Politics is being marketed as a product for stereotyped ‘consumers’

The BBC Sunday Politics show recently featured the firm Populus. Their software works by assessing people’s class, personalities and voting behaviour and divides them up into different categories.

This process is called ‘segmentation’  and has been used by Obama’s team in the  US Presidential Elections who employed a very similar software model. Populus themselves have also provided information and statistics to the Conservative party.

Sasha Issenberg wrote about how segmentation was used by the Bush and Obama campaigns for his book The Victory Lab”

“It works at the front end of the campaign and helps the politicians and their staff visualize who their voters are.  It means they can craft TV ads, speeches and photo ops that appeal to the groups they need to win over.”

Here’s how their managing director Rick Nye (contact him on twitter @Nye_Rick and tag me in @cherryred335) describes the groups:

1. Comfortable Nostalgia: “They tend to be older, more traditional voters who dislike the social and cultural changes they see as altering Britain for the worse.”

2. Optimistic Contentment: “Confident, comfortable & usually on higher incomes they are prudent & tolerant but think Britain is a soft touch.”

3. Calm Persistence: “Often coping rather than comfortable, they hope rather than expect things to get better.”

4. Hard-pressed Anxiety: “Pessimistic & insecure, these people want more help from government and resent competition for that help particularly from new-comers.”

5. Long-term Despair: “Many are serial strugglers; angry & alienated they feel little or no stake in the country or that anyone stands up for them.”

6. Cosmopolitan Critics: “Generally younger, more secular and urban-based, worried about growing inequality & the general direction the country is going in.”

Populus will be working with the BBC to identify trends in each category and from the point of view of television analysis of the public’s opinions these results willl be interesting.

But in terms of how parties approach their electorate, this is everything that is wrong with mainstream politics in the UK and the USA. Reduced to focus groups and the ‘big sell’.  Far from laying out clear ideologies, the main parties are carrying out marketing campaigns. The sands of their policies shift with the wind in order to capture as many of the electorate as possible. The categories irritate and patronise too; can all of the electorate really be defined with six different personality types?   This is what happens when parties forget the social and philosophical importance of politics and instead adopt a corporate approach, treating the public like ‘consumers’.

George Galloway said in a recent interview with this site that mainstream politicians are ‘speak your weight’ machines, ie. they tell you everything that you already know and that they think you need to hear.   Politicians and their parties should be confident and clear in their policy making, based. What we have is a shameless clustering of centre-right policies aimed at staying in power and a depressing reliance on big business marketing practices.

You can take the test here and see which categorical box you neatly fit into.

You can also view the associated piece on the BBC website.

© Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile, 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 thoughts on “Politics is being marketed as a product for stereotyped ‘consumers’”

  1. Straight to the punch, I like it. This has been going on for years and it’s depressing that we import American strategising into our system. Can’t we stagnate our system our own way? Oh sorry I forgot about the House of Lords.

    1. Lovely feedback, thanks for that! The house of lords fulfil a useful function, blah blah…they can ummm…delay legislation…mmm..and talk about ‘things’: cosy debates in plush, refined surroundings and jeer each other affectionately, their skin mottled with excessive whisky abuse.

  2. Interesting! I can’t get onto the site to take the test, though I guess I’m either long-term despairing or a cosmopolitan critic! Agree entirely, in fact I’m surprised they even think of us in six categories – perhaps it’s because out of the six, they only focus on the perpetuation (and enlargement) of the categories that they represent, or count themselves closets to (not amongst – they definitely have a ‘us and them’ attitude to all citizens). Good piece. I will try and do the test soon when the website is working!

    1. Thank you Garry this one was sitting in draft stage for a while and last night I polished it off as I felt I still wanted to express that opinion about it. I haven’t even bothered taking the test myself!

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