When it comes to motivating the masses to take action, sometimes straight facts aren't enough. People who hear a frightening statistic or an alarming fact often take that information at face value and act out of fear. This is the purpose of using "scare tactics," manipulative words or actions that create a sense of fear or shock in the recipients. These fears, rational or irrational as they may be, are often enough to force people into making uninformed decisions or taking rash actions. Pointing out the worst case scenario or associating an issue with a much greater threat are tactics commonly used by leaders to gain popular support for military actions or other controversial decisions.
Scare tactics do not have to reach the level of verbal terrorism in order to be effective, however. Sometimes, the mere mention of a disastrous alternative may be enough to manipulate others into a certain way of thinking. Successful tactics must instill a true sense of fear or else they may be seen as weak attempts to sway public opinion. This is why many verbal statements are often backed up by more tangible evidence, such as grisly photographs, personal testimonies and displays of force. Hanging a noose over a voting booth, for example, would be an extreme example designed to discourage free elections.
In world politics, scare tactics are quite common since it is generally difficult for one dictator to keep dissidents under control without the threat of violence, real or perceived. As long as the population believes that tactics such as secret police squads, shutdowns of free presses, political arrests and summary executions are real, organized rebellions become a rarity. The key word in the term is "scare" — it doesn't matter if most of the stories of political reprisals are apocryphal or mere rumors, as long as they instill a real sense of fear in the populace.
Most scare tactics are not meant to cause widespread harm or damage, but to play on the recipient's innate sense of security. Many professional athletes use them to keep their opponents off-balance, such as a pitcher intentionally throwing a ball close to the batter or a race car driver tapping another car for intimidation purposes. These tactics often keep an opponent from becoming too comfortable or too confident. While the use of most is seen as unfair or unethical, the advantage they can provide can be significant. Many scare tactics are designed to stay within the bounds of the law, but still inflict maximum psychological pressure on the intended audience.