling at ethical martini here. This is exactly what we need to say to race baiting dog whistlers. Comments […]

  8. […] to the Eye’s dogwhistle-like mention of the racial origins of the winners this year. Well, life’s too short to […]

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