Most voters are profoundly uninterested in politics and cannot follow complex economic debates. Martin Rosenbaum says politicians should not be blamed for simplifying their messagesby Martin Rosenbaum / March 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Those involved in fighting the coming election may be interested in this advice from a successful political communicator on getting your point across:
“If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or even a phrase, forget it. To avoid misinterpretation, strip down a policy or opinion to one key clear line before the media does it for you. The truth becomes almost impossible to communicate because total frankness, relayed in the shorthand of the mass media, becomes a weapon in the hands of opponents.”
The validity of this advice is confirmed by the fact that its author might today be more wary about dispensing it, in case it is misinterpreted by those who now scrutinise his every word. For this is the campaigning philosophy of Tony Blair, as he expressed it ten years ago in an article in The Times.
Both Blair and his opponents seem to be sticking to this guidance. To judge by party posters, broadcasts, politicians’ interviews and prime minister’s question time, Labour’s pitch to the electorate has been stripped down to “Enough is Enough,” while the Conservative message comes in slightly longer at “New Labour, New Danger.”
The slogan repeated ad nauseam is just one aspect of the superficiality of modern electioneering. It is accompanied by that ever shrinking soundbite: in the 1960s Harold Macmillan complained that his interview answers on television were “boiled down to 50 seconds”-today he would be lucky to get half that time. Then there is the new importance of the photo opportunity: politicians who want to communicate their caring nature are filmed visiting hospitals and chatting to patients, while those who want to seem up to date tour high-tech factories.
This is accompanied by high-minded protests from the commentators who write articles which always end by asking the question: do politicians really think that voters are that stupid? The answer, of course, is yes, and the problem is that in a sense they are right. Actually, it is not so much that many voters are stupid, but that millions are deeply ignorant of politics, have little interest in acquiring more knowledge, and are too innumerate to follow complex debates about tax and public spending, let alone the Euro.
Most voters get their political information from tabloid newspapers and brief items on television news. Parties have to recognise this reality and make their few core messages short and simple. Both…