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Posts tagged voter beliefs

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voter deception

How much truth is there in political advertising, and how much do voters take the trouble to find out who they’re voting for?

These questions are raised by an incredible story out of America where a white Republican male won an unwinnable Democrat ‘black’ seat on the Houston Community College Board - by claiming he was black.

Dave Wilson’s mail drop advertising campaign appeared to insinuate he was black to win over voters in a mainly African-America district from the black  incumbent. He lifted images of black people off the internet with the captioned “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.”

Wilson acknowledges he was deceptive, but says: “Every time a politician talks, he’s out there deceiving voters.”

That’s true. If they know what they’re doing, politicians play to voter prejudices. They use words and images that evoke certain ideas and sensations. They promise they will listen to voters, even though they quite naturally have their own agendas.

I think a couple of factors contributed to Wilson’s win;

  1. Name recognition - Wilson is described as a political ‘trouble-maker’ and previous candidate. Studies show that if voters recognise a name, but don’t know the person, they assume the recognition must be for positive reasons.
  2. The incumbent stank - The Houston Community Board has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism for a series of costly decisions. It is entirely probable that voters knew what they were doing when they elected Wilson to replace politicians they disliked.
  3. Connection - Wilson’s flyers exude voter-connection. He doesn’t say he’s black, but he signals that he’s sympathetic with a ‘black’ point of view. Voters picked up those cues and consciously chose a candidate who professed empathy. If Wilson misled them, that is on his conscience, and ultimately his chances of re-election

I doubt the story is quite as simple as media is spinning it, even if Wilson is acknowledging some deception. For example, Wilson was ‘outed’ by subsequent flyers produced by the incumbent. It is not credible that voters could believe one set of flyers, but not another.

Filed under dave wilson houston community college houston local elections black voter beliefs voter deception

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Left-leaning voters know less about policy

A PEW Study says even though voters know the ideology of each political party, they don’t know the policies. And left-leaning voters know the least.

The study (April 2012) found that voters are good at identifying party politics, but much worse at knowing the precise policy positions.

The American study showed 70% of people knew the Republicans were conservative. The majority of them could match party positions on major topics of the day.

Only half to two thirds can correctly name (or guess) policy positions on random issues.

It turns out the Republican voters are substantially better at describing policy positions of any party, than Democratic voters. On some issues, Democrats are up to 30 percentage points worse at correctly stating the position.

Some lessons I draw from these results are:

  1. People identify with ideology of parties, not policies
  2. People infer policy from ideology
  3. Left-leaning citizens are more likely to vote on ideology, not policy.
  4. Party support from left-leaning citizens is less certain because they are less likely to be able to substantiate a decision in their minds by citing policy facts.

I arrive at the last conclusion because psychology research shows that people need a fact (accurate or not, and however it is arrived at) to make judgements. This lack of policy knowledge could well make them less certain about the basis of their decision-making.

Filed under policy voter beliefs voter psychology

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The myth of the dying voters

A twenty year old political truism has being exposed in the saga of what John Key said to John Banks over a cafe table.

The idea is that there is a group of embittered voters over 60 years of age, and that this group is dying out. The concept is not only wrong, it is patronising of the values of many people, and ignorant of what motivates voters.

The myth rose among the political classes over the 1990s. I recall hearing it, as a young press secretary, told as a consoling tale among Labour MPs at the start of that decade. 

This group are said to be embittered by age, and disaffected by a working life that was largely low-income and hit by successive recessions and radical political policies. Political cliques say this group tends to be nationalistic, and haters of the poor and of the rich. The story is that they are like this because they are poorly educated (or not smart) and unworldy (from small towns). Thus, they are regarded as supporters of Winston Peters.

The myth holds that ‘fortunately’ this group is diminishing over time because they are dying. It is repeated by politicians to each other, and by political pundits.

It is a myth because humans are psychologically pre-disposed toward different perspectives on life. Even if supporters of Winston Peters are dying off, supporters of his brand of political and social thinking will remain a feature of society. ‘Conservative’ ideas are not unique to a particular cohort or age bracket.

Some of the simpler expressions of the concept claim that age has embittered this group, but they’re dying out. Well, older people are not dying out - they are increasing in numbers. although older age can generate a very small shift acress the spectrum toward conservatism, the bigger impacts on attitudes are experiences while yery young, and the attitudes of parents.

Those who express the myth are really using it as a way of elevating their own belief set. They are saying that their attitudes are superior to expressions of nationalism, and cynicism toward corporate and financial life.

Politicians who want to believe that these ideas are dying out are very mistaken, and by pretending they don’t exist, are missing out on the votes of a significant cross section of society. 

Filed under political strategy voters political myth older voters retirement ideology voter beliefs voting psychology voter psychology