Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Media Mix Remains Key: but we may be on the cusp of the digital era

Some very interesting findings have emerged from a survey conducted by SS&K and Advertising Age of 1,997 New Hampshire voters reveals firstly that no media is dominant for voters seeking information on which to base their choice. 56% saw TV ads from the candidates, 51% watched TV debates and/or news analysis of the debates, 40% saw the candidates on talk shows or other TV appearances and 47% said they read articles or newspapers featuring a candidate. The researchers note that New Hampshire has the most involved voters who take the primaries seriously, but that there are indications that online communication is reaching a significant level of voters.

While most prominent among under 30s voters, 40% of adults visited a candidate's home page on the web (52% of under 30s), 26% of all respondents regardless of age visited a candidate's profile on a social-networking site (36% of those under 30 and 15% of those over 30), but interestingly out of those who visited a candidate's Facebook or MySpace profile significant numbers befriended them or became supporters. Obama gained 38%, Clinton 28%, McCain 41% and Romney 33%; so between 500 and 730 of those polled. If representative of the broader electorate this could explain the numbers of social network supporters. Similarly there seems to be a lot of traffic visiting the range of online presences candidates now offer (see table below).

The full details and commentary is available from Adage.com, but whatever happens it suggests that candidates and parties are increasingly likely to include social networking as much as websites and emails. While it will be as hard, if not harder, to prove any effect of social networking for a political campaign; no candidate will dare ignore it anymore than traditional media and due to it being free may well see it as a good way of focusing on the floating voter, possibly with lower interest in politics, but whose support could be crucial if mobilised.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Professional = Centralised

I commented on my annoyance about the 'clones', the Labour ministers who repeat the official lines with the appearance of being unable to think independently. But this is the professional communication model it seems. Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell argued today that he had tried to "professionalise" the party to make it "more up-to-date" and "more fit for 24-hour-a-day news". The ongoing problem for the party, Campbell claims, is that the party has "too many alternative power sources".

Basically Campbell argues that the media has become a news machine that needs feeding and that will throw out stories based on any "vocal public expression" that seems to offer a contrary perspective or, in the case of the LibDems, comments about the age of Campbell as leader. Parties, it appears, must control all expression in order that the media can only report on information from other sources and the party has the opportunity to close down debate.

Where Campbell seems to be wrong is that it just doesn't work. Dissent can always be found and, one would imagine, that the larger the party the more alternative voices could be found. But even when power over official communication is centralised and controlled, the speak your weight machine style of communication does not close down a story. The election that never was is a large nail in the coffin of Brown's premiership despite the 'getting on the with job' response being issued by just about everyone who has been asked. Perhaps there is a journalistic rebellion against the centralisation and they are determined to pick away at the party machine until the story unravels. Whatever the case, while it may be professional to have a party line but one wonders if it is tenable under the 24 news cycle's microscope that the tactic is designed to counter.

The Divide in US Democrat caucuses

Obama so far has a majority among black and younger voters also he is popular with regular churchgoers. Clinton is the candidate for the older black community, the retired population and female voters. Also, and very interestingly, Clinton is the candidate for those with knowledge about the issues and the economy; in contrast Obama is more likely to attract the disillusioned and apathetic who seek change but find it harder to articulate their desires. Perhaps that is why his campaign relies on rhetorical cues and he avoids issues and policy; or is it that only those who do not really think carefully about policy and issues will follow his style of campaigning.
I think a serious problem he will face is his lack of experience and lack of substance; while he can deliver great oratory can he be trusted to deliver great government? That’s the decision US Democrats face and perhaps the segmentation that is emerging reflects how the campaign styles are playing out with voters. For more data and details see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7211535.stm

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Send on the clones

The image of politics as a game for middle aged men should have changed given the predominance of 40 year olds in the Cabinet and the increased number of women also. There is a new class of politician; the professional MP, someone with a career path and keen to stay in office with the same security as any other job. But there is a problem with these MPs, they are wheeled out by the government and say absolutely nothing.

I had the misfortune of watching James Purnell's first interview after replacing Peter Hain, he was asked a lot of questions about Brown's dithering and repeated the same lines as Brown himself would. Its the long term, here are a few facts and figures to show we're doing well and oh did I mention we are just getting on with the job. One MP told me he hated being asked to act like a speak your weight machine; these guys seem to relish it. They appear to have no opinions, no independent thought and no ability to invent their own soundbites. The are the political equivalent of the Pavlov's dog - ah the interviewer mentioned that election that never was, brrr whizz, compute..... [cue robotic voice] we are just getting on with the job.

The problem is that it is simply annoying. There is a logic that if everyone says exactly the same thing when asked a question then interviewers may stop asking it and the issue will go away; also journalists seize on any contradiction as a sign of dissent and division, so uniformity is encouraged. But it is such an unedifying sight, it weakens trust and interest in politics and often these 'Dictaphones' just look like they have something to hide. MPs are meant to be representing the people and working for the general good of our society (very broadly), if they do not appear to have an independent thought why would anyone trust them as a representative. If perception is everything the speak your weight machine may just be giving out the wrong messages.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not a public servant it seems!

Common sense seems to have prevailed on the MP's pay review, a below inflation rise of 1.9% fulfils Harriet Harman's suggestion that they show "the same discipline in terms of pay increases as other public sector workers". One MP who will not be happy, however, is Conservative MP for Torbay Anthony Steen, he has claimed that MPs are treated like dirt and, in a report in today's Western Morning News is quoted as stating:
"If people want a democracy you have got to value them, and how much you are paid is linked to how much you are valued. If they are going to treat MPs like dirt, pay them badly, and have a filthy old time and struggle against every possible obstacle, we end up with a civil service mentality."
He also railed against travel allowances:
"There needs to be a more realistic provision to enable MPs to take taxis to and from London train stations. It is neither reasonable nor practical to expect Members of Parliament who are not in the prime of youth to carry heavy cases on the Underground. While I believe taxi fares can be claimed from the office cost allowance, if one visits one's constituency most weekends this could reach £1,000 each year."
The article did not get massive response but clearly his constituents are not happy about his attitude either to public service or him wishing to be set apart.
  1. L Crawford writes "I am disgusted that an MP supposedly representing Devon could make these comments when there are serious issues in the county surrounding low incomes and unaffordable properties for local people"
  2. Adam points out Mr Steen "For 2006/7 Mr Steen claimed an additional £148,885 (Ranked 100th out of 645 MPs). This includes a £22,110 claim for "additional costs allowance" (joint 1st place on this!). "
  3. Daz tells him "this man is meant to be a servant of the people, me in fact, so I tell him this - WALK!!!!!" remembering Steen was also caught illegally parking in a disabled bay earlier this year.
They go on, the clear message is that his comments seem to have not gone down well among those who he is meant to be representing; perhaps this indicates that the MPs constituency service role is increasingly important and that there is a law of censure at play in local as much as in national politics and that the public will reject statements and claims that do not fit with their model of the role of an MP.

Brown doesn't spin enough

Peter Hain has finally done the decent thing, but only when it is unavoidable and the case is handed to the police; for me a tougher leader would have sacked him much earlier on to save his own reputation. Interestingly when asked by the news anchor why Gordon Brown was having such a tough time, Sky News Political Editor Adam Boulton reported that Brown was not spinning things enough or in the right way. That while Blair would have shrugged off such problems with his charismatic charm, Brown is not able to do that. Because of this while Tony maintained a teflon (non-stick) persona form many years in the job, Brown is immediately like velcro (sticky) though I do like one analogy offered by one of my students: "Brown is like a bear's arse; shit sticks to him". But the solution Boulton suggests is interesting coming from a media commentator; they attack spin and spin doctors yet recognise that spin is a necessity of modern governance. So is Brown the non-spin PM he promised to be and is suffering as a result or is he just bad at spin and anyway lacks the charisma to carry it off?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

One for posterity

Jonathan Yeo had the former Prime Minister sit for his first and probably only official portrait to be hung in London's Lincoln's Inn. Yeo admits to the portrait intending to meet Blair's critics head on:

"Of all the things that people remember him for, the war in Iraq is going to be one of the main things that people discuss... I was thinking that I had to find some kind of representation of that, but that it shouldn't be trite or too judgemental. It was November and of course when he came in he was wearing a poppy. I thought that was perfect."

Well yes the poppy is fairly prominent, but is the suit white, or just off white, what is that saying to us? The gaze into the distance, is that suggesting foresight, a progressive stance? The big question is whether this will be the vision we hold for posterity, or whether some of the great photos from his time in office will capture the public mood better.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The end of negativity

It never made much sense that a negative election campaign could be successful; if that was the case all anyone had to do was get the lowest hit in last and they would win an election. However it has always been argued to be successful; basically the negative message sticks provided the audience find it believable: John Kerry the flip-flop stuck after all. But perhaps voters are becoming more cynical and more sophisticated. Mitt Romney was purely negative in both Iowa and New Hampshire, trying to undermine the campaigns of Huckabee and McCain his main Republican rivals; yet he went from being a favourite to being an also ran. In Michigan, of which he claimed “I've got Michigan in my DNA. I've got it in my heart and I've got cars in my bloodstream”, he was the man who could fix the economy, the positive candidate. It worked for him in Michigan and is argued in analyses as the smarter way to campaign, particularly when competing against members of your own party. The presidential race will be negative, we know that this mobilises the core vote, but I'm guessing there needs to be a lot more comparativity (s/he did this, but I do it better), or ads promoting the strengths of a candidate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Creating a personal bandwagon effect

I'm writing to you this morning from Las Vegas. After the New Hampshire primary last week, we set a goal of 100,000 online donors in 2008 -- a goal we hoped to reach before the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. Last night we got there five days early. Think about that: 100,000 donors in 15 days. That response has boosted our entire organization and proven that this movement for change is just getting started. In town halls and rallies across Nevada, I can feel that momentum. And it's clear that more than 100,000 people are feeling it all across the country. But we need to build an operation that can compete in all fifty states, so we are setting our sights even higher. Our new goal: 125,000 donors by the Nevada caucuses this Saturday, January 19th. Now is the time to step up and own a piece of this campaign. Your support is so crucial to reaching our goal that one of the supporters who already gave this year is waiting to match your gift today.

Whether any of this is true matters little, the purpose is to gather the maximum support on the principle that the tide is already flowing in Obama's favour. Barack Obama is setting up supporting him as a norm for American voters in order that it is seen as the thing to do; whether it has the desired effect will be determined in Nevada on Saturday, it is a well used tactic in advertising and commercial promotion and fairly common in political communication as well.

A good day for... soundbites

Whenever there is a crisis it is time for representatives of each party to respond and offer the quote that will make the news headlines and newspaper columns. The soundbite can be as indicative of the individual as their position on the topic and how they stand on the party political divide (context depending).
Brown's quote on Hain's failure to declare £103,000 does not inspire confidence him him of the man he is defending: what does "It was a mistake that was made. It was an incompetence" tell us? Conservative leader David Cameron's response is a little lacklustre, or at least the bit quoted is: "He can get out there and explain himself or I think he will have to leave the cabinet"; perhaps it reflects a man who is metaphorically worried about throwing stones when in his own glass house.

Congratulations go to new Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg though, so far there are no claims of Liberal Democrat funding improprieties, thus he can happily say that Hain's credibility is in tatters (which surely it must be) and get in the dig that anyone should be proud of an perhaps half of parliament wish they had thought of: ""When Gordon Brown said he wanted a government of all the talents, no-one realised that incompetence was going to be one of them". I love that line!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Facebook Experiment

There is a David Cameron fansite on Facebook, it is bland, non-interactive and I am surprised to say that it managed 710 fans, I was also a little surprised the party, or Cameron had bothered, given their use of other websites. Actually they had not. Mike Rouse came clean admitting it was "an exercise in proving that Facebook is a place that Cameron and his office and the wider Conservative Party (and politicians of other persuasions too for that matter) could come to engage with people" and he says he has "deliberately not advertised the group or added many applications to the page, just to show that 100 people could be reached just simply by having this page". It worked, his task is now to lobby Conservative Central office to get approval.

One problem though, why do people become fans of David Cameron or any politician? Not, as in the case of Adrian Sanders who I blogged about on Sunday, to get in contact with him or to interact; none of that goes on via his fansite. So a word of caution with this, Facebook is about social networking not promotion. There is already a backlash among members against the amount of applications that are really nothing more than advertising. Politicians should join if they want to network and use the network, but not just to have a profile sat there to say 'I'm here'. If you cant throw sheep at or play scrabble with them (metaphors for various applications), they are not real members.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Myspace Constituency

I am currently reviewing the use of social networks by political parties and their leaders, on the whole it is nothing more than cyber squatting only by the party themselves as opposed to opponents or satirists. However there are signs that some MPs at least are choosing one network and using it as a communication tool with their constituents as well as others. One such is Adrian Sanders LibDem MP for .

On one of his many blog posts on his Myspace profile page he comments that one constituent only contacted her MP due to him being on Myspace and I guess actively using his site; so it is a way of being accessible. Another comment is congratulating Sanders on his responsiveness and exceeding one constituents' expectations; so it helps his representativeness and constituency service.

To many Myspace and other social networking sites seem to be a gimmick, to be on but not to really engage iwth the community. Hence they have few friends and their profile is less interesting than the first websites that appeared around ten years ago. Adrian Sanders has 1313 friends, blogs regularly and responds to both public and private messages. Perhaps this is a model of communication others could learn from.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Every persuasive devise in the book!

One of the laws of a piece of persuasive political rhetoric is to not give your opponent exposure, but to take their arguments and turn them against them in order to promote oneself; this is this law in practice Obama style.

In a speech in New Jersey he offered the following argument:

“People are saying that Barack Obama has got good policies and is inspiring but we can’t vote for him now because he hasn’t been in Washington long enough. He has to be seasoned and stewed a little bit longer so they could boil the hope out of him, like those other candidates… But he argued that those candidates were not going to provide the politics or society Americans want; he said: “Change is not going to happen by the same old folks doing the same old things. We need somebody new, a new leader.”

Cock-up not conspiracy - so that's ok then!

Peter Hain is another nail in the coffin of trust in Labour, not only is the party guilty of mismanaging is funding but so was he during his challenge for Deputy Leadership. It is a mistake he claims, so 5,000 can just be overlooked apparently. To compound the problem his aides are engaged in a blame game. First aide Phil Taylor says it was all done properly when he was in charge, while his successor Steve Morgan says he was brought in to sort out the mess Taylor left in his wake. Now this all may be a mistake but what are we to think as a result.

Hain is a Minister of State, in fact he is Secretary for Works and Pensions. His department must be responsible for millions of pounds, but he is effectively telling us that during something as mundane as a Deputy Leadership contest, where only thousands are involved, he and his small team managed to cock it up; how can he then justify remaining in a position of any responsibility and expect that the public can trust him to run the department effectively? I think it is a fair question!

And, what a waste of money. Thousands spent on a failed campaign, what were donors seeking to gain from donations. Surely pure benevolence cannot justify this. Very worrying! A good argument for all election spending to be capped heavily and for very limited funding that excludes flashy advertising to be provided by us the tax payer. This will mean MPs and the party have to work harder on the streets and free media exposure while utilising the Internet more instead of spending a fortune on flashy ads to slag off their opponents. Well that's my opinion, not often I go off on one but I enjoyed it!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Polls don't predict Results

The media, their pundits and the pollsters seem to have egg on their face this morning 9particularly newspapers that have seriously outdated headlines) as we wake to discover that it is a narrow victory for Hilary Clinton in New Hampshire and not the predicted Obama landslide. It seems the polls got it wrong again! Well perhaps it is really the fault of those who use the polls. Polls are good fun, and often without them there would be no news stories during elections, but even if they ask the right question of the right people they cannot tell us who will win the party nominations in the US and it is doubtful if they can truly predict who will win the presidency unless it is a non-contest; this is why.

1. Polls are context specific
While rolling polls can iron our problems and identify changes in opinion, any poll is related entirely to the moment when the question was asked. The Obama surge may have been linked to his appearance as a winner on the media, so before the New Hampshire campaign got more intense, or there may have been a post-Iowa sympathy surge to Hilary Clinton; either way the results can be outdated and changed very quickly.

2. Polls effect turnout
Polls can be an indication of support but they are not predictive of actual behaviour. The disparity between poll and result may be a reflection of individuals who support Obama, would go to a caucus if their vote mattered, but assumed it did not; so they stay indoors in the warm and actual support seems lower. Alternatively the polls may have mobilised the Clinton supporters in the fear that she would lose. Either way anything but a marginal result can either mobilise or depress turnout; why do you think that TV presenters when running a phone poll tell viewers the results could not be closer, they haven't a clue but it encourages voting!

3. Polls effect results
But polls may also make people question their support. Supporting Obama, the great rhetorician and orator, may be different than wanting him to be President. Voters may have considered whether another Democrat (Clinton) had a better chance of winning the White House, or they don't actually want him as President, or they do want Hilary; whatever the various reasons people may have changed their minds between poll and vote.

4. The mystical caucus
While voting can always prove unpredictable, a caucus is something different. Here it is about face to face persuasion by campaigners for each of the candidates. It is here that prejudices can be played upon, beliefs eroded, hard arguments can have impact; all the tricks come into play here. Maybe evidence of Hilary's record and experience made some Obama supporters question their allegiance; or maybe Edwards' supporters were more swayed by the Clinton team. Whatever it makes for a very unpredictable outcome.

So for those four reasons, all of which may well be happening at the same time to skew results one way or the other, polls should be taken with a pinch of salt and a degree of intelligent scepticism until the results actually emerge. If not you get headlines wrong, assume too much and look very daft when the results emerge.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The President with a heart on his sleeve

There is a debate within the study of political communication, branding and the importance of personality to voters when considering who to elect and to continue to support throughout the electoral cycle. The debate is manifesting itself in media discussions over the popularity of Barack Obama in the recent caucuses and generally in public opinion. Equally sometimes the lack of personality is argued to be an obstacle for UK PM Gordon Brown, of course he has a personality but his inability to project attractive characteristics could be problematic when an election is called. For some leaders, being open about their emotions, private lives or feelings is difficult and often seen as unprofessional, to others it is central to their public and political persona and there is little separation between private lives and political careers.

One such politician is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. His private life is dubbed in the media as The Sarko Show, particularly his quickie divorce and subsequent courtship of model Carla Bruni which has seen him embark on celebrity-style jaunts in aviator shades around the Pyramids and watching the Mickey Mouse parade at Disneyland Paris hand in hand. But this has now been taken one step further, at a press conference that included economic policy announcements Sarkozy proclaimed he was in love and planning on marriage. Using the word love (amour) several times he argued "You know the president of the republic doesn't have any more right to happiness than the average person, but no less right either." Furthermore, he is not shy about telling the media and public about both the highs and lows of his private life.
Do such things have an impact? Well Sarkozy has a celebrity-esque following and is more than simply a politician in both the eyes of journalists and, it seems, the French public. He is also using it to demonstrate he is cleaner than his predecessors who were married but had semi-secret mistresses on the go, but does this matter? Perhaps there is a sense of his authenticity through expressing feelings, perhaps it is an indicator of his humanity and, just perhaps, this means voters look at the politician who expresses his feelings and believes they are a little more real and so will make the right decisions for the normal French person. Lots of perhaps there, lots of questions all round, but perhaps when we look at politicians that are successful, then look at public perceptions of them, there may be some correlation between perceived authenticity (being real) and trust; again perhaps!!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Post-Modern Campaigning - for all to see

Anyone who wants to understand the nature of the post-modern campaign has only to look at what is going on in Iowa; it provides a snapshot of what US politics is about and, to a large extent, tells us a lot about campaigning. Iowa is a key state for both Democrats and Republicans, winning there could mean winning the presidency. Whoever wins the nominations could be the party candidate and the level of support they win could ensure them the presidency: it is an indicator if nothing else.

Obama and Clinton are neck and neck, polls tell us. Obama's team are constant stressing their unique selling point of being outsiders of the Washington machine. His emails stress a comparative message:

"Attack ads and insults, distractions and dishonesty, and millions of dollars from outside groups and undisclosed donors. The Washington establishment is throwing everything at us to try and block our path. And these outside attack groups are just another part of the same broken system that turns people off from the political process. We chose to do this differently"

Whether out of necessity, for political capital, or for ideological reasons, Obama is the people's candidate. His campaign relies on donations from the public and he is matching his opponents somehow. He argues that $25 from each member of his grassroots campaign will tip the balance his way. What are they paying for, the traditional ad slots around the news to ensure his voice is heard as often as Hilary Clinton's. This is backed up by his 'Stand for Change' Tour taking in all major cities in the run up to tomorrow's caucus.
Meanwhile Republican Mike Huckabee is gaining exposure on the Jay Leno Tonight Show playing his bass guitar, well a similar ploy is argued to have worked for Clinton way back when. His opponent Mitt Romney is going for name recognition using Des Moines children. They have 'The Mitt' to hit each other with, an inflatable club with Mitt 08 written along it. Mitt is also holding 'House Party Huddles', where he visits voter's homes to chat with them, their extended families and their friends. This personal touch will only reach a few voters directly but, like Obama's famous dinners, could give the perception of interacting when reported in the media and talked about by voters.

It is all about recognition, getting the name know and ensuring everyone gets some sense of what the candidate wants voters to know about them. It encompasses high profile TV appearances, glossy ads in magazines, newspapers and on primetime TV slots, but also more traditional pavement politics though conducted with an eye to getting favourable media coverage and thrird party endorsement (voters promoting the candidate themselves). This review does not mention the web of course, but that is also employed by each of the candidates, they have Facebook groups, Youtube uploads and websites that offer videos, downloads the works. Highly cost intensive, a great spectator event, and none of the candidates can afford not to use every trick as to do so could lose those few votes crucial to winning the Iowan nomination. This is the post-modern campaign that tries to offer something for everyone, but also depends on the mainstream media to point voters in the right direction - how successful they are is judged, like most PR, through reading the headlines.