This article by Daniel Finkelstein at the Times is political gold. He points out that ‘Pundits and politicians obsess about dividing lines. They are wasting their time. The public are serenely indifferent.’
The money quote:
Politicians and pundits share the idea that people are constantly re-evaluating their position. But not at all. At a few big moments they might pause and think again; the rest of the time they let events float by, or at best reinterpret them to fit with their existing views. In 1997 Tories thought perhaps Robin Cookâ€™s affair would shake Labourâ€™s goody-goody image. Instead focus group respondents just assumed he must be a Tory because he had had an affair.
But out of all this, surprisingly, something heartening emerges. And thatâ€™s where the Queenâ€™s Speech comes in. Because people donâ€™t know, arenâ€™t following and donâ€™t believe politicians and their promises, they can only judge them on one thing. Whether what politicians do works.
Add to this the fact that voters rarely sit there and evaluate policies of each of the parties and make a rational decision at voting time (which is why most of the daily speculation over at Political Betting is a waste of time).
Voters not only pay little attention to politics in the news, they also forget that news very quickly. However they do end up internalising that little bit of emotion (negative or positive) they felt at the time. Over time that builds up and polls shift slowly in a direction. This is why you rarely see big jumps or falls in polls over big news: people rarely pay that much attention. But it also means that if you’re trying to stem a decline in your ratings then you have a much bigger mountain to climb: once people start associating negative emotions with a politician or public figure it’s very hard to shake them off that feeling.
This brings me to the Labour leadership. Labour activists are deluding themselves in thinking they have a chance of winning the election and that the queen’s speech will actually make a difference. It won’t, as Danny Fink points out.
At the Labour party conference I was in a discussion with a Labour MP and three other activists and I said Brown had to go if Labour had any chance of holding on to power.
This was because the public had already characterised him (negatively) in their minds and had turned off from listening to his message. Plus G Brown is an incredibly bad communicator. I said the only hope was to have a quick change of leader, which would make the public sit up and notice for about a month. Within that month the new Labour leader would have to lay out a good agenda for the next term and call for an election (which people would clamour for anyway). But a change of leadership was the only way to make people listen to a new Labour agenda. Right now they’ve internalised the view that re-electing Brown would continue this tired administration and they don’t want it. Which is why the polls have remained static.
My audience disagreed vehemently, obviously. But they disagreed because they thought the public would pay attention or actually cared about changes in policy. They don’t. Messaging and framing is a long slog and takes months, sometimes years, to hammer through the public conciousness. That is if you win the debate on your own term (another problem this govt has – it keeps losing public debates to the Tories).
I also find it amusing that readers think by saying this, on a public blog, somehow that will diminish Labour’s chances even more. They’re not even paying that much attention to the Sun let along PP or LibCon. These spaces are then best served by discussion political strategy in a way that many American blogs do, I think. But that is a different discussion. Right now – that article is a must read for anyone who wants anything to do with politics.
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