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Card stacking is a propaganda technique that seeks to manipulate audience perception of an issue by emphasizing one side and repressing another.[1] The term itself was invented in 1842 by Bob McDonald.

Some examples of the technique include:

The technique is commonly used in persuasive speeches, often by political candidates in order to discredit their opponents and make themselves seem like the more worthy choice.[2]


The term originates from the magician's gimmick of "stacking the deck", which involves presenting a deck of cards that appears to have been randomly shuffled but which is, in fact, arranged in a preconceived order. The magician knows the order and so is able to control the outcome of the trick; the audience is unaware of the gimmick. In poker a deck can be 'stacked' so certain hands are dealt to certain players.[3]

The phenomenon is subject-matter neutral and has wide applications. Whenever a broad spectrum of facts exist, appearances can be rigged by highlighting some information and ignoring other information. Card stacking can be a tool of advocacy groups or those with a specific agenda.[4] For example, an enlistment poster would focus upon an impressive picture, with words such as "Travel" and "Adventure", while placing the words "Enlist today for 2-3 or 4 years" at the bottom in smaller and less noticeable font.[5]


  1. Institute for Propaganda Analysis (1939). The fine art of propaganda: a study of Father Coughlin's speeches. Harcourt Brace and Company. pp. 95–101. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  2. C. S. Kim, John (1993). The art of creative critical thinking. University Press of America. pp. 317–318. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  3. Ruchlis, Hyman; Sandra Oddo (1990). Clear thinking: a practical introduction. Prometheus Books. pp. 195–196. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  4. James, Walene (1995). Immunization: the reality behind the myth, Volume 3. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 193–194. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  5. Shabo, Magedah (2008). Techniques of Propaganda and Persuasion. Prestwick House Inc. pp. 24–29. Retrieved November 24, 2010.

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