The Green Party video: reaching voters other parties can’t reach?

changethetuneThe Green Party’s ‘Change The Tune’ election broadcast has generated quite a response since it was first released on Wednesday. Most of that reaction – and I include my initial ones – to it was pretty derisory, with lots of political types on Twitter saying it was the worst election broadcast they’ve ever seen, what a terrible idea it was, why didn’t it feature Caroline Lucas talking about policy etc etc

What we didn’t consider was that it wasn’t aimed at us, and indeed wasn’t really aiming to be the traditional election broadcast. How many of them get reported by MTV?

Consider how many people have learnt about it just from that tweet (MTV UK have 1.5m Twitter followers, by the way, much more than all the political parties combined) and look at how many people are talking about it on social media. This is a broadcast that’s succeded on two fronts – it’s got lots of traditional media coverage, but perhaps more importantly, it’s reaching an audience who wouldn’t normally pay any attention to party election broadcasts.

I wrote the other week about John Zaller’s model of how public opinion forms, and this is an important illustration of part of that. One of the important ideas in Zaller is the difference between ‘high information’ and ‘low information’ voters. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re most likely a ‘high information’ voter – that’s not back slapping, just a fact that the sort of person who reads political blogs is someone who’s probably accessing lots of information about the election, has well-formed opinions on many issues but because they have so much information is unlikely to change their views or who they vote for. On the other hand, low information voters aren’t paying much, if any, attention to the election and don’t have many opinions on political issues. However, they’re also likely to be very resistant to political messages delivered in a traditional way even if they see them. They’ll ignore PEBs on TV, won’t be following politicians or parties on social media and will likely ignore political messages they see, especially if they’re from a source they don’t know or trust.

This Green Party video, however, isn’t getting shared by the traditional channels. Sure, it’s being shared and discussed by high-information politicos on Twitter and blogs, but that’s incidental. Because we’re high-information, we’re going to pay attention to things like that, even if it’s very unlikely to change our minds. The problem for most election broadcasts is that’s pretty much the only audience they reach after they’ve been shown on TV. Most people won’t see them on TV, won’t notice them even if one of the few shares of them makes it to their social media streams and will be blissfully unaware that they even exist. The Green video, though, has effectively gone viral with people beyond the usual political suspects sharing it and saying ‘you need to watch this’. Going back to Zaller’s model, this is how it’s reached the Accept stage of opinion formation: because it’s recommended by someone they trust, people will choose to watch it and, crucially, pay attention to the messages in it.

It’s not going to have such an affect as to sweep the Green Party to an unexpected or even a surge in the polls, but it’s got their message out to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally take on political messages. That doesn’t make them more likely to vote, but if they do vote, it’s more likely that they’ll think of voting Green.

2015 General Election Day 10: A sudden interest in tax

Yesterday, it was feeling like this election campaign was going to be a long haul of staged photo opportunities and announcements of policies that we’d already heard dozens of times before. As John Lanchester discusses here, thanks to knowing when the election would be for years everything was feeling very flatlined, with some quite ridiculous attention being paid to polls fluctuating within the margin of error. Four more weeks of that without even a full-scale debate to distract us on the way was starting to feel like a bit much.

Then last night things got interested. Labour launched a policy that hadn’t been endlessly trailed, discussed, accepted and processed for most of the past five years and for a brief time, no one quite knew how to deal with it. It was a moment of genuine interest in an election campaign that has been sorely lacking in them, and has continued to be throughout the day.

Proposing to get rid of non-dom status is both a good policy idea (it makes the tax system fairer and may well raise more money) and a good campaign issue, especially to launch as a surprise. If other parties support it, then Labour get to say they’re setting the agenda, and if they reject it, then they have to put themselves on the side of the super-rich who don’t have the numbers to shift many polls.

Or you can try what we saw today which is to carp about the details, take comments out of context and not realise that you’re doing a very good job in helping them keep the issue in the headlines, usually combined with an explanation of just what non-dom status is, which doesn’t usually help the cause of keeping it. The most interesting thing for me was the footage of Ed Balls talking about the issue in January being brought out as though that was some trump card that destroyed the policy when it could just as well be seen as ‘politician changes his mind in the light of new evidence’, which I thought was something we wanted to see more of? The interesting comparison here is with recent Tory tax announcements in which they’ve taken to proclaiming the originally Lib Dem policy of raising the tax allowance as their own, but no one in the media regularly challenges Cameron about he used to say we couldn’t afford it.

Interestingly, removing non-dom status is another tax policy with a Lib Dem pedigree, as Vince Cable has talked about it for years. Naturally, this was seized on by Nick Clegg who pointed out that both the big parties were borrowing Lib Dem tax policy, which showed how essential the party’s ideas…sorry, I was in a parallel world for a moment there. Instead, he waffled a bit about being in the middle and helped reinforce the Tory message by claiming ‘the wheels had come off’ Labour’s policy.

Still, things are now interesting, and perhaps this isn’t going to be the sole event of interest in the elction. Perhaps Labour have other new policy ideas up their sleeves, or might it push the Tories to scribble ideas on fag packets to try and get some momentum back?

Elsewhere, it feels like a brainstorming meeting in the Green Party hit on the idea of ‘boy band’ and then got stuck:

It’s a party election broadcast in the fine tradition of British sketch comedy – someone had one moderately amusing idea and then stretched it out far beyond the point where everyone got the joke. However, it’s been shared much more on social media than any other election broadcast I an remember, has had articles written about it and will probably get a lot more attention than a bunch of people talking earnestly against a natural background while policies flash up on screen would have got. The cynical part of me wonders if that was the plan all along.

And finally, it seems that those of you wanting lots of detailed policy thinking from your candidates should be moving to Weymouth to hope you get a pamphlet (‘leaflet’ seems far too small a word) from Mervyn Stewkesbury, who’ll give you his opinion in great depth. That the front page includes the advice ‘if you want to know more about myself read Appendix 1 Page 9’ gives you some idea of how detailed his ideas are.

Remember that the nominations for the election close tomorrow, so you’ve only got till 4pm to get those papers in to the Returning Officer. If you’re not standing, do spare a thought for all the council staff who’ll be having to check the nominations are valid, and all the various journalists typing in long lists of names for general and local elections so we can all see who’s standing.

One interesting day down, let’s hope there are more to come.