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Why Joni Ernst's Credibility Is Out of Loop

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When politicians claim to hold two contradictory positions at once, electorates should be on their guard. One of those positions has got to be false.

Newly selected Republican senate nominee for Iowa, Joni Ernst, is having just such a problem.

Recent Ernst statements have affirmed her belief that marriage equality is a matter for the states to decide, and also that she supports a federal same-sex marriage ban. The two positions are contradictory.

On the one hand Ernst says that each state should decide their marriage position for themselves, but on the other hand Ernst also claims that the federal government should step-in to override them.

In trying to play both sides of this argument, Ernst has triggered a communications snafu in something called the Ethos-Logos Loop, which is the drive-belt of your political credibility.

Politicians must address two fundamental elements if they hope to be believed. The first is Ethos, and that is "Believe that I'm honest. Believe that I'm sincere." The second is Logos, which is "Believe in my logic."

When these two elements are working in harmony, they create the Ethos-Logos Loop. If people believe that you are honest, then they become more inclined to believe your logic. If people can see your logic, then they are more inclined to believe that you are honest. These two elements of ethos and logos then power away, driving each other.

Ernst's two contradictory positions, come election time, could and should throw a wrench into that mechanism though. The contradiction means that in at least one of her statements, she is not sincere, and her ethos must therefore be doubted. Unless of course, she does sincerely believe in both positions, in which case her logos is shot.

Either way, it doesn't look good for either her credibility or believability.

It's fine to hold an opinion, and then evolve out of it, as the President himself did with marriage equality, and perhaps that is what Ms. Ernst has done. Perhaps she no longer believes in a federal marriage-ban and just hasn't expressly made that clear.

If this is the case though, it's important for her to acknowledge that point and not give the appearance, intentionally or otherwise, that she holds two different views depending on which audience she's seeking to influence.

It's OK to change your mind, but a bad idea to attempt it on the quiet.

Peter Watts is a communications coach and analyst. His weekly blog of ideas and tips for presenters can be found at www.speak2all.wordpress.com