A good example would be a president bringing iron workers onstage at a rally to show that he has the workingman's interests at heart.

Sentence: the workers were the president's ____ in attempt to win over public support.

Sentence: the president used the workers as a ____ to win over public support.

"Uncle tom" comes to mind, but it is too specific and implies fault on the group being used. I would prefer a term describing the appropriation going on.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 22:28

10 Answers 10


A shill is probably the nearest word, although like with Uncle Tom, it is difficult to avoid the connotation that the shills are knowing participants, or at least that in all the circumstances they ought to know.

You can also describe the role of the people involved. You could say they act as window dressing.

"The president used the workers as window dressing to win over public support."

Using this latter device tends to avoid the connotation that the people involved (the window dressing) are at fault.

  • 2
    "Props" serves a similar function. To me, it conveys more of the cynicism of exploiting people that are shortly to be forgotten again until the next election.
    – user888379
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 20:29
  • @user888379, props is a very good word!
    – Steve
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 21:18

I like the word prop.

Prop: something used in creating or enhancing a desired effect

Often it has a negative association because it is generally used like "The President used the iron workers as props"; using frequently means to take advantage of.

  • 1
    But sadly, it doesn't address the person/group a political party aligns themselves with or appearing concerned about the general public. Commented May 29, 2019 at 18:53
  • Maybe, but it fits the examples cited by the OP. It seems to fit the intent of the post, if not the exact words.
    – Cullub
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 18:01

Sentence: the workers were the president's token in attempt to win over public support.

Sentence: the president used the workers as a token to win over public support

token English Oxford Living Dictionaries

  1. a thing serving as a visible or tangible representation of a fact, quality, feeling, etc..

This term contains the inference of appearing to align per the given context without implying fault on the group being used.

  • 1
    Cf. token minority, which has a similar sense. Commented May 28, 2019 at 20:46
  • 3
    Token doesn’t imply the attempt of the President to “use” workers just for his campaign, without any real concern for their fate.
    – user 66974
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 20:54
  • Never say something is to the OED that does not link to oed.com
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 22:26

I've usually heard them referred to as a "Poster Child," a reference to a proverbial propaganda poster.

someone or something that is used to represent a particular quality:

-Cambridge Dictionary online

  • 2
    This is probably has the makings of the best answer here (the rest are so general [or refer to the 'poster children' being pawns etc when they could just be the 1% who are with the Government] they shouldn't be here), but needs a reference or two to show you're not just making it up. Commented May 29, 2019 at 18:56
  • 2
    @EdwinAshworth, what have you been smoking? To describe the workers as the president's "poster children" cannot be more incongruous with the intended meaning here, and it is anything but "the best answer here". A poster child is an exemplar of something - e.g. "a poster child for decadence" - not a pawn in some else's scheme (unless the scheme is the thing being exemplified: "a poster child for dishonesty and blatant public manipulation", which is not the sense intended in the given sentence). You would not say "they were the president's poster children for winning over public support".
    – Steve
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 8:27

The people appearing on stage are the speaker's pawns. Consider the definitions from Merriam-Webster:

1 : one of the chessmen of least value having the power to move only forward ordinarily one square at a time, to capture only diagonally forward, and to be promoted to any piece except a king upon reaching the eighth rank

2 : one that can be used to further the purposes of another

Literally, as in definition one, a pawn is a playing piece from the game of chess, often regarded as having little value but still able to be used strategically by a skilled player. Figuratively, as in definition two, a pawn is not unlike the chess piece, not really important, but able to be used by a shrewd and cunning political player to advance his or her agenda.

  • 1
    While this is true, it is also overly general and does not have any connotation of the specific scenario the OP envisions. Commented May 29, 2019 at 20:25

The term [Catspaw]1 (sometimes written "cat's paw") means a person who is unwittingly used as a tool by another person. It's similar to a pawn, but implies some gullibility on the part of the person being so used. The term supposedly originates from a fable about a monkey who tricks a cat into burning its paws for the monkey's gain.

No Nigel, I shan't be your catspaw in this matter. You must deal with the consequences yourself this time.


The expression smoke and mirrors may apply here:

Something that is described as smoke and mirrors is intended to make you believe that something is being done or is true, when it is not:

  • The new budget isn't smoke and mirrors; it's an honest attempt to reduce the deficit.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • the President used the workers as smoke and mirrors to win over public support.

Two different words, for two difference sentences.

Sentence: the workers were the president's dupes in attempt to win over public support.

From Merriam-Webster: A dupe is "one that is easily deceived or cheated".

Sentence: the president used the workers as props to win over public support.

See the @UnhandledExcepSean answer.

  • 1
    Two different questions, +1. My answers would be lackeys and scaffold. The title is a third question, that only makes sense in the context of the body. Alone, its answer is (every definition of) subservient.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 20:54

A fig leaf (sometimes hyphenated) is something that is used to (figuratively) cover up something that you do not want seen:

something that conceals or camouflages, usually inadequately or dishonestly

So the second sentence would be

The president used the workers as a fig leaf to win over public support.

This is an allusion to the book of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with literal leaves from fig trees. It has come to connote a transparent attempt to distract from one's true motivations, e.g.:

“Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the northwest of Syria?” Hammond told reporters in Rome.

"Britain says Russia trying to carve out mini-state for Assad in Syria", Reuters, 2016-02-02

The austerity agenda has been seized by the Tories as the fig leaf behind which to progressively underfund health and social care, creating today’s crisis.

"Jeremy Hunt is still clinging to his job because he has big plans for April", New Statesman, 2019-02-04


The word "claque" is close to what you want. It is defined bas a group of sycophantic followers, as in "The President was surrounded by a claque of scheming bureaucrats," or an organized body of professional applauders.

  • This implies that the third-party is in on the scheme. For the question's clarification I was looking for terms in which the third-party was innocent/ignorant of the plot. Perhaps my post really is asking for multiple words, as others have suggested.
    – awsunit
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 18:35
  • "Pawns" might be a good word then. Or tokens. "Props" is probably the best. Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 22:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.