Implications of Political Parties being run by Marketers

In 2011 I wrote a blog Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns. Subsequently, I wrote two more blogs on this topic Why Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns Part 2: The US election and Why Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns Part 3: The British Colombia election.

Well little did I know that political parties are using marketing techniques in a very major way to run their campaigns, and I am not necessarily only talking about advertising.

In her book Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them, Susan Delacourt, a long-time reporter for the Toronto Star and before that for The Globe and Mail, explains that we have entered the stage of non-stop marketing (and campaigning), wherein political parties find out what a particular slice of the electorate wants and then offers it to them.

Previously, parties tried to widen their appeal. They were big-tent parties, or tried to be. Now, parties are so sophisticated with their massive databases that they figure out which parts of the electorate they can attract, or have already attracted, and fashion their policies with only them in mind. This makes politics more polarized as we have noted in both Canada and the USA.

Ms. Delacourt not only describes the change, but discusses the spin doctors who now are central to political life. She describes how Frank Luntz, an American Republican political consultant, was hired by the Reform Party and later popped up giving advice to the Harper Tories. He provided the Tories with a manual for governing. He advised them to put hockey front and centre all the time. Remember the last federal election, when Harper chose to be interviewed in a hockey rink? Now, his book on the history of hockey is out there at your neighborhood bookstore.

Luntz also advised focusing on taxes in terms of people’s every day existence: the tax on a cup of coffee, the electricity tax, water tax. Result? The reduction of the Goods and Services Tax, a popular move that saved very little money in normal households and denied a huge income to the government and came at the expense of policy and a balanced budget. Source

“In a nation of consumer-citizens, the customer is always right. It is not the politician’s job to change people’s minds or prejudices, but to confirm them or play to them, to seal the deal of support,” Ms. Delacourt observes. “Speeches are not made to educate or inform the audience but to serve up marketing slogans. Political parties become ‘brands’ and political announcements become product launches.” Source

The book raises questions—but few answers—about the implications for democracy of the marketing approach to politics. The most pointed one, of course, is whether politicians or governments should be shaping their “product” to suit demands of the voter “market.” Shouldn’t our democracy be more concerned with our higher, collective needs than our individual consumer wants? And where is the room for a pan-Canadian vision when our political professionals are carving up the country into “niche” markets with their own “boutique” taxes and “micro-targeted” policies? source

In the 1950′s and 60′s and onward, the populace had more choice and more things for which to shop than ever before. They began to think of themselves as valuable individuals who had a right to have their needs and desires met by a vendor, and gradually, they applied this attitude to politics. The needs of the consumer are short term and by adopting this view, complicit with the political parties who began to market and sell themselves as “products”, they have sacrificed the complex and long term relationship with their political masters which used to value the “public good”.

As a result, people are focused on their pocketbooks and not the long term value of a solid politically sophisticated country. In fact, every supermarket trend now finds its way into political life. People now learn more from advertising than from traditional media and in addition, treat their vote as something that is being bought. Advertising is far more powerful than other ways of speaking. And the wide availability of microdata that reveals demographics about everything from physical location to shopping habits, allows the political parties to target voters as never before. source .

In 1971, after nine years of polling in Canada for the Liberal Party, American expert Lou Harris reported that “sometimes we instinctively forget that human beings are basically and instinctively selfish. “He told the Liberals after one of his polls: “A major finding of this survey is that foreign policy, Canadian unity, relations with the U.S., constitutional reform, pollution and other such matters are not at all the big issues, any of them.”
More than four decades later, Mr. Harris’s realistic analysis still holds. Canadian politics has moved into an era where voters no longer think much of themselves as citizens, with duties and obligations and longer-term perspectives, but as taxpayers in a consumer society who shop among politicians for those who will give them the most at the lowest cost. source .

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
If you have any doubt about this consider crack cocaine smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford could win re-election because he has cut taxes and note he refers to the voters of Toronto not as citizens but as taxpayers.

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About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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