Word of mouth election? That’s so 1997

Douglas Alexander’s soundbite about wanting to make 2010 the “word of mouth” election has got a fair amount of coverage in the last few days, such as in this mostly thoughtful piece by Andrew Rawnsley.

Why do I only say “mostly thoughtful”?

That’s because it’s a good piece, but also displays a weakness so common in contemporary British political commentary. It’s the feeling that it’s more important to talk about what an American did a couple of years ago than how the British political system has worked over the last few elections.

Because if you want “word of mouth”, and you know in at least as much detail about how the 1997 British election played out as the 2008 US Presidential election, then 1997 should leap out as the comparator to talk about.

That’s because the 1997 election results were a curio. In the run-up to polling day much praise was heaped on the Labour key seats operation. Its technology, its finances, its messaging, its existence. Yet when the votes were counted, Labour did no better in its key seats, with all their targeted help, than it did in the next tranche of seats down.

The reason? Once the academics had surveyed the public, segmented the answers and chewed over the results, one explanation stood out: the power of word of mouth. So many people were willing to talk to their neighbours and friends about their political choices, and to influence how they voted, that the power of word of mouth meant those seats which got less formal Labour campaigning nonetheless saw sufficient informal campaigning to achieve the same end result.

So yes, the word of mouth can be powerful. But please, when we talk about its impact on a British general election can we talk a little more about what’s happened in the past in Britain and a little less about what’s happened in the past in the US?

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

2 Comments

  • Chris Keating 21st Mar '10 - 10:54pm

    Which famous Liberal agent was it that said that the result of a really successful election campaign was a “spontaneous outpouring of the people?” And which decade did they say it in?

    I think Rawnsley’s right when he says Labour want it to be a word of mouth election because, if it’s any other kind of election, they don’t have a hope.

    But I’m not sure that word of mouth is necessarily going to be that helpful for Labour this time round either. Can’t see many swing voters saying to each other “Yes, I’m going to hold my nose and vote Labour again” at dinner parties or down the pub, tbh…

  • Can’t see many swing voters saying to each other “Yes, I’m going to hold my nose and vote Labour again” at dinner parties or down the pub, tbh…

    No but they might say, “you know I’m just not sure about David Cameron….”

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 23rd Feb - 7:37pm
    Much as I enjoy trying to categorise political thinking, Tony, I don't see many politicians in either the Tory or the Labour party actually fitting...
  • User AvatarJohn 23rd Feb - 7:07pm
    Little englanders have been forecasting the end of the EU since early EEC days of 6 countries in the early 70's
  • User AvatarJonathan Coulter 23rd Feb - 6:56pm
    @Lorenzo Chirin: "I am fed up with people continuously saying antisemitic claims are made up, fake or smeared". Lorenzo, to get to the point, please...
  • User AvatarTony Venezia 23rd Feb - 6:28pm
    'The horrible truth is that there are people, together with the Government of Israel who are using false accusations of AS, alongside the IHRA definition,...
  • User AvatarTony Venezia 23rd Feb - 6:24pm
    Not much here for social democrats.
  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 23rd Feb - 6:23pm
    Didn't conclude that fully, meant to say, safeguarded because of the genocide that was attempted by the Holocaust, in its attempt that is to destroy...