“Perception is power in politics.”
For the last three months I campaigned as a candidate for the Internet Party in the 2014 NZ General Election. I was number two on the Internet Party list and number five on the combined Internet MANA party list being spokesperson for Internet and Privacy, and Arts and Culture.
It was an experience I’m glad I had. It was surreal at times to find myself sharing a stage with recognised MPs and performing the occasional media interview (stuff.co.nz: Elections 2014: Talking Tech).
There were many things I learnt from my candidate experience, the following are the main points.
It’s perception, not reality, that matters when it comes to winning votes in an election. Perception is based on what a voter understands about political parties based on their own values, research and experiences.
Unlike business, there are no tangible products to buy, use and evaluate. The closest thing to a product would be a party policy which is an ideal promise they hope to deliver and can take years to eventuate. Unfortunately, I believe most people who vote these days don’t read and compare policies so they use simpler indicators which leads us into something called personality politics.
Personality politics is what drives United States presidential elections and New Zealand is heading the same way. It’s the personalities involved, not the issues themselves, that people relate to . To create a favourable public persona, you need my next point.
Public Relations (PR)
When the majority of voters rely on a simple way to get political information, they look to media and people they know. Getting PR through favourable media coverage is critical to shaping perception, bad PR IS damaging as it taints trust and reputation.
Unfortunately smear campaigns are common place, I highly recommend reading Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager to better understand how attack PR influences politics and business.
In an election, you need to influence as many people as possible in a short time frame, mainstream media channels are powerful to achieving this.
Along with PR, branding is the other vital point to influencing people’s perception as they will vote for what they think a political party stands which is why you need a simple and easy to understand proposition.
I think most people had the following basic perceptions about the larger political parties in this year’s election:
- National Party – pro business (implies saving you money)
- Labour Party – pro welfare (implies costing you money)
- Greens Party – pro environment (implies costs you money)
Reality could be very different but that’s how I’ve overheard people explain the different parties in a conversation.
Last but not least, politics can be very tribal and irrationally so. It puzzled me how people could easily dismiss information introduced to them. I recently read ‘How facts backfire‘ and now understand that people filter information through their own sets of values and beliefs. Depending on whether information aligns or not to what they already believe determines whether it is accepted or not.
“A few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”– How facts backfire