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Is there a word, phrase or idiom for an action taken for solely political advantage (although superficially this might be non-obvious)?

Example:

What evidence is there that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was more than a [political action for his advantage, although superficially a poverty reduction programme].

5

You could consider using "political gimmick". "Gimmick" means:

A trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade: 'it is not so much a programme to improve services as a gimmick to gain votes'

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

What evidence is there that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was more than a "political gimmick"?

  • Great word, gimmick. +1. – A.P. Nov 17 '15 at 5:06
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In this context, political maneuver should work:

maneuver: a clever or dishonest action that you do to get something that you want
Mercer won the election thanks to the maneuver of his son-in-law.

(Macmillan English Dictionary)

In your case you could say:

What evidence is there that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was more than a political maneuver?

Another possibility is "political ploy":

Hillary Clinton Ad Calls House Inquiry a Political Ploy

(www.nytimes.com)

2

I' use politics:

  • (used with a sing. or pl. verb) Intrigue or maneuvering within a political unit or a group in order to gain control or power: Partisan politics is often an obstruction to good government. Office politics are often debilitating and counterproductive.'
  • What evidence is there that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was more than partisan politics?

(AHD)

2

Consider political opportunism.

Opportunism (MW):

the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences

Cf. Wikipedia. In your example:

What evidence is there that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was more than mere political opportunism?

2

Cunning political moves are often described as "Machiavellian", especially if there is a significant component of deception, selfishness, and disregard for morality.

1

Others have given good answers in the context of an individual acting for his own benefit.

When it concerns the motives of a nation state, the word realpolitik describes actions that are driven by narrow self-interest rather than wider idealistic motives. The definition of the word as per the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

realpolitik
noun, re·al·po·li·tik often capitalized \rā-ˈäl-ˌpō-li-ˌtēk\
: a system of politics based on a country's situation and its needs rather than on ideas about what is morally right and wrong

Full Definition of REALPOLITIK

: politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical objectives

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You may say:

What evidence is there that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty was more than just empty rhetoric?"

"rhetoric" refers to:

  • the art of making persuasive speeches,
  • the art of influencing thethought and conduct of an audience,
  • the undue use of exaggeration or display.
  • The question specifically asks about political actions, not speech. – 200_success Nov 16 '15 at 18:08
  • 1
    @ 200_success - I assumed that the OP's sentence compared Lyndon Johnson's claim for "War against poverty" to his effective political action. – Graffito Nov 16 '15 at 18:23
  • I think "empty rhetoric" works very well in a sense that it is an empty promise. +1) – user140086 Nov 17 '15 at 5:06
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How about the word "ingratiate" ?

It means to do or say something to gain favor and is often used in political contexts.

The candidate ingratiated his republican constituents by claiming to own a large arsenal of firearms.

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