Election Lessons

Well, that all went horribly wrong. I mean of course my predictions on the UK General Election; far be for me to impose my own political leanings on anyone.

What can the media world learn from last week’s election result? Here’s my take on it.

  1. Newspapers still matter.

Everyone assumed this was going to be a close election. As it turned out the Conservatives won an overall majority, a result that was predicted by virtually nobody, but which was the much-stated desired outcome of around 75% of the UK newspaper industry.

The consensus is that newspapers can’t persuade people to vote in any way other than the way they intended anyway, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that weeks and weeks of battering away at what they (or 75% of them) saw as Ed Miliband’s shortcomings had some effect.

What’s rather more interesting is that the party strategists themselves obviously still believe in the power of newspapers.

It’s the newspapers that set the agenda, subsequently picked up in the radio and the TV coverage.

  1. The BBC was remarkably unbiased.

I got most of my election news from the BBC. It’s impressive the lengths the Corporation goes to in remaining balanced.

As proof of this beyond mere observation – I have as many examples of my left wing friends working themselves up into a frenzy at the BBC’s right-wing bias as I do of my Conservative friends accusing the whole organisation of pinko, liberal left-leaning sympathies.

Perfectly balanced – a chip on each shoulder.

  1. Social media had a limited impact.

I was going to write ‘zero impact’ but that seemed a trifle harsh, even if that’s what much of the evidence suggests.

One firm of analysts stated that ‘Labour won Twitter’. That means nothing; Twitter unlike newspapers has no editorial view, it’s merely a forum for the views of those who bother to use it.

The fact is that in much the same way that we select newspapers that reflect our own views, so we tend to mix online with those who, as a group tend to share our opinions.

As a result our own timelines, or Twitter threads give us the mistaken impression that everyone agrees with us.

In fact we’re effectively filtering out those views we don’t want to engage with and convincing ourselves that those we do engage with are in some way representative of a groundswell of opinion across the country as a whole. They’re not.

Rather, we’re for the most part talking to and hearing from a close approximation of ourselves.

  1. Opinion polls are rubbish.

I believe there were 91 opinion polls published over the course of the campaign. I haven’t myself been through them all, but I understand 90 were wrong.

There was one large exit poll, and that was spot on.

It’s far easier to ask people what they’ve done as opposed to what they might do.

  1. The power of story-telling.

The Conservatives basically repeated two stories, over and over again.

  1. The last Labour administration wrecked the economy.
  2. A future Labour Government would destroy the UK by cuddling up with the Scottish Nationalists.

Labour dotted about all over the place, but they never satisfactorily managed to bury either of these two lies (sorry, stories). And don’t let’s forget they had five years to counter the first of these.

As a result of being consistent, of repeating the same things over and over again, a very large number of people believed the Conservatives.

So, five lessons:

  1. Traditional newspapers aren’t quite dead yet. There are certain messages best communicated through print.
  2. We believe what we want to believe, regardless of the sum total of the actual content of what we’re consuming.
  3. Social media forms aren’t much good at persuading anybody to do anything.
  4. Market research that is based around future intent is more than likely going to mislead.
  5. Be clear, be consistent, be loud.
  1. I don’t think the MR industry should beat itself up too much for those opinion polls being “wrong”. I’m sure they correctly measured the ‘opinion’ and broad intentions of the two major political tribes. All they missed was ‘differential turnout”. The Tory tribe were whipped up into such a fearful tizzy that the vast majority of them did what they said they were going to do and voted. Ed’s complete lack of charisma meant that the Labour tribe found it a bit easier to be distracted from their professed intentions by, say, long queues at the polling booth or rain or the TV schedule and therefore not to bother. There was no ‘late swing’ to the Tories. They were just better at getting their core support motivated.

  2. Hi Brian. Nice one. I agree with your analyses and especially your comments regarding the poll inaccuracies. I would also add that the opinion polls may have been more wrong than usual because of the difficulties in recruiting representative samples and applying correct weightings when using on-line research methods. There are lots of things that can go wrong and polls have been wrong in the past however, I suspect there may be a correlation between the declining accuracy of the pollsters and the increase in internet surveys. Best wishes. Sheila


  4. Sheilas point on online polling is almost certainly right. It’s probably also true that, as we all know, online provides a perception of greater anonimity and maybe it’s more easy to lie about your intensions than when your responding to ‘a real person’ either face to face or over the phone.
    What is also interesting is that now the public has seen the impact of having something closer to a multi-party system how much the talk is of bringing in a different voting system -rejected previously.
    Did any ‘poll’ use a PR way of indicating preference?

  5. Watching the BBC election coverage from Florida makes you realise how lucky we are. The BBC is a model of clarity and fairness, polar opposites of what news, if any, we get here in the U.S.

  6. Thumbs up again. Messaging seems the main thing (as ever). How can a big and one would thing sophisticated organization like the Labor Party not see the message(s) that need to be delivered and consistently deliver. Brand Management 101.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *