As it's election time in UK and some other countries as well, we're used to listening to politicians' oratory. During the speeches we often observe how politicians try to win public support by denigrating their opposition or laying blame on them at times even unfairly and unjustly. Is there a word for this tactic? It may not necessarily relate to politics alone.

  • 3
    "Demagogy" or "demagoguery" is a term for appealing to the emotions of the public to gain power. This isn't specific to denigrating one's opponents, though.
    – augurar
    Apr 25, 2015 at 8:42
  • Also, a "polemic" is "a contentious argument that is intended to affirm a specific understanding via attacks on a contrary position".
    – augurar
    Apr 25, 2015 at 8:44
  • @augurar No, I know this term and it wouldn't aptly apply to the given context. Apr 25, 2015 at 8:44
  • 3
    This is typically termed mud-slinging.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 25, 2015 at 12:16
  • 1
    In the United States the standard (and broadest) term for all such tactics is "negative campaigning" or "going negative." The idea is that you focus on the shortcomings of your opponent (whom you cast in an unrelentingly negative light) instead of on your own virtues and accomplishments.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 25, 2015 at 18:44

6 Answers 6


You could say they are using ad hominem arguments, or engaging in ad hominem attacks. It generally means attacking the person rather than their arguments.

(edited after realizing Andy was looking for the word for denigrating, and not just overall lying)

  • How can demagoguery mean denigrating your opposition? Apr 25, 2015 at 8:46
  • I think I might have taken ad hominem if it wasn't for attack on character alone, I didn't imply that in my OP. :) By saying opposition, the entire political party is/maybe in question, not just the leader. I have Ed Miliband, on my mind, casting unjust aspersions on Tories for all the failures in their tenure. :) Apr 25, 2015 at 9:05
  • Ad hominem does not just refer to attacking one's character...check the wikipedia article I linked, and also this link:(fallacyfiles.org/adhomine.html) ...IIIRC there are even more types than listed in either of them.
    – JeffSahol
    Apr 25, 2015 at 9:56

They could be addressing Strawman arguments

This basically means they're deliberately presenting distorted, exaggerated versions of their opponents' arguments that are very easy to tear apart. For instance:

Senator Jones says that we should not fund the attack submarine program.

I disagree entirely. I can't understand why he wants to leave us defenseless like that.

Sound familiar?

  • Yes, thank you, I think this term has the connotations of denigrating, fallacy and even persuasive appealing attached to it. Apr 25, 2015 at 10:56

Depending on the situation, many of these may apply :-)

The Synonym Finder - Page 662 Jerome Irving Rodale - 1978



misrepresentation ... torturing; canard, rumor, hoax, forgery; monstrous lie, the big lie, mendacity, SI. whopper, SI. barefaced lie, SI. dirty lie, SA shameless lie; defamation, scandal, traducement, calumny, calumniation.


You would say that they're scapegoating the opposition.

From Merriam-Webster's, a scapegoat in the figurative sense is:

  1. one that bears the blame for others
  2. one that is the object of irrational hostility

The transitive verb "to scapegoat" means "to make a scapegoat of someone".

  • But is there always some advantage to accrue from scapegoating someone? I don't think so! Apr 25, 2015 at 9:11
  • The advantage of scapegoating is to put the blame on your opponent (that should be placed on other people, or on yourself, or on nobody) so that your opponent is unfairly seen as less worthy to vote for. And that's what politicians who engage in this want to achieve. Apr 25, 2015 at 9:32
  • Right that's assuming someone is guilty and must take the blame, but gets away by putting it on someone else's head. It's more like impunity, where a person who commits the crime and should get punished, doesn't get punished and gets away with it time and again. With impunity, however, we don't have the connotation of getting away by putting the blame on someone's head. Politicians make many a false statement, some are true some aren't. :) So although scapegoating sounds relational in my context, it's not the ideal term to describe it. Apr 25, 2015 at 11:51

Jeff's "ad hominem" phrase is sometimes known – to footballers uncomfortable with Latin, perhaps – as "if you can't get the ball, get the man who's got it".

"Demagoguery" (augurar was first) has to be the market leader here. One could also work in a reference to "bread and circuses" or "panem et circenses" It's in the accusative case because "give'em" is understood as preceding). Though this is not about trashing the oppo.

Shakespeare probably has some good terms for flattering the mob in "Julius Caesar" and "Coriolanus", I suggest you riffle the pages.

I agree that "polemic" is misplaced. It does carry an overtone of being "over the top", though, and the root ("war") reminds me of the "Philippic", or oration calling for national resistance to an outside threat.

Might I also suggest "calumniation" and "scapegoating"? Then you have "black propaganda" against your opponents. When this was done against the Jews in the Middle Ages, we call it "the Blood Libel".


The common term is mudslinging, which is a noun:

the use of insults and accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent.

politicians seem to rely on mud-slinging instead of argument

And a verb:

make malicious or scandalous allegations about an opponent with the aim of damaging their reputation.

it's difficult to see how any parliamentary opposition would voluntarily give up the opportunity to smear and mudsling

It's not specific to politics despite most of Lexico's examples being about politics.

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