Two electioneering strategies

David Clark-Carter, Professor of Psychological Research Methods

There appear to be two strategies at play in the electioneering prior to manifestos being published:

Prof David Clark-Carter

  1. Repeat a slogan and try not to say anything about policy.
  2. Announce policies and do the round of interviews.

The danger with the first is that if another party is doing the second then you will seem very light on policy and the media will latch on to anything you do say and try to extrapolate from it.  For example, you might keep saying ‘Strong and stable’ about your own party and ‘chaos’ about another party.  If the media get a hint that you might not put up V.A.T. they will ask about other taxes, which were part of a previous package, and failure to answer can be interpreted as an intention to put those other taxes up.

One consequence of the second strategy, when other parties are adopting the first strategy, is that your policies are the only ones available for comment and so they can fill the available space. This can be an advantage if you make sure they withstand the scrutiny.  However, if the delivery in any way obscures the message then the message can be lost.  I gather that Diane Abbott’s interview on LBC was her seventh.  If someone is being put through such an intense schedule of interviews then I would recommend having memory aids which are very easy to refer to.

Fake news and conspiracy theories

Dr Daniel Jolley, Lecturer in Psychology

Dr Daniel Jolley

Popular conspiracy theories propose that members of UK government murdered Diana, Princess of Wales; climate change is a hoax orchestrated by the world’s scientists to secure research funding and pharmaceutical companies and governments cover up evidence of harmful side effects of vaccines for financial gain.

Conspiracy theories like these accompany almost every significant social and political event and can typically be defined as attempts to explain the ultimate causes of events as the secret actions of malevolent powerful groups, who cover up information to suit their own interests.

Fake news, which involves the publication of fictitious information on social media, appear to be a fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish.  Indeed, millions of people subscribe to conspiracy theories.

They are not reserved for only people who are paranoid, but rather, they are a normal everyday process that we are all susceptible to.   With the popularity of social media, conspiracy theories are at our fingertips more than ever before.

What’s the harm with conspiracy theories, anyway? In research conducted with my co-author, Prof Karen Douglas at the University of Kent, we have shown that being exposed to the idea that governments are involved in plots and schemes reduces people’s likelihood of wanting to engage in the political system.  People were less likely to want to vote.

We found that being exposed to conspiracy theories can make people feel politically powerless and feel that their vote will not count; if the government is conspiring against us, how can I make a difference?

In our most recent research, we have also uncovered that conspiracy theories are potentially resistant to correction.  Once a person subscribes to a conspiracy theory, they can be increasingly difficult to debunk.

It is, therefore, important that at the point of exposure to information, people are thinking critically.  If the headline sounds too good to be true, it very well may be!  Here are some practical suggestions to help with this:

  • Think about the source; who has written the article?
  • Evaluate the evidence contained within the article; is the piece based on fact?
  • Read multiple articles from a variety of outlets on the same topic. Do not just trust one article; try and get a full picture of the story that takes into account all sides of the argument.

We know that conspiracy theories can be potentially damaging and difficult to debunk.  So, think critically before clicking “share” on Facebook or “retweeting” on Twitter.  Be sure you feel confident that the piece is accurate before sharing!

 

Dr Daniel Jolley blogs at conspiracypsychology.com and tweets @DrDanielJolley

Snap general election catches country on the hop

Jackie Gregory, Senior Lecturer in Journalism

Jackie Gregory

It’s fair to say that Theresa May has caught the country on the hop this Easter by calling a snap general election for June.

Across Stoke Central there was a deafening shout of “Here we go again” when the announcement came from Downing Street just after 11am on Tuesday. Things were only settling down after a hard-fought by-election in February which saw newcomer Gareth Snell retain the seat for Labour, following Tristram Hunt’s resignation.

Snell could become one of the shortest serving incumbent of any seat if the voting turns a different way in June. It is not going to be an easy second election campaign for him. He has not had the chance to make a definitive mark and his majority of 2,620 was bolstered by floating voters who were tactically voting to keep UKIP’s controversial leader Paul Nuttall out, rather than actively voting Snell in. Conservative’s Jack Brereton who ran Nuttall a close third, must now be licking his lips at the prospect of another chance, especially with the city’s voters voting for Brexit last June. UKIP are weakened in this area following the by-election and their best bet, certainly for Stoke Central, is to choose a well-known local candidate.

On a wider scale, this election is being seen by some as the EU referendum Mark II. Despite Article 50 being triggered, it is still a chance for those who are pro-Europe to give the government who is taking us out of the EU a kicking; or for Leave supporters to give Theresa May validation for hard Brexit. Will the Remain voters (including Labour and Conservative Remain voters) now cross party lines to register their dismay by supporting the Lib Dems, who have always been consistent in their anti-Brexit stance? Tim Farron’s party has maintained that the UK should remain within the Single Market.

The election puts Remain MPs who represent a Brexit constituency in a difficult position. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour’s Paul Farrelly won by just 650 votes in 2015. He is a Remain supporter in a pro Brexit area, and who caused controversy late last year, when he voted against his party in maintaining his opposition to triggering Article 50. Elsewhere in the country, some Labour MPs who are Remain and anti-Corbyn are considering not standing again, feeling they are in an impossible position.

The election should sort out whether Corbyn is lamb to the slaughter, or in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Labour has been rolling out some headline-making policies in the past few weeks and will be campaigning on education, living standards and the NHS rather than Brexit, but whether this resonates with the electorate is yet to be seen.

Calling this election is not without risk for May, especially as she had vehemently promised she wouldn’t do so – and flip-flopping is never a good look. Although the odds currently put her as favourite, she could still be a loser if she wins – for if she is returned to Downing Street with a reduced majority, then her position is weakened. She is not so much Iron Lady Mark 2, but a bendable metal one, who could be broken.

Turnouts for snap elections are generally lower than in scheduled general elections, and voter apathy could be more prevalent this time. Many who don’t normally vote turned out for the referendum, because they saw it as a chance for change. Since then there has been issues with fake news, fake promises and some voters feel they were short changed. There may be a feeling a why bother, this time around.

The one thing that is predictable, is that voting patterns are becoming more unpredictable. There is no such thing as a safe seat any more. No MP should be sitting too comfortable this week, and May will have to wait until June to see if she really did pull the rabbit out of the hat.