How to win an Election (maybe)

There's a General Election for the UK Parliament this week. For most people, the decision is a fairly easy one as they have a view of the world that translates into support for a particular political party. Most seats (parliamentary districts) are also considered "safe", which means that there's a clear majority of voters who won't change their view.

However, there are voters who are prepared to change and the parties naturally aim to identify them and persuade them to give their support in a certain direction. As an exercise in decision making for the voter and persuasion for the candidates, this is quite a challenge.

From the voter's perspective, when specific issues are more important than general conviction, it's all rather unfamiliar - you get just one choice at a given moment. In business and life generally, most (but not all) big decisions can/should be broken into smaller ones and spread over time. It's a good way to manage the risk. Also, compared with more normal decisions, there's not too much information for voters to use - do they reward what politicians have done before (information, but no guarantee about the future) or believe what they promise (no information, but a positive and forward looking position)?

There's no obvious answer to this, but politicians will aim to offer information that can support promises, in a form that's perhaps more art than science (see our post 5 March 2015). It's all about establishing a narrative, a story that people can "buy into" - not easy to prove because it's mostly about the future, but drawing on the past - and which may in fact present a particular view of the world. This worked well for the "Yes" campaign in the Scottish independence referendum in September last year. They didn't win but they created a base for a very strong performance in this week's General Election.

In our post ("Narratives - Handle with Care", 7 September 2014) we referred to the possible risks of narratives, but they can't be avoided and, in a situation like an election when voters are set a difficult task, they may be the best of all the alternatives available. In other words, "all contributions gratefully received".


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