Political Business

Lessons on political strategy

Posts tagged voters

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The worm works

The ‘worm’ is to return to the NZ election campaign this year, giving insight to reactions as people hear from politicians.

The technique shows voter reactions to political messages as a graphical line wriggling on a positive to negative axis.

It is derided by people who think they arrived at their own prejudices after long intellectual consideration, and don’t appreciate the suggestion that people process information instantly. 

The worm is fascinating because it reveals the ‘success’ of a political message as the audience receives it. This is the point at which all of us measure a message for its relevance to us, its usefulness, and the extent to which is confirms or confounds patterns of experience, or our existing bias and outlook on life.

This is the point at which a message is measured by the brain for rejection or storage. Strong positive or negative reactions also indicate an emotional response to the message, ensuring it is retained. Mild responses indicate assent or rejection, but without much chance of retention.

Political messages ought to be measured as they are received - because that is when people decide what to do with them.

Opponents of the worm make the mistake of thinking this reaction is shallow. But humans are better scientists that most pundits credit. Chemical-electric signals race around the brain at around 358 meters per second processing incoming information against the existing database. Within this time, the brain is arriving at decisions based not just on neurological processing, but psychological processing as well. That is, not just fact-based, but emotionally-based.

The decision-making is sub-conscious, but we are conscious of the results; thus we cheer or jeer at the politician or their message. The worm effectively measures that conscious expression.

There is much more to our scientific processing of information than this instant reaction. We constantly test our hypothesis about people and life and it evolves. But the worm never claims to measure this, and ignoring it out of misguided intellectual snobbery means you miss the most important moments in voters’ decision making. 

Being aware of an experiment effects the result, so participants are likely to over-react (and mechanisms for measuring can lead to bias). So I discount the highs and lows of the worm by about 25%. But the trend is still present, observable and valuable.

Pundits can dismiss instant reaction measurements if they like, but politicians do so at their peril: because getting past voters’ first millisecond processing barrier is the key to success.

Filed under worm polling campaign elections measurement political psychology voters

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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