Voters or Consumers: Imagining the contemporary electorate 1847183999, 9781847183996

This edited collection seeks to map current thinking and practice in order to assess the extent to which the consumer, a

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Voters or Consumers: Imagining the contemporary electorate
 1847183999, 9781847183996

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Voters or Consumers

Voters or Consumers: Imagining the contemporary electorate

Edited by

Darren Lilleker and Richard Scullion

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Voters or Consumers: Imagining the contemporary electorate, Edited by Darren Lilleker and Richard Scullion This book first published 2008 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing 15 Angerton Gardens, Newcastle, NE5 2JA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2008 by Darren Lilleker and Richard Scullion and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-84718-399-9, ISBN (13): 9781847183996


Preface ....................................................................................................... vii Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 Darren G. Lilleker & Richard Scullion Unintended Politics of Investing: The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street .... 12 Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder The Construction of the Political Consumer (or Politics: What Not to Consume) .............................................................................................. 35 Heather Savigny The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement............................ 51 Richard Scullion Branding the Mayor: Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections................................................................................... 73 Soetkin Kesteloot, Philippe De Vries & Christ’l De Landtsheer Brand Blair: Marketing Politics in the Consumer Age.............................. 97 Margaret Scammell George W, the Marlboro Man and the Messiah: How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective........................................ 114 Dave Brown Citizens, Consumers and the Demands of Market-Driven News ............ 141 Dan Jackson Consuming Elections? An Analysis of Youth (Non)Voting Behaviour .. 162 Janine Dermody and Stuart Hanmer-Lloyd


Table of Contents

Shifting Cognitive Gears: Exploring the Boundary between Citizen and Consumer.......................................................................................... 186 Darren G Lilleker The Lifeworld Model: Exploring Vagaries in Political Consumption.... 209 Dianne Dean Conclusion............................................................................................... 230 Consumerist Voters and Political Consumers: Reflecting on the Modern Social and Political Landscape Darren G. Lilleker & Richard Scullion Contributors............................................................................................. 238


This volume came about, firstly, from discussions about the theme for the Conference which was to be held in London during February of 2007. The Conference was the second of the Political Studies Association’s Political Marketing Specialist Group and was entitled Voters or Consumers. That question seemed to be one that dogged political marketing. If parties are using marketing does that mean voters are now consumers, if so is that just the parties’ attitude or is this a reflection of the parties’ treatment of its public, or is it the case that modern society are all consumers now. The theme was then picked up by those who came along and presented at the event and those who subsequently contributed to this book. The structure, subject coverage and range of debate is the result of a mixture of luck, in terms of those who offered papers, and a little good judgement in filling one or two gaps later. This collection of essays is intended to stimulate thought and start a debate but not to answer the question. If anything this volume adds perspectives, so making the waters of understanding voters even muddier than previously. Perhaps that simply reflects the human condition anyway. We would like to thank everyone who came along to the event in February, and especially all those who met our deadlines, took on board our suggestions and produced the essays you have in front of you. We would also like to thank the help and support offered to us by Cambridge Scholarly Press, the publisher is always an important colleague in the process. Finally a thank you to the friends and family of Darren and Richard for putting up with us as we put the volume together, and also the friends and families of all those who contributed chapters; while there may only be one author behind a chapter, there are myriad people offering encouragements and distractions when needed without whom we would probably all be insane. Darren & Richard


The Speech from the Throne sets out the programme and policy which the Labour party believes to be best in the interests of this country and the policy it intends to carry out. Details will be explained more fully by other speakers later in the Debate, but I want to try this afternoon to bring before the House the gravity of the issues which confront us at home and abroad. It is vital to realise that we have come through difficult years and we are going to face difficult years, and to get through them will require no less effort, no less unselfishness and no less hard work, than was needed to bring us through the war. I know this is hard saying to people who have worked so much and so hard and suffered so much, but it would be entirely wrong not to represent the facts perfectly plainly before the whole people of this country. —Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s speech on the king's address August 16, 1945 At all times I will be strong in purpose, steadfast in will, resolute in action, in the service of what matters to the British people, meeting the concerns and aspirations of our whole country… As I have travelled around the country and as I have listened and I’ve learnt from the British people, and as Prime Minister I will continue to listen and learn from the British people, I have heard the need for change. —Gordon Brown's maiden speech as Prime Minister June 24, 2007

The above extracts are both from speeches made by British prime ministers on taking office. The context perhaps could not be more different, yet both set the scene for a period of change and perhaps of healing. But in tone they reflect some profound differences in perspective on the society they are addressing. Attlee, despite having toured the country by car and delivered a number of speeches in town halls and public areas, speaks as a leader. He positions himself as a prime minister who has tough decisions to make and is warning the nation of equally hard times ahead. In sharp contrast Gordon Brown sets out his stall as a prime minister that is required to listen and respond to individuals’ concerns and meet their aspirations. Perhaps what these speeches indicate is that a prime



minister can no longer just argue that they know what is best for the country and deliver that, but that they must listen to the key concerns of the public and deliver specifically measurable outcomes. It is in this sense we understand the notion of political marketing, where the publics’ key concerns are met in the best way possible in agreement with the people over cost, effectiveness and efficiency, and where we find indications of the elision between consumerism and citizenship.

Citizen or Consumer: Dichotomous or Co-constructed? Research conducted over the last three decades under the crossdisciplinary umbrella of political marketing has reinforced the notion of the citizen or voter as political consumer; an individual who will “question every aspect of elite provision and will no longer accept being told by the elite what is good for them” (Lees-Marshment, 2004, p. 1). The question which arises from such a definition is whether what is being described here is evidence of a more sophisticated, critical, or even cynical, citizen; or alternatively that we are witnessing politics viewed as part of a broader diet of consumption. Political marketing literature, on the whole, suggests the latter. For Lees-Marshment (2004, p. 7) consumerism and politics interconnect at the design phase of what she describes as the political product and “whether it reflects the demands of those it is produced for”. The introduction of marketing to politics then presupposes a requirement that, as with the development of any services or goods, it is the needs and wants of those who are identified as being prepared to invest in the product that must be considered within the design phase. If we view the process of voting as the investment of hope that a candidate or party will represent our wishes if elected, so transferring notions from paying into a service or committing to the purchase of a product, we can view perceptions of delivery as a return on that investment. Political marketing literature has thus developed from its initial focus upon electoral campaign strategies (Mauser, 1983). With the development of the permanent campaign (Blumenthal, 1982), it has been applied more widely. Its emphasis on the communication aspects of the marketing mix with, for example Newman’s The marketing of the President (1994) and Maggie Scammell’s Designer Politics (1995) has broadened out to observe marketing inform the professional management of all aspects of political parties from policy formation, internal organisational structure, external message control, mechanisms to control service delivery and a rigorous system to collect and analyse how the messages and policy actions are

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internalised by the various stakeholders (Lilleker et al 2006). Marketing’s colonising tendency has seen more ideas from the corporate world seep into the political arena in the last twenty years with scholars evermore focussed on strategic management issues, for example looking at service delivery, (Butler and Collins (2001), media management (Negrine and Lilleker 2003) and the organisational planning cycle (Baines et al 2002). However, political marketing has perhaps hit what some consider a nadir, others a zenith, with the bold normative claims of people like LeesMarshment (2004) advocating a market-orientation for all political actors all of the time. This call for a paradigm shift in promoting a consumerist view to inform all aspects of a party or government’s behaviour effectively seeks to preference above all else a political system designed to determine the needs and wants of the groups of electors being targeted and to then deliver so that this customer base remains satisfied with the product, what others refer to as the offering (party or candidate) (Henneberg, 2002). This ideal position is of course contested and chapters will touch on this debate in more detail. However it does appear credible to suggest that marketing principles have played an ever greater role in determining political strategy to the point where, certainly in the United Kingdom and United States of America, neo-liberal concepts of market hegemony, and with it the importance of the marketing discipline, often go unquestioned (see for example O’Cass 2001 and Newman 2001). While there are a range of approaches and foci across the political marketing literature, a shared observation is that both those who stand for election and those who make the choices are behaving in ways that can be better understood if we consider the behaviour of corporate brands and their customers than by considering any sense of representation and democratic duty; this claim appears to underpin political marketing as a concept and is largely unquestioned. Given that this edited collection is located within political marketing literature, but adopting a largely constructivist ontological perspective on our study of society, one of the key questions that we wish to raise across these essays is whether we are better served by looking at individuals as consumers throughout their lives. Should we view consumerist ideals as the key behavioral governor, across all human activity, within every sphere, or should we compartmentalize the political engagement of the individual as a special and isolated area where the citizen emerges. Political science, as a body of work, positions political engagement, participation and thus the act of voting, as a unique behavior, a civic duty, grounded within citizenship. Society does not, it is argued, consider itself



as constituted of remote, selfish individuals when acting politically, rather their actions are based upon the communitarian values expressed above by Clement Attlee. Politics is about serving others, even at the most basic level of voting; such notions emerge from democratic theory and the ideal of the moral society where “human beings… would choose not what satisfied their own interests, but what promoted the good of others” (Gamble, 1981, p. 93). Implicit in such notions is the abandonment of pandering to “physical appetites” that commercial markets are so prone to encourage. Such idealistic perspectives of political activity may well appear to conflate notions of activism and the act of voting, and this may obscure areas where consumerism could already be imported into the political process. Rational choice and economic models of voting can be perceived as a highly individualistic assessment of which party or candidate will serve ‘ME’ best (Heath et al, 2001); alternatively we could take the view that rational choice is a process of deducing which of the available choices is best for a range of non-individualistic reasons; the best for the nation at this point in time for example (for an overview see Evans, 2004, pp. 6891). Similarly proximity politics (MacDonald et al, 1998), and the notion of selecting the candidate or party that best represents personally held views and policy positions could be viewed as either a personal and selfish appraisal or an act of giving voice to a social group. Such accounts could explain the growth in support for Labour in the early decades of the 20th Century where Trade Union members could argue that personally the party was closest to each individual unionist on a range of issues and so was the most rational party to support, equally it could be viewed as an expression of class solidarity akin to industrial action in support of workers in other sectors. Thus we can suggest a range of ambiguities surrounding the way we are able to interpret participation in the democratic process. Studies of voting, on the whole, reinforce the collective nature of both the activity and the outcome (Evans, 2004, pp. 45), noting as the primary motivation some form of group benefit. This returns us to the notion that voting is implicitly an act with ethical values and morals attached as any individual choice will also take into account the broader impact on others of that choice. Consumerism, however, traditionally offers a direct contrast to such views. If human beings are ethical and moral in their political activities, as consumers they are encouraged to be selfish, vain and individualistic. Commenting on the birth of the consumer society in Britain, historian

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Mark Donnelly comments on the role of consumption in the following way: “If the sixties was the age when people were preoccupied with self – self-fulfillment, the autonomous self, the contemplative self, integrity of the self, self-adulation – then consumption was important because it offered more people than ever before the chance to buy themselves identities and lifestyles” (Donnelly, 2005, p. 29). Of course Donnelly argues that the deification of self through consumption was indeed a feature of the sixties, and suggests that it remains an embedded feature of modern society, one perhaps that made it necessary for a prime minister to feel the need to focus his appeal towards the individual rather than the community. The notions that are argued to be central to western capitalist societies is the sovereignty of the consumer, power, rights and responsibilities that are all delivered through consumerism; if this is accurate, and power is expressed via consumption, what impact does this have on our engagement with politics? One can maintain that political activities and consumerist activities are entirely separate entities; this can be encapsulated in the following comments offered by leading academics from firstly the field of political science and secondly from the field of marketing. Popkin argues that “Voters are public investors, not private consumers” (Popkin 1991, pp. 213). Those private consumers, Coleman suggests are increasingly expert at cultural re-mixing, enabling them to creatively produce meanings. He clearly believes this situation has filtered into the political sphere, "we are now living in a more selective culture in which people are reflexive about their identities as citizens and more consumerist in making choices" (2005 p. 5). But is selectivity and reflexivity only to be found in a consumerist context; is it not possible to adopt an affective mindset when making a political choice? We can also turn this argument around. With power, rights and responsibilities consumerism need not simply be about the satisfaction of individual needs and physical appetites. Consumption can satisfy our desires, but it can also be therapeutic, and can take on a moral and ethical dimension. Couldry et al’s research (2004; 2005) points to the existence of a dispersed citizenry, finding that broad citizen-like characteristics are found in many locations and practices; particularly using the sovereignty of the consumer to pursue a political agenda. Csikszentmihalyi (2000) identifies a clear political dimension in consumption when he advocates a set of preferred choices where balance between true and full entropy costs and experiential benefits are carefully weighed. Characteristics of



citizenship are increasingly found in consumer spaces, Scammell (2000) sees public spiritedness and self education increasingly in acts of consumption take on “an ever stronger edge” (p. 352). Thus perhaps the traditional view of a politics versus consumption dichotomy is too easily taken for granted. Much contemporary marketing thinking has now moved into terrain that emphasises symbolic meaning and co-production of meaning within consumption (McDonagh & Prothero 1996, Baudrillard 1995, 1993). As Campbell (1987) highlights, we spend a lot of time dreaming about, planning, actualising, reflecting on and appropriating meaning through consumption. Central to late-modern marketing thinking, then, is seeing consumption as a creative maker of meaning in peoples’ lives. It could be argued that consumption has replaced more spiritual and communitarian activities in shaping identities and creating meaning, thus religion and politics are deemed of lesser importance as anchors for self-identification. Thus we can argue that consumption replaces and displaces more social and spiritual activity, alternatively we could posit that there is a blurring of the boundaries between consumption and other areas of lifeworld experience. Therefore there may be a conflation of roles within the cognition of the individual. It could be argued that this is due to the all pervasive nature of consumer culture, from being very young we learn how to be consumers and, increasingly, we are taught to be wise and cynical of the promises of persuasive communication. This process of socialization leads to the adoption of perspectives on the world that conceivably would not be simply switched on when traversing the high streets or supermarket aisles and then switched off when asked to think politically. The conflation between consumer culture and understandings of other choices and behaviors presents an alternative view of society, its structures and the role that individuals assume through the course of their engagement with those structures. This necessitates the adoption of alternative theoretical perspectives and constructs when considering society and, in particular, social engagement with politics. As Hay (2002) acknowledges, despite ultimately rejecting it as his analytical position, a post-modern sensibility contributes because of its ability to deconstruct and so reveal the inadequacies of taken-for-granted assumptions such as political science’s quest to seek verification and in so doing deny sufficient importance to plurality and diversity. That is not to suggest we

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embrace relativism, more, as Butler (2002) argues “what it does mean is that we should be…..more attentive to the theoretical assumptions which support the narrative [presented]” (pp35). Hay (2002) calls for, and points to, a reflexive turn allowing political analysis to be a dynamic discipline, we would append the notion of making it cross-disciplinary in order to achieve this change. This book contributes to the move towards what Peters et al (1999) refer to as radical theory and methods by directly responding to the questioning about what counts as political analysis and what counts as political. In the essays that follow the notion of politics goes beyond the narrow definition of ‘the sphere of government’ and ‘directly political variables’. As Hay argues if we see politics as process - not just an arena – we can witness it in other social spaces, including the marketplace. We would also suggest that if we also see consumption as a process, one that is not just behavioural but also cognitive, we may also witness consumption within areas where previously it has been viewed as anathema. Thus we ask, can the political be linked to consumption or, more simply, are consumers political and citizens also consumers at the same moment in their life? The debates raised above were central to the conference held in London in February 2007 entitled ‘Voters as Consumers’ and the subsequent book emerged from this trajectory of thoughts. Both academics and practitioners with a keen interest in the linkages between consumption and politics, consumer and voter offer their thoughts on the spaces where consumerist and political action coalesce. The authors of the essays offer a number of perspectives embedded in an on-going discourse about the relationship between a dominant mode of living, consumerism, and the types of engagement we witness in the political process. It asks all of the authors to consider one central question: is the ‘electorate’ understood better, more appropriately for our times, as a consumer? This collection makes no claim to settle any of these discursive debates; rather it takes a purposefully less consciously political-centric approach in offering insights about contemporary forms of political and electoral engagement.

Overview of the essays The volume follows a processual approach to developing its analysis, at times often concurrent essays that explore contrasting critical perspectives on one particular topic. The first group of essays offer contrasting conceptualisations of the territory that is political consumerism. Each



chapter maps out the relationship between consumers in markets and voters in public/political spaces. One reading of these foundational chapters suggests a range of perspectives in terms of the value of such a landscape. This starts with Zwick et al’s positive assertion that markets themselves generate ethical and politicised actions; however Savigny contrasts their position. In raising concerns about the perils of consumerism removing the very substance of citizenship, she paints a fairly negative view of the comsumerisation of politics. This debate is continued, with Scullion offering the view that contemporary consumers take on civic roles whether they intend to or not. Although these perspectives differ, each of the chapters grapple with a fundamental commonality; the relationship between actors in markets and actors in the political sphere – that is the complex interactions of being a citizen and being a consumer. The second group of essays discuss two closely related aspects of our study. The first two chapters look at the political parties actions in terms of how marketised they have become, the next two chapters investigate the mediation of the political party/leaders actions. Kesteloot et al offer insights from two recent elections in Belgium, whilst Scammell offers a market oriented account of Tony Blair’s masochism campaign strategy during the British General Election of 2005. These case studies show the strategic outcome of political actors increased use of market research and a marketised way of understanding the environments they operate in. Both the chapter from Brown and Jackson focus on how the political actors are mediated, that crucial stage offering most of the electorate a link between the political party offerings and their own lives, that is how politics is represented through various media outlets. Brown’s chapter takes a visual imagery perspective and in so doing, equates the way parties and politicians are portrayed with the way promotional activities project commercial brands. In essence both political and commercial offerings can be understood from this consumerist reading of communications. Jackson takes a broader view asking if and how the media coverage of politics contributes to the electorate being treated as consumers rather than voters. Interestingly it reports two trends in tension. One trend is that of ‘dumbing down’ in order to make politics more easily accessible whilst at the same time more serious weighty coverage is offered in niche media. The final group essays in this collection investigate the electorates’ own views of, and interactions with, politics. Dermody and Hanmer–Lloyd look particularly at young people’s attitudes towards electoral politics.

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Their survey data concentrates on those young people most interested in politics and yet even here they find evidence that the links being made with politics are consumerist in nature which reinforces a self-oriented connection largely devoid of trust. Lilleker’s chapter offers perspectives based on the geographic location and political context of election campaigns. In exploring the interaction with electoral contests within both marginal and safe seats in the UK, some insights are gained into how the nature, style and intensity of the campaign can encourage greater interest and involvement and the extent to which citizenly attitudes and responses come to the fore when considering voter choice. Finally Dean introduces a lifeworld model arguing that to appreciate the electorate’s actual engagement with politics we need to understand where it fits within their overall life experiences. Consequently she is advocating a less political centric perspective in order to identify where real salient points exist for the majority who have low involvement in politics. Each essay will approach the subject from a discrete perspective which will be outlined within its introduction. However all of the chapters are framed by responding to the core question asked by the editors of this volume: Is the ‘electorate’ understood better, more appropriately for our times, as a conglomerate of individualistic consumers or can we find evidence that civic duty and the ideals of civic culture still in existence? Each chapter will do this by exploring some of the following: x Whether parties, voters and the broadcast media are approaching one another using consumerist perspectives; x How this can be mapped empirically through specific examples or case studies; x The extent to which consumer behaviour models and perspectives help us understand voter or party behaviour; x The important implications for such changes in the political landscape on future electoral contests in the UK and more globally.

Bibliography Baines, P. R., Harris, P. and Lewis, B. (2002) ‘The political marketing planning process: improving image and message in strategic target areas’ Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 6-14. Baudrillard, J. (1993) Symbolic exchange and death. Sage, Thousand Island.



—. (1995) The virtual Illusion: Or the automatic writing of the world. Theory, Culture and Society. 12/97 Blumenthal, S. (1982) The permanent campaign Inside the elite of political operatives. Boston Beacon Press Butler, C. (2002) Postmodernism. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. Butler, P. and Collins, N. (2001) ‘Payment on Delivery: recognising constituency service as political marketing.’ European Journal of Marketing. Vol. 35 (9-10) pp 1026-1037. Campbell, C. (1987) The romantic ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism, Blackwell Publishers Coleman, S. (2005) Remixing Citizenship: Democracy and Young People’s Use of the Internet, London: Carnegie Young People Initiative. Coudlry, N. (2004) The productive consumer and the dispersed citizen. Nternational Journal of Cultural Studies. 7;21 —. (2005) Culture and citizenship: The missing link?. European Journal of Cultural Studies vol 9(3): 321-340 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000) The cost and benefits of consuming. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 27 No 2 Donnelly, M. (2005) Sixties Britain, Longman Evans, J. (2004) Voters and Voting: an introduction, London: Sage. Gamble, A. (1981) An Introduction to Modern Social and Political Thought, Macmillan. Hay, C. (2002) Heath, A., Jowell, R. and Curtice, J. (2001) The Rise of New Labour: Party Policies and Voter Choices, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Henneberg, S. C. M. (2002) ‘Understanding Political Marketing’ in in Nicholas J. O’Shaughnessy and Stefan C. M. Henneberg The Idea of Political Marketing, Westport, CT: Praeger. Lees-Marshment, J. (2004) The Political Marketing Revolution: transforming the government of the UK, Manchester University Press Mauser, G. (1983) Political Marketing: An approach to campaign strategy. Praeger Publishing Lilleker, D. G., Jackson, N., and Scullion, R. (2006) ‘Conclusion: was 2005 the year political marketing came of age?’ in D.G. Lilleker, N. Jackson & R. Scullion The Marketing of Political Parties: The UK 2005 General Election. Manchester, Manchester University Press, pp. 251-264. McDonagh, P. & Prothero, A. (1996) Making a drama out of a crisis: The end of the marketing concept. In Brown, S. Bell, J and Carson, D. (eds)

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Marketing Apocalypse. Eschatology, Escapology and the illusion of the end. Routledge London Macdonald, S., Rabinowitz, G. and Listhaug, O. (1998) ‘On attempting to rehabilitate the proximity model: sometimes the patient just can’t be helped’, Journal of Politics, Vol. 60, pp. 653-90. Negrine, R., and Lilleker, D. G. (2003) “The Rise of a Proactive Local Media strategy in British Political Communication: clear continuities and evolutionary change 1966-2001”, Journalism Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 199-212. Newman, B. I. (1994) The marketing of the President, Sage. Newman, B. (2001) Image manufacturing in the USA; recent US presidential elections and beyond. European Journal of Marketing. 35, 9/10 O’Cass, A. (2001) The internal-external orientations of a political party: social implications of political party market orientations. Journal of Public Affairs. 1 (2) Peters et al (1999) Institutional Theory in Political Science: The ‘New Institutionalism’, London: Pinter. Popkin, S. (1991) The reasoning Voter: Communication and persuasion in Presidential campaigns. University of Chicago Press. Scammell, M. (1995) Designer Politics, Macmillan. —. (2000) ‘The Internet and Civic Engagement: the age of the citizenconsumer’ Political Communication Vol. 17 pp. 351-355.


Introduction There is not much one can add to Thomas Frank’s (2000) witty and incisive critique of the discourse of market populism that permeated the cultural landscape of the US at the end of the 20th century. Frank describes in detail how online stock trading became constructed as the pinnacle of popular political representation and how brokerage firms filled much advertising space during Superbowl games and on 24/7 business channels to inform us of this fact. Pervasive talk by pundits, journalists, and CEOs of the stock market having been ‘democratized’ was to imply “that the market now functioned like a democracy; that the market represented the people, that it acted on the people’s behalf, that it spoke in the vox populi” (Frank, 2000, p. 93). Notorious free marketeer, technophile, and relentless ‘democratizer’ Thomas Freedman even went so far as to promote the stock market as the ideal of democratic participation. Where the political elites had failed, according to Friedman, the market succeeded in “turn[ing] the whole world into a parliamentary system, in which every government lives under the fear of a no-confidence vote” (Friedman, 1999b, p. 115). Consistent with his ‘flat world’ view, Friedman detects the networked masses rise above everyday oppression and marginalization from the depths of their wired basements. Transformed into revolutionaries by personal computer and broadband these neglected and disempowered souls came to symbolize ‘democratization by the stock market’ because at the NYSE they now can “vote every hour, every day through their mutual 1 This research project has been supported by the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) in Boston, MA and the Research Institute of Technology and Information Marketing (RITIM) at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI. A version of this paper has appeared in the Special Issue of the Journal of Consumer Policy, 2007, 30(3), entitled “Shopping for Human Rights”.

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funds, their pension funds, their brokers” (Friedman, 1999, p. 142). Of course, this “E*Trade revolution” of democratic empowerment through market participation, fuelled by the emergence of the new agent of history, the hyper-individualist, hyper-capitalist online investor, never took place. The “People’s Market”, touted by the neoliberal opinion leaders as the only true and legitimate site for meaningful participation of the masses, never materialized outside the imaginations of the market populists and their desire for a broad market-as-faith consensus. The Clinton era stock market, according to Frank (2000), was as much an economic as a democratic bubble and in this chapter, despite its title, we are not suggesting otherwise. Put differently, our argument is not that the market equals a voting booth, that stock trading in particular constitutes democracy in action, or that the market’s “one dollar, one vote” paradigm represents meaningful and equal political participation, regardless how many people own stocks. Yet, we hope to show here that widespread participation in the networked stock market of the 21st century can in fact generate political effects and furthermore, that these effects are not necessarily aligned with the conservative agenda of building a broad societal consensus for regressive wealth distribution. In other words, the politicization of the investor that we describe here has nothing in common with the discourse of market populism as represented by the likes of the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Andrew Tobias, and Lester Thurow. Rather, we focus on how the seemingly apolitical and amoral- (and rational and self-interested) act of stock market participation gives birth to, at least in some investors, new cognitive structures that produce a sense f social and moral responsibility, aid the re-orientation of self-interest, and inculcate in market participants what historian Thomas Haskell (1985) calls humanitarian sensibility.

The Context of Investing in the New Millennium Even though the investment boom years of the late 1990s came to a grinding halt when the stock market crashed in the spring of 2000, the “damage” was done, and investment behaviour had experienced a profound transformation. A new online investor class of small, individual, do-it-yourself investors had formed at the intersection of technological innovation, neoliberal economics, and the progressive individualization of society (Gagnier, 1997; Heelas, Lash, & Morris, 1996; Sassen, 1999). Whereas 1999 levels of consumer excitement, trading activity and brokerage profitability may not return for years to come, recently online


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

trading is again picking up as online trading volumes and market valuations for online brokers like Ameritrade and e*Trade continue to increase (Hallerman, 2002). The advent of broadband has only fuelled the growth of Internet banking in general and online stock trading in particular (Lee & Yongwoon, 2005) and led to a five-fold increase since 2000. Certainly, many day traders fled the market after the Spring of 2000, but they have been replaced with even larger numbers of more long-term oriented investors, who enjoy the control and convenience of the Internet (Stone, 2001). In the U.S., now more than half of all households (57 million) own stock either directly or through mutual funds (Donohue, 2005). Moreover, despite the so-called dot-com meltdown, about twelve million stock owners trade online, up from just more than two million in 1998 and six million in 2002. Seven years after the bubble burst we can conclude that the benefits of the digital format have established the practice of buying and selling stocks online as one of the few successful and enduring online business models. The role that the Internet played in making Wall Street available to small investors cannot be understated. The challenge of “finding the market”, previously a high entry barrier for masses of potential investors, no longer exists with companies such as Yahoo! Finance, e*Trade, and Ameritrade just a keystroke away (Knorr Cetina & Bruegger, 2002; Zwick & Dholakia, 2006a, 2006b). As growing numbers of individuals use the Internet to invest in stocks and often become first time share owners we sought to investigate what kind of social and political implications this type of market participation may entail. If investing fosters boldness, prudence, decision-making skills and greed, does it also nurture social responsibility and political consciousness? Hence, in this essay we pursue a question situated in the larger debate among economists, political scientists, and consumer sociologists with respect to the role of the market, and in extension consumption, and the promotion of collective welfare, social justice, and equal rights (e.g., Busch, 2000; Callon, 1998; Holt, 2002; Micheletti, 2003; Micheletti, Føllesdal, & Stolle, 2004; Ozanne & Murray, 1995). Specifically, we propose that the market itself can be the source, and not merely a site or even a barrier, for politically and socially progressive consumerism. We draw from writings on antislavery and capitalism (Bender, 1992; Haskell, 1985a, 1985b) as well as our own empirical study to argue that the nature of the market can convince market actors to think about concerns other than economic self-interest when they engage in market

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transactions. Our model, which centres on notions of connectivity and networks (Castells, 1996, 2001), contrasts with the standard economic view of markets, which argues that merely by pursuing economic selfinterest actors also increase collective welfare. We also differ from newer political consumerist conception, where political and social activists drag their causes into the market as an arena for politics, as in the case of socially responsible investing (SRI) and “shopping for a better world” (Hollister, Will, & Tepper Marlin, 1994). While the economic perspective equates individual value maximization with progressive social policies and the consumerist movements assume that already politicized citizens turn to the market to express their values in consumer choices, our empirical study finds other-oriented concerns such as social justice and global human rights are generated “from within” the market mechanism. Hence, while there is no doubt that consumers often politicize the market (boycotts, “buycotts”, Naderism, etc.), we suggest that under certain circumstances the market also politicizes otherwise apolitical and amoral consumers in a process that we call the social pedagogy of the market. Put differently, politically conscious and morally aware consumers can be considered the ‘effect’ of market transactions. We conclude that the market can be a breeding ground for humanitarian sensibility. The remainder of the chapter is organized in four parts. First, we review current conceptualizations of the market and the consumer subject to sketch out if and how market participants are imagined by different intellectual traditions as political actors. After briefly explaining our methodology, we draw from our data to sketch a model of market mechanisms as a generative force of humanitarian sensibilities and social consciousness. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of such a market model.

Contrasting Market and Consumer Models Traditionally, much of the debate regarding the moral temperament of the market has been confined within economic discourse where isomorphic and essentialist definitions posit a mechanical and value-free market positioned in a sphere outside the social and moral (Carrier, 1997; Dilley, 1992; Lie, 1997; Spillman, 1999). The 1990s have seen a moralist (re)claiming of the market from the “amoralism” of the economist view, with a wide range of divergent scholars promulgating a consumer-focused reassessment of the market as a conduit of moral agency (e.g., Gabriel & Lang, 1995; Holt, 2002; Kozinets & Handelman, 2004; Micheletti, 2003;


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

Micheletti et al., 2004; Nyborg, 2000; Scammell, 2000; Stolle, Hooghe, & Micheletti, 2005). Whether conceptualized as a benevolent invisible hand, an alienating, amoral and destructive force, or a site for moral agency, the market always generates an ethical framework within which forms of consumer action can be evaluated as good or bad. Therefore, any moral evaluation of the market must include the ethical obligations of market actors, who stand in a symbiotic, dialectic and co-generative relationship with the market. Our theoretical approach is in keeping with sociological and anthropological treatments of the market as a socially embedded structure rather than an entity apart from the social (Granovetter, 1992; Granovetter, 1994; Spillman, 1999; Swedberg, 2003). As Dilley (1992, p. 4) puts it, “moral evaluations of trade and commerce must be viewed empirically as arising from a context of changing politico-economic relationships”. The starting point is an acknowledgement that all consumer practices are ethical as they are shaped by ethical dispositions and should be understood as presupposing a set of specific, learned ethical competencies (Barnett, Clarke, Cloke, & Malpass, 2005). From the literature, we can identify three distinct moral constructions of the market and by extension, conceptualizations of the consumer subject: 1) the sovereign consumer model advanced by neoclassical economics, 2) the oppressed consumer model presented by adherents to the general tenets of the Frankfurt School criticism of the market, and 3) the moral consumer model where politically-spirited individuals use the market as an arena for politics. We conclude this section by briefly sketching out a fourth construction of the market that conceptualizes market mechanisms as the source (rather than the vehicle) for generating a humanitarian sensibility. This is our extension to the existing models and also the focus point of our empirical discussion below.

The Sovereign Consumer Neoclassic economic theories conceptualize the consumer as sovereign decision maker and the market as site par excellence for enacting independent and ethical consumption choices. Adam Smith was among the first to extol the sovereign consumer as the hero of modern market societies. For Smith, dispassionate market choices of an autonomous and self-determined consumer agent are instrumental in directing the market’s invisible hand and in promoting more efficient production, better and cheaper products, social progress and increased general welfare. Slater

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


(1997, p. 41) summarizes liberalism’s vision of the market “as an impersonal mechanism or means of co-ordination which allows social order to emerge from the anarchy of individual desires.” Within this model, obligations and maxims for market actors would be sustained on the basis of marginal utility calculations over cost driven by an egoist ethical frame. Within this framework, ethical responsibility is equated with the unfettered individualistic pursuit of maximum utility, completely unencumbered by any social pressures or collective commitments. The ethical predisposition associated with such utility maximization would be in turn supported by rational competence in evaluating and selecting market offerings. As Sirgy and Su (2000, p. 1) put it, “[T]he idea is that consumers can serve society by engaging in rational decision making and wisely exercising their economic votes. They do this by shopping around for products that give them the best value (high quality and low price).”

The Oppressed Consumer The critical position theorizes the market in opposition to the possibility of free and enlightened political action (e.g., Comaroff & Comaroff, 2001; Giroux, 2004). Trapped in the code of the market, citizens are duped into the logic of consumer culture, which presents acquisitiveness and consumption as the path to the good life, thus depriving them of their ability to make critical and progressive choices for the betterment of all (see Holt, 2002; Murray, Ozanne, & Shapiro, 1994). Accordingly, the constitution of a subject concerned with social issues such as workers’ welfare, human rights, and environmental protection can only be achieved via emancipation from the logic of the market tout court (Firat & Venkatesh, 1995). Subjectivities freed from the terror of late capitalist market logic would be bound by ethical predispositions that favor the constitution of alternative modes of being and consuming while assigning distinctive ethical responsibilities. These responsibilities are situated away from the privatized and commercialized spheres of consumption and instead revolve around personal self actualization, contentment and societal betterment. The critical perspective rejects the neoclassical market model and its rational but ultimately selfish consumer subject in favor of a more politically inclined and engaged actor placed firmly in a communal and egalitarian social and economic system.


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

The Moral Consumer Market moralists, on the other hand, posit that in an increasingly individualized society the market becomes, for the better or worse, a very powerful vehicle for collective action (Friedman, 1999a; Smith, 1990). Under various guises, such as ethical consumerism, political consumerism, consumer citizenship and green consumerism, market moralists have for some time been documenting the advent of a politicized market through which enlightened consumers aim to change corporate and governmental policy (for a comprehensive history of these political consumer movements see Micheletti, 2003). According to this school of thought, informed citizen-consumers (to borrow from Gabriel and Lang, 1995) seize the power of the market to aggregate individual consumer choices in order to change the status quo (see for example Gabriel and Lang 1995; Micheletti, 2003; Micheletti, Follesdal and Stolle, 2004; Nyborg, 2000; Stolle, Hooghe and Micheletti, 2005; Scammel, 2000). Rather than a hindrance to emancipatory practices and ideologies, the market constitutes one of several sites (the ballot box and the streets representing others) for political expression and collective action. Under political consumerism the market has been transformed into a political arena in which citizens qua consumers make choices based on moral evaluations of what they believe to be fair and just (Micheletti, 2003; Micheletti et al., 2004; Stolle et al., 2005). Socially responsible investing (SRI) and the “Shopping for a better world” movement (Hollister et al., 1994) are prominent examples of this conceptual position. A prerequisite for this kind of political consumerism, including both boycotting and buycotting (see Friedman, 1996), is the intelligent, conscious, and informed consumer who is aware of the power of individual consumer choice for advancing larger global and collective issues of social and economic justice, the environment, and human rights (Denegri-Knott, Zwick, & Schroeder, 2006). These consumers turn their political attention from the ballot to the mall (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002) by boycotting companies supporting repressive governments (Pepsi in Burma, Barclays in South Africa), refusing to buy from those who are thought to be responsible for deforestation (Burger King and Texaco), and supporting those who advocate consumer and animal rights and fight for product safety (e.g., Aveda and the Body Shop). Importantly, by theorizing the market as a catalyst for political consciousness (rather than its source as we will below), market moralists posit the righteous, justiceseeking, and ethical actor as a priori to his or her actions in the market (e.g., Franck, 1999; Gabriel & Lang, 1995; Nyborg, 2000).

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


The Humanitarian Consumer The consumer-citizen model covers some of the elements of the pedagogical market that we will illustrate below. However, our discussion extends the political consumption model in two important ways. First, and contrary to the political model that conceptualizes the market merely as a site to execute one’s political will, we draw on historian Thomas Haskell's (1985a; 1985b) interpretation of the relationship of capitalist market expansion and the emergence of antislavery movements in the United States to argue that politically conscious and morally aware consumers are a posteriori of market transactions. Second, we illustrate the role of the Internet in the generation of a sense of responsibility and causality and its ability to solidify our understanding of the nature of global solidarities created by the networked market structure. Following Haskell’s use of Weber, we suggest that by being embedded in extensive market relations and by internalizing the cause-effect lessons learned from market discipline, individual online investors acquire a recipe knowledge that they transfer from the stock market to the supermarket. In other words, market mechanisms and relations have the potential to alter the perception of cause-effect relationships that an individual online investor sees him- or herself to be part of, thereby converting self-interest into political consumerism across markets. Our theorization of consumer activism as originating from, rather than merely working through, market discipline turns the current “morality of the market” approach (which in its broad incarnation includes what in reality is a wide variety of market boycotting and consumer activism strategies) including “buycotting”, on its head (Friedman, 1996, 1999a; Kozinets & Handelman, 2004). In our study of individual online investors we found that the market – typically construed as an institution that narrowly and deliberately limits the responsibility of each person to the pursuit of self-interest – not only becomes the site of reflexive, socially responsible, and moral consumer behavior but also inculcates a sense of responsibility for others’ well being, or as Haskell (1985a; 1985b) puts it, humanitarian sensibility.

Method Motivated by exploring cultural, social, and cognitive effects of online stock trading, we focused on the unique viewpoints of investors who regularly engage and navigate this online market environment. Rather than


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

using traditional survey techniques, which are not as well suited for obtaining the deep and rich insights needed for the study of experiences, we employed in-depth, semi-structured interviews with twenty-six volunteer informants aged between 21 and 44. Table 1 shows the profiles of the participants. We identified the respondents through purposive sampling, which is a common technique in qualitative studies that rely on a small number of volunteers for data collection. To establish a purposive sample of appropriate informants, they are selected based on some specific criteria (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), which in our case meant frequent buying and selling of stocks (we define everyone who conducted at least one transaction per month as a frequent trader). This technique ensures that the informants share some broad similarities that are essential for their suitability in this study. Subjects were recruited in the United States and Germany, two places were Internet stock trading was gaining tremendous popularity in the early stages of the Internet boom of the mid-1990s (Shiller, 2000; Staute, 1998). At the time of the interview, all informants were relatively new to online investing touting hardly more than a couple of years of experience. While we did not select informants based on their lack of experience with the stock market, we believe that this characteristic nevertheless aided our investigation because informants were able to verbalize clearly how this new form of market participation had affected their political views. Typically, the interviews took place in front of the computer, often while logged onto the informants’ online trading accounts. The interviews lasted between 60-120 minutes and follow-up interviews were conducted with eight informants.

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


Table 1.1: Profile of Participants Pseudonym


Herbert Joachim Manfred

37 36 37

Family Status Married Single Single




Theo Michael Eberhard Sebastian Steffen Oliver Harald Christian Peter Klaus

44 25 37 37 36 31 28 25 36 35

Divorced Single Married Married Married Single Married Single Single Married

Rudolf Larry Richard Susan Claudia

36 20 21 21 28

Married Single Singe Single Single

Kenny Peter Ernie Eric John Jacqueline Keith

25 32 43 34 48 22

Single Single Married Married Married Single



Manager/MBA Teacher/PhD information technology Developer/M.S. Project Manager/M.S. Lawyer/JD Student Journalism/M.A. Engineer/M.S. Banker/MBA Teacher/ M.S. Teacher/ M.A. Student Academia/PhD System Administrator/ M.S. Biotechnologist M.S. Soldier/ B.A. Student Student Account Executive/MBA Academia/PhD Sales Rep./B.A. Manager/MBA Ad Designer/ M.A. Academia/PhD Manager/ M.B.A. Student

German German German

Household Income/$Year 50.000 25.000 60.000



German German German German German German German German German German

70.000 30.000 40.000 n.a. 40.000 14.000 24.000 7.000 65.000 60.000

German American American American American

40.000 25000 n.a. 10000 50000

American American American American American American American

n.a. 40000 60.000 80000 50.000 n.a. 10000


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

The Pedagogy of the Market: Presenting the Themes This section makes judicious use of data from a large scale study of the culture of online investing. From it we build the model of the market as source for humanitarian sensibilities. While we provide some contextualization of our informants’ narratives, an extended discussion and data analysis takes place in the discussion section of the chapter below. At this stage we briefly draw attention to some of the major themes that emerge from the stories given to us by our informants.

Getting Connected The experience of investing is significantly structured by the use of computer technology to access the market, information, and trading tools. In front of the computer screen, individual investors find themselves connected to spaces of flow (c.f., Appadurai, 1993; Knorr Cetina, 2005). I get to the computer around nine in the morning either at my office downtown or at home where I work at least two days a week. First thing I do is log onto the Internet and check on the markets in Asia, well Tokyo mainly, because they are actually already closed by then. So, I need to catch up with what happened there while I was asleep. […] At work I cannot spend too much time reading up on news and log into my broker’s site so I have the tickers to stay connected to the market. Plus, I get email alerts of important news breaks or announcements that might affect my stocks somehow. I like those. They give you a quick update on developments and that way let you stay informed about developments. That system also alerts me just before 3:30 PM when the Nasdaq is about to open in the U.S. so I can start the ticker and get a quick overview what is going on over there. That is key because all these financial markets are basically totally affecting each other and the NYSE and the Nasdaq are the most important ones. If something happens over there it will affect the market over here as well, you can totally bank on that, so you need to check in. (Eberhardt, 37, Journalist, German, July 2000)

Eberhardt‘s routine of “checking in” and “logging in”, and setting up email alerts and ticker tapes on his computer to stay “connected”, “cluedin”, and “in touch” plugs him into the spaces of flow, where given his interest in particular industry sectors and his ownership of certain stocks, events are perceived as either meaningful or not and then arranged depending upon their potential impact on the market in general and his portfolio in particular. Kenny echoes this urge to get connected to global events and produce what could be called a hermeneutics of the market.

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


What do you mean by ‘increased awareness’? Yes, well, the first thing I noticed after I began investing online, was that basically, doing investing yourself means you need to change your relation to the world. What that means is that you have to be willing to engage, and stay engaged, with all of the things that are going on out there because whatever happens tomorrow, be it in the Gaza Strip or China or Timbuktu, can affect the markets and therefore your shares and therefore your own money. In a way of course that has always been the case but until you do it yourself, it’s really not the same. Just look at Bush and his plan to jack up the military spending, right? […] Then Europe, the expansion of the Internet in Europe. I mean you start doing all kinds of conjecturing where you try to interpret news, even people like Bush, you know, and what this could mean for certain industries and your own stocks. (Kenny, 42, professor, American, March 2000).

It is clear that the disintermediation of the traditional broker forces the investor to ‘get plugged in’ to global flows of information, economic and other, intensifying his or her involvement with the market. In other words, the market becomes a lens through which global events are recognized, interpreted, and eventually linked to economic desires and hopes. From the Connected Investor to a Sense of Responsibility to Others

The effect of connectivity, technological and cognitive, is not limited simply to causing awareness. Market discipline, reach, and logic are capable of sensitizing market participant to the social, political, environmental, and economic conditions found at the destination of their actions (see also Kozinets & Handelman, 2004). I used to own Disney stocks, would you believe it? But when I heard in chat rooms about how they treat gay employees I sold them right away. I don’t want to have any part of that crap. With my biotech(nology) stocks it was different. I just jumped on the bandwagon with all the others when that market was riding high. Here at work we were all talking biotech. So I bought shares of a couple of companies that seemed to be looking good purely on the numbers and was hoping for the fast money. And I was making money, they were going up but as I started looking them up more and more and saw what they were doing, I wasn't so sure about the whole thing anymore because it was all about basic cloning research. The other one was Monsanto that was essentially working on genetically modified foods. So I learned more about what their partners and clients are, what their objectives are, and stuff and how they were literally blackmailing Third World countries into buying essentially sterile rice so they have to come back every year to my Monsanto seeds, basically. I mean, that’s just plain sick. I really felt like I had to make a choice here because the stock


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street was looking good initially but I really disliked the idea of what they were doing. (Oliver, 31, teacher, German, September 2001). At the beginning I just bought what everyone else bought. So, for example, then like almost everyone I bought e.on (German utility) and had no idea what they exactly were doing. I knew they were a utility and when they became listed they were a hot commodity, but I learned only after I bought some shares that they are in nuclear energy, and I thought about that for a while and decided to get rid of that stock. I don’t believe in nuclear power anymore and did not want to profit from it either. Besides, things sometimes come out while you own a stock already. I could not believe when I learned that suppliers for Bayer were using child labour in the production process. Even if Bayer does not, if they don’t do anything about it, I’ll be gone. I’m watching this closely actually right now. (Joachim, 36, teacher, German, September 2001).

Clearly, Oliver and Joachim initially did not become investors to make the world a better place. Only a sudden change in assessing the potential results of one’s action in a broader context presses the investor to face the unsettling realization that owning a company share not only entitles him or her to participate in the company’s profits but also make him or her responsible for the way these profits are realized. As Eric’s comment below illustrates, the disintermediation of the broker (or the other way around, the immediacy of the market) makes the joy of winning more complicated than initially expected. For me things got really scary when I realized that becoming a smart investor is not what they [online brokers like Ameritrade] say in their commercials it is. You learn that when you go to a party and you boast around that you “trade” (makes quotation marks with fingers) and the next thing you know is you are in a heated discussion defending your investment in Nike. No doubt some of my artsy friends are overly sensitive to these issues but they have a point when they say that I should know better. It’s the problem with the Internet in a way. It makes you powerful because you no longer need a broker and it makes you responsible for your actions. No one to hide behind anymore, no reason not to know about the company you invest in because the information is all right there. So, smart suddenly was no longer just betting on the right company but becoming knowledgeable about what you buy, you know, and to make sure you can justify your choice on a more personal, or perhaps ideological level. Investing now is sooo much more work now that it was at the beginning (laughs) (Eric, 43, ad designer, American).

Buying shares online, independently and autonomously, has the potential to alter the moral universe of the investor. As cause-effect

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


relationships become apparent, the market participant feels responsible for her choices. This would explain why our informants distinguish strongly between what we call direct and indirect investing. There are two ways to perceive investing as indirect. First, it is indirect when the investing (regardless of the format) is done by a professional broker or financial advisor. Second, indirect investment might involve putting money in a mutual fund, rather than in a specific share, regardless of who actually does it. Using broker and buying mutual funds have the potential to conceal the cause-effect relationship of the investment choice. Hence, the pedagogy of market discipline hinges on direct technological, and in extension cognitive, connectivity. Such pedagogy is capable of transferring newly established constellations of attitudes and practices from the stock market to the consumer market. Well, yes, investing does change what I buy, to some degree. I mean I wouldn’t buy a (Volkswagen) Golf just because I have some VW shares. Although, I always buy T-Online services and phones (laughs). But since my Adidas research [Christian used to own Adidas stocks and sold them when he found out about reports of mistreatment of children and women labourers in factories producing Adidas products], I do consider myself an anti-child labour activist and certainly avoid buying soccer balls from India and shirts made in Thailand. I mean, it would be pretty hypocritical if I decided that profiting from Adidas is not ethical but buying their products is. So yes, my experience investing has definitely changed some of my buying behaviour, I would say. (Christian, 25, student, German, July 2000).

Several other informants echoed Christian’s sentiments of a transfer of attitudes and ideologies forged in the stock market to the consumer market. Significantly for companies, attitude transfer can go both ways. A principled and respectable company is likely to find that their small individual shareholders are also loyal customers. A company that finds itself at the centre of controversy because of the nature of their products or business practices may likely lose both an investor and a customer. In the final section of the chapter, we discuss these data and present our model of the market which posits that under certain conditions and against the odds, the market can be a source of political activism for social justice and economic equity, or to use Haskell’s term, humanitarian sensibility.

Discussion In this chapter, we rely on interview data collected from individual online investors to illustrate the social pedagogy of Wall Street.


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

Specifically, we refer to the fact that through direct participation in the globally-networked marketplace of financial products, investors are put in touch, often for the first time, with economic, social, and cultural realities around the globe. Hence it is economic interest that intensifies investors’ more general engagement with global flows of information and news beyond the business pages. For our informants, then, stock market participation comes to constitute the first and indeed most important step towards learning about the social, cultural, and economic ‘other.’ However, a meaningful social pedagogy ties knowledge to praxis. Recalling Belk’s (1988) concept of the extended self, we refer to the online investor as the connected self to describe a market actor that becomes increasingly aware of its actions’ global reach and interconnectedness. Hence, market connectivity extends – the individual’s perception of cause-effect relationships into the larger global political and economic sphere of which he or she has become a part through market action. To feel causally connected to people, events, and places is an important prerequisite for developing a sense of moral responsibility. Haskell’s (1985a; 1985b) theorization of market effects on humanitarian sensibility suggest that a sense of connectedness is elevated to a sense of responsibility for others when the investor (or consumer) perceives himor herself to be causally linked to people, events, conditions, and practices elsewhere. In addition, a sense of moral responsibly requires a sense of power to challenge the status quo. We suggest that within networked markets, market participants are increasingly faced with the recognition that their transactions affect people, events, and conditions elsewhere. More to the point, they recognize that their transactions may either sustain or challenge the current state of affairs, transforming an act of selfinterested economic pursuit into a political statement with larger ethical implications. In theoretical terms, we argue that this new found connectivity inculcates altered perceptions of causation in human affairs (c.f., Haskell, 1985a). Specifically, we contend that market participation increases the range of events that investors perceive themselves to be causally involved in because the range of events that they perceive themselves to be involved in is shaped by the reach and power of their own actions (1985a; 1985b). Hence, market discipline effects a real transformation in social consciousness and moral sensibility by altering participants’ perception

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


and cognitive style and expanding the limits of radical, critical, and reflexive investor action. Importantly, small individual investors do not typically enter the investment game out of a sense of responsibility for others, or to promote social responsibility and economic justice, but rather to make money. Yet, the do-it-yourself investing format clearly complicates things for the online trader. As our informants research, select, and purchase their first shares without any intermediation by a financial advisor or fund manager, they are suddenly faced with the realization that purchasing stocks can no longer be reduced to a purely private matter. The immediacy of the computer screen and the convenience of information acquisition bring into focus the larger social context that one’s investment helps to sustain and reproduce. Investors, feeling causally linked to the plight of underage women workers in Asia, environmental exploitation in South America, and consumer manipulation in Africa, become sensitized to humanitarian issues around the world. Hence, new technology – including media and transportation but also institutions and political and economic organizations – must be theorized as a crucial part of our model of the market as a source of humanitarian sensibilities. Technology affects our ability to achieve ends otherwise out of reach, and by doing so changes the moral, political, economic, social, and cultural universe in which we live (see also Dholakia & Zwick, 2004). In this study, we focus on the networks represented by the Internet and the (stock) market-on-the-screen, which puts individual investors in touch with information, places, and people in new and complex ways. While the Internet and the computer screen provide the technology to connect to the market, it is the ownership of the company share that motivates cognitive connectivity. In this sense, the stock represents a technology of connectivity that contributes to the expansion of conventional limits of investor responsibility because it puts investors in touch with the remote consequences of their actions. Not only does the market encourage more connected and generally aware market subjects, but also market discipline, reach, and logic is capable of sensitizing market subjects to the social, political, environmental, and economic conditions found at the destination of their actions (see also Kozinets & Handelman, 2004). Within the networked markets of the Internet, investment decisions are perceived as ethical decisions because the investment directly and unequivocally connects the investor to a company’s products, work


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

conditions, environmental record, social impact, and so on. In the mind of the investor, investing and divesting are now reconfigured as a means to protect or challenge the status quo. Put differently, through networked transactions in global financial markets, the individual investor finds his or her perception of causation altered because of the increasing range of events to which he or she feels directly connected (cf., Castells, 1996; Zwick, 2005). The position that regards the market as the cause for social responsibility and moral sensibility stands in contrast to the mechanical and value-free market assumed by proponents of ethical investing and moral consumerism (e.g., Irvine, 1987; Smith, 1990), who maintain that enlightened and politically motivated consumers employ the market merely to enact preferences and values formed in spheres outside the market. Our conceptualization of the market also contrasts with the monolithic anti-corporate and anti-consumerist view of the market as the prime mover of widening corporate oppression and passive consumerism (Kozinets & Handelman, 2004). Hence, we argue that the market is not only constituted of active investors, but that under certain conditions the market constitutes investors as active political and social actors through their acts of investing. Clearly, not all structures governing market transactions are likely to bring about a cognitive style that causes market participants to feel connected to events, people, conditions, and institutional practices elsewhere. Also, not all individual online investors will become critical and reflexive investors who use market choices as a vehicle to resist the continuation of what they consider an unjust, dangerous, or for one reason or another unacceptable current state of affairs. Perhaps even the majority of market participants will not be moved to action by the extended–moral universe opened up by the market. However, we theorize that stock market participation is capable of equipping investors with a technique, or what Weber (1958) calls recipe knowledge, that expands investors’ ability to perceive causal relationships and change the status quo (via consumer choices). Hence, the market can, under certain circumstances, contribute to reflexive and critical practices by providing a vital precondition for engaging investors with the world. Political consumerism and “the morality of the market” position of ethical shopping and SRI have argued for a long time that consumer practices gain increasing significance for promoting societal well-being and ensuring socially just and morally responsible outcomes of market mechanisms (see Gabriel & Lang, 1995; Scammell, 2000). The

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


model proposed here, however, differs from the political consumerism model by suggesting that the market constitutes political consumers, rather than the other way around. The market has many faces and monolithic conceptualizations of the market (certainly including the neoliberal utopia of the “free” market) unduly reduce its ontological complexity. Clearly, while it can be argued that a commitment to social justice and equality founded on the principles of collective power requires a fundamental critique of capitalist forms of domination and power, the comments of our informants suggest that the market can provide the conditions of possibility for piercing through the ideological veneer of political capitalism, which refers “to a particular imbrication of the political and economic in the organization of power” (Orlie, 2002, p. 397).

Conclusion In this chapter, we argue first that through their participation in the computer-mediated, networked stock market, individual online investors develop a sense of connectedness to the social, cultural, and economic conditions of people and places sometime half way around the globe. Second, we contend that this sense of connectedness generates a more general awareness of the interrelatedness of production and consumption processes in a globalised economy, which effectively mediates investors’ single-minded quest of profits and gives birth to new ethical practices that underlie a sense of social responsibility and moral sensibility to others. Finally, we show empirically that the sense of responsibility for others inculcated by the market discipline of “Wall Street” is transferred into the consumer market as expressed in reflexive and socially responsible consumption choices. We thus see political consumerism playing itself out in two distinct, yet clearly interrelated markets. Contrary to critiques of the market as an inevitably oppressive and fundamentally asocial force, at odds with consumer enlightenment, freedom, and empowerment, we see a face of the market that is in fact constitutive of socially and politically activist consumers because of the market’s ability to inculcate altered perceptions of causation in human affairs (Haskell, 1985a). If such a cognitive style is deemed socially desirable because it promotes a sense of responsibility for others, policy debates should consider possibilities of manipulating market structures in such a way as to allow for consumers’ perception of cause-effect


The Social Pedagogy of Wall Street

relationships with regard to their consumption practices (Thøgersen, 2005). To be sure, we do not wish to celebrate the market as the great liberator, inevitably leading to an increased political consciousness, a desire for social justice, and humanitarian sensibilities. Far form it. However, we do think that it is plausible that market participation, under the right conditions, transforms heretofore unaware and “unconscious” consumers into informed and politically active thinkers. If correct, we do not have to put all our hopes for the possibility of politically empowering and socially progressive action in “social spaces removed from market influence” (Holt, 2002, p. 72). Perhaps overcoming the convention of a market-consumer antagonism as a prerequisite for the empirical and theoretical possibility of consumer sovereignty allows us to recognize the market as a source of critical and politically active consumers: activist consumerism qua pedagogy of the market. That the market is instrumental in facilitating political action may be indicative of fussy and blurry divisions that mar distinctions between voter-citizen and consumer. Means of classifying consumers and citizenvoters and describing corresponding behaviours are of course historically bound things; hence normative standards of what one considers being a good consumer and a good voter to be, may very well acquire different values and practices at different times. One has to situate our study and our account of moral consumers within the context of a neo-liberal discourse that praises behaviours which respond to the dictums of rationality, responsibility, civility and self-enterprise. As standards of desired behaviour, these can be mapped onto the political action of a voter, who is casting his/her vote to ensure the enactment of legislation that protects the environment or onto a consumer that decides to buy stocks in a firm because they develop ‘green’ technologies. Both subject positions depend on rational, responsible and civil modes of practice which are in themselves in built into what constitute both a thoughtful voter and a consumer. Consumers are disciplined or educated into being ‘green’ and supporting local produce through a number of technologies, ranging from formal education to television programmes. Voters are encouraged to exercise their right to choose in electing a leader who will ensure wellbeing for a group, community or nation. Our chapter has aimed to illustrate how consumers, seen as here as moral consumers, can be very politically active beings.

Detlev Zwick, Janice Denegri-Knott & Jonathan E. Schroeder


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Introduction To reflect upon the (problematic) relationship between citizens and consumers is a debate that has historical antecedents (e.g. Gitlin, 1978) and the link between citizens and consumers is still highly contested within broader academic literature (see for example, Lewis et al, 2005; Higgins, forthcoming; Livingstone et al, 2007). The term ‘consumer’ is widely and generically used but to date, has received little analytical attention within the political marketing literature (for exceptions, see Scammell, 2003; Schudson, 2006; Scullion, this volume). The purpose of this chapter is to seek to begin to redress this balance and reflect upon what is meant by ‘consumer’, the underlying assumptions and the normative implications contained within this term, in the context of the increasingly influential literature surrounding political marketing. The political marketing field has developed as a response to observed empirical tendencies of political behaviour in contemporary electoral competition. This literature has usefully described contemporary electioneering, largely through models and frameworks derived from managerial marketing. What is at stake in this chapter is the way in which the public have been conceived of in this process. To date, within this political marketing literature, scant attention has been paid to the public beyond reference to their function (in terms of their ability to generate opinion data to which parties can respond and implement marketing strategies). The public are treated as an homogenous category within this

1 Would like to thank Tim Dant and Richard Scullion for insightful comments on an earlier version of this piece


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marketing model, although at the same time, referred to not as a collective, but as an individual ‘consumer’. Within the political marketing literature, the consumer is regarded as being at the heart of the production process. This has been taken to mean that voters/citizens are at the centre of party/candidate strategising and a series of normative claims have been derived from this to justify the benefits of marketing for democracy (e.g. O’Cass, 1996; Lees-Marshment, 2001). This chapter takes issue with these claims and argues that the way in which much of the political marketing literature refers to voters or citizens as consumers serves to conflate analytical and ontological categories. That is, consumer may be a term used to ‘model’ or describe current practices, but the term also serves to construct a particular reality through which certain opportunities are excluded. As such it is important to think through what is meant by the term consumer? What does this mean for the process of politics more broadly? To this end, this chapter problematises the notion of a ‘consumer’ of politics. In order to do this it will begin by providing an overview of the way in which the political marketing literature refers to voters as consumers and the broader context in which this takes place. It will then proceed to consider what the term consumer means and how this differs from traditional formal political understandings of voters, with particular attention to notions of citizenship. As such, the final section will tease out the implications of this redefinition of the public. The central argument of this chapter being that the use of the term consumer is loaded with a series of implications, but in contrast to Scullion (this volume) it is contended that citizens and consumers are mutually exclusive analytical and ontological categories. As such, to refer to voters/citizens as consumers reconstructs the public in a manner which may serve to (further) alienate them from the political process.

The consumer in the political marketing context Recent years have seen an increasingly influential growth of the academic literature surrounding political marketing. Essentially the political marketing perspective is premised upon an analogy: political marketing comprises a set of tools and techniques that are used to promote a political ‘product’ in a political ‘market-place’. Theoretically, the political marketing literature adopts these tools in order to facilitate an exchange with consumers: for votes to purchase a political product on election day. In adopting this view, the political marketing literature

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implicitly accepts the Downsian (1957) view of party competition. This is then combined with key assumptions in respect of political actors’ behaviour, drawn from management marketing. The roots of these schools of thought can be explicitly identified within neo-classical economics which the political marketing literature is explicitly premised upon (Newman, 1994; Scammell, 1999:726,739; Butler and Collins, 1999:55; Lees-Marshment, 2001:694: for development and critique of this see Savigny, 2004). These management marketing models have been adopted by the political marketing literature, in order to demonstrate how individual and organisational political actors (seek to) achieve their goals – win elections. Since Kotler & Levy’s seminal article (1969) advocated the application of the marketing concept to the political process, so the literature and practice have developed. Political marketing, by definition, assumes the existence of a political market. While the existence of five markets is acknowledged (voters; activists and interest groups; the media; the party organisation; donors and financial contributors) (Kotler and Kotler, 1999:4-5), within the vast majority of the literature the political market essentially is assumed to be the electorate (Butler and Collins, 1994:25). The consumer at the centre of the exchange process is the citizen (Butler and Collins, 1994:19) or voter (Newman, 1994:22; Lees-Marshment, 2001: 692; Lock and Harris, 1996:28; Smith and Saunders, 1990; Shama, 1976:766; Butler and Collins, 1999: 55). The point at which the exchange central to this concept occurs, the point of consumption, is regarded as the point at which the elector exchanges their vote and purchases the political product (Farrell and Wortman, 1987: 297; Wring, 1997:1133). Voting is regarded as a buying process (Reid, 1988: 36); the purchase is made on the day of the election (Lees-Marshment, 2001; Newman, 1994:10). At this point voters exchange their vote for promises and favours (O’Leary and Iredale, 1976:155). This suggests a straightforward relationship, whereby ‘consumers’ purchase a political product on the day of the election. To this end, political marketing accepts a fundamental definition of marketing and applies it to the activity of politics. Marketing ‘is about trying to incorporate the customer into the production process in order to better satisfy them and thereby increase your chances of making a profit’ (Lury, 1994:94). This fairly standard definition is transposed into political marketing to mean that identifying ‘consumer’ demands means parties are better placed to ‘sell’ their ‘product’ on the day of the election. That is, within this literature parties are assumed to behave as businesses, and as


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such, are assumed to adopt the methods of business in order to achieve their ends. At the heart of this influential marketing management literature is the marketing concept. Since its expression by Drucker in 1954, and despite debate as to its strengths and weaknesses (see Houston, 1986), the marketing concept is widely held to be the foundation of management marketing philosophy and forms the core of the discipline. It has become central to both theory and practice (Keith, 1960; Levitt, 1960, 1984; Kotler and Levy, 1969; Houston, 1986; Jaworski and Kohli, 1993; Greenly, 1995; Wensley, 1995; Ellis, 2006). Consistent with the definition of marketing, simply stated, the marketing concept holds that the needs of the consumer are the primary concern to an organisation if they want to achieve their goal: to make a profit. The consumer is at the centre of the process and marketing both begins and ends with the consumer. Simplistically put, this means identifying what the consumer wants then tailoring the product according to these expressed preferences. This then means that the consumer is likely to buy and therefore the organisation is likely to achieve its goal. Much of the political marketing literature, which adopts the managerialist marketing model, has interpreted this to mean that parties should behave in a managerialist way also. That is, if parties respond to public opinion (consumer demand) and tailor their ‘product offering’ accordingly, they should achieve their goal: electoral victory (see for example, LeesMarshment, 2001). This marketing concept has also been used, not only as a prescription for electoral success but also as the basis of a series of normative claims. The use of marketing in politics, it has been argued, keeps politicians responsive and accountable to the public thereby enhancing the democratic process (Kotler and Kotler, 1999:3; Harrop, 1990; O’Cass, 1996; Lees-Marshment, 2001). Thus far then, it can be seen that through the application of this concept and the analogy of a marketplace accepted within this literature, that voters are conflated with consumers. However, as this chapter will proceed to demonstrate, voters and consumers are qualitatively different entities with differing meanings and subsequently differing potential implications for the process of politics. Underlying this discussion is the suggestion that far from being a positive phenomenon (as suggested by the normative claims made within this literature), the method of referring to the public as consumers of politics can ultimately serve to marginalise them from the process of politics.

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What does it mean to be a consumer? The term consumer (as with other terminology) carries with it a series of meanings that constitute the term, which in turn entails opportunities and possibilities and denies others. While the voter is assumed by political marketing, to be the consumer, it is important to consider: what is actually meant by the term consumer? Consumer is a generic term which, consistent with the rest of the models and concepts employed in the political marketing literature is underpinned by neoclassical economic assumptions (as noted above). Underlying neoclassical economic accounts, and heavily influential in new right thinking, is the ideal of ‘consumer sovereignty’. This term however, functions symbolically, rather than having clear conceptual or theoretical basis (Keat, 1994:27). The associated symbolism with this term implies a rational, autonomous individual able to pursue and maximise his/her own self interest, which also is used to imply empowerment (see Scullion this volume). In these accounts then, and congruent with the assumptions made by marketing models, the cumulative decisions made by rational individuals (consumers) generate demand for a product, ensuring the success of the supply side and consequently the smooth functioning of the market. As such, the use of this term provides a two fold function. First, more broadly, it reinforces the new right emphasis upon markets as providing the ‘solution’ to societal problems. Second, the term consumer is inherently linked to the notion of consumption. To be a consumer implies consumption. Consumption is inherently tied up with the act of production; it is the process of using and employing products. As such and in its simplest form the marketing concept highlights this two-fold relationship. This process of consumption and production is implied and explicitly stated by both the marketing concept and scholars in the field to mean that those who consume the ‘political product’ are bound up with influencing its production. But consumption is the consumption of products created by another whose primary purpose is not the satisfaction of a consumer need but the securing of profit. Returning to the definition of marketing, the primary purpose of the marketing process is to secure a profit, the action is directed primarily at the ends of the organisation, or as the analogy has been extended into politics to the needs of the politician. The purpose of the production (and by extension, consumption) process, in marketing, is not to satisfy the needs of the consumer, but of the producer (cf. Sackman, 1987). Extended to politics, this means wants are incorporated into the political process only to the extent that this enables


The Construction of the Political Consumer

politicians to achieve their objectives, so the raison d’etre of (political) marketing is to ultimately satisfy the goal(s) of politicians rather than the wants of the public. The economic accounts which underpin political marketing highlight this in more detail and it is worth returning to these in order to reflect upon what is entailed in the process of production and consumption. Some economists have suggested that it is the process of production itself that generates consumer wants (cf. Marx, 1994). Galbraith suggested that the claim that the purpose of production to satisfy consumer wants was in itself spurious. For him, ‘production creates the wants it seeks to satisfy…Production only fills a void that it has itself created’ (Galbraith, 1999:125). He suggested that the process of production, promoted through advertising and salesmanship, creates wants and desires. Production creates not only goods, but also the wants for those goods (1999:126-8). While this suggests a largely passive consumer, lacking autonomy, there is acknowledgement of the existence of wants outside of the production process; Galbraith suggests that ‘we have wants at the margin only so far as they are synthesized. We do not manufacture wants for goods we do not produce’ (1999:113). In this sense then, wants can only be articulated and understood through the process of production and in a manner through which producers are able to satisfy them, having generated those wants in the first instance. Wants become dependent upon production. Production functions not only to produce products, but also to produce the consumers of those products. Moreover it can be argued that production does not exist to fill consumer wants and demands per se, rather it exists to fulfil demands for wants and goods that the production process itself has generated. In this sense, consumption becomes not a source of engagement, rather it becomes a means through which the consumer is estranged from the production process. As will be discussed below, this inverts the marketing concept and the normative claims which flow from this. Rather than consumer wants being at the centre of the production process and the product shaped accordingly (as suggested by the marketing concept), the above theoretical issues highlight that wants which may exist outside of the production process can lead to an alienation of consumers and wants outside of producer interests becoming marginalized. Production generates wants to suit its own interests; the production process determines consumers’ wants. Rather than emerging from autonomous consumers, this suggests that producers impose wants upon

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consumers. Not only are wants constructed externally, but once identified and fed back into the production process they are moulded to suit the interest of the producer, rather than the consumer. Consumers may then become alienated from their wants and their ‘true interests’, as they are removed from them and their instigation. Further, wants that exist outside can either be altered as they become amalgamated into the wants the process of production can incorporate, or they become marginalized. This can have a series of effects – either these wants find expression elsewhere – for example, through extremist parties or in single issue organisations/campaigns. Or they are suppressed. If political wants are not satisfied through the formal political process, then there is no reason to assume the public will take part in that process. Clearly, this process does imply a lack of autonomy on the part of the consumer, and the assumption of a ‘hypodermic’ injection of wants and values. While the public may well not be that ‘passive’, what the discourse of production and consumption does do, is to define the parameters of debate, so that the possibility of wants or preferences emerging outside of those defined by the producers are limited, and consequently have limited potential for realisation or expression within the political process. The theoretical and discursive binding of the public into the process of production and consumption operates in contrast to conceptualisations of citizenship. In order to draw out the implications of discussing the public/citizens/voters and consumers, it is useful briefly to recap on what is entailed in conceptualising citizens and voters.

What does it mean to be a voter and a citizen? To be a voter means to participate in the political process. Voting is one of the expressive functions of citizenship and such to be a voter entails and is inherently interlinked with understandings of what it means to be a citizen. Crucially, to be a citizen entails and suggests a political relationship with the political system and respective processes, both with obligations and duties in respect of the other. Citizenship is about membership of a community, a society, rights and obligations that accompany that. These can be defined institutionally, enshrined in law, institutions and practices that denote membership of a political community. There is also an affective aspect. Citizenship is also constituted by values, loyalties and norms.


The Construction of the Political Consumer

Citizenship is predominantly linked to the notion of rights. These can be both negative and positive. Positive rights are permissive and emphasise for example the opportunity for citizens to vote, to hold office, to stand for election. Negative rights are protective and restrictive, protecting the individual particularly from the state. These procedural rights were outlined in Marshall’s influential conceptualisation of citizenship where three sets of rights: civic, political and social, were identified (1950). These rights were formal and enshrined by the state and bound up in the term citizen. While Marshall refers to legal, social and political rights, it is the political rights that are of interest in the first instance within this chapter. Within the political marketing literature there is a narrow definition of the term political. Political in this sense has been used to refer to the institutions and personnel of government and the state (so a formal definition of politics). Notably, the rights of voters are not directly referred to within the political marketing literature, however, implicitly and by using the term consumer this implies consumer, rather than citizen, rights. For Marshall, some rights arise directly from the notion of citizenship (1950:78,111). Rights can be created through being exercised, and the capacity’s associated with them subsequently generated through their exercise. For Isin (2002), citizenship is the right to be political, to be an agent governing or being governed. People become citizens, and part of a political community, through association and deliberation with each other. Rights are conferred (and denied) through this interaction supported through the apparatus of the state. This is a dialectical relationship which binds citizens to the state and vice versa. To refer to voters and citizens as consumers denies them both the existence of, and the opportunity to, exercise these rights. Not only can this lead to disenfranchisement, but also in liberal pluralism, citizens also function to keep a check and balance of power, to hold politicians accountable, again, denied in the term consumer. While Marshall’s account of rights emphasises the importance of institutions, scholars evaluating the notion of cultural citizenship draw attention to the way in which society generates meaning and values, how it understands itself, and importantly draws attention to the communications channels through which ‘the people’ are empowered and given voice (cf Williams, 1989). Cultural forms of citizenship incorporate an awareness of a changing environment largely driven by technological development: global media networks, instant access to information at the click of a

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mouse; cyber communities, with national boundaries electronically transcended; the relative ease of migration (compared historically) (see for example, Palkulski, 1997; Stevenson, 2003). This has led to some to suggest the decline in importance of the state, while others highlight the state’s role as crucial. While this debate continues what is certain is that there is a need for politicians to maintain a linkage between the state and those physically present within its borders and that the rights of citizens are bound up in this process. But these rights and obligations are contained in the term citizen. Terminology and language form part of a broader discourse through which political realities are articulated and understood. Discourse and language are significant in that they serve to institutionalise a set of ideas and boundaries. Ideas, norms and values become routinised through everyday practice and linguistic expression. Once voters and citizens are referred to as consumers this removes (or downplays the importance of) the links to citizenship inherent in conceptualising the relationship between the state, political elites and the public. As has been suggested above, the term consumer is part of a broader neoliberal discourse located in new right, neoclassical economic thinking. To regard voters as consumers, attributes a different set of values and ultimately has the potential to generate a different type of political reality, where the public are further disengaged from participating in the process of politics. This clearly presents challenges to democratic ideals which, as is implied below, require restating and re-asserting, rather than re-defining. The terms citizens/voters and consumers are not ‘empty signifiers, devoid of content’ and as such a series of implications follow, and by extension are also excluded (and will be teased out in the final section of this chapter).

Context and discourse Clearly, citizenship and consumption do not emerge or exist in a vacuum. Rather they are dependent upon a broader context within which they are structured. This context is complex, underpinned by discursive practices and articulated to create a particular version of political reality. As the above discussion has suggested, political actors play a role in producing citizens. In order to understand what it means to be a citizen, it is also important to have a critical understanding of the civil society in which that citizen is located. Citizenship is reliant upon an input by state actors and civil society also structures the context in which citizenship is defined. Similarly, an understanding of consumption is premised not only


The Construction of the Political Consumer

on an isolated concept, but as part of a broader environment, shaped, again, by political elites and a material and ideational context conducive to its development. Contemporary material and ideational circumstances are characterised by a broader shift in the way in which politics is being practiced. The notion of the consumer is part of a broader managerialist discourse which dominates contemporary political practice. Consumption is encouraged in all aspects of life and has become almost hegemonic in its ordinariness. The market (and the idea of a market) as the solution to societal problems has also come to dominate. New public management thinking has seen market ‘solutions’ or (quasi) market mechanisms introduced into many areas of public life for example: in transport; health and education; taking the form of (among others) internal markets; public private partnerships (PPPs); Public Finance Initiatives (PFIs). Given this change in the nature of public service provision and acceptance of the dominance of markets as the means through which public goods should be organised and resources allocated has been brought about, in part by changing ideological, social political and economic climate and by responses of political actors to that climate, it would seem somewhat logical that political actors would come to use these methods and mechanisms to inform their own electioneering behaviour. It is argued here that the language and discourse of markets and competition have been significant in creating conditions conducive to the application of marketing to formal political electioneering and more specifically in relation to this chapter, providing the conditions for the creation of consumers of politics. In scientific accounts language functions as an instrument of communication. But language is also used to convey shared understandings and meanings. The terms consumer or citizen are part of a broader set of social relations in which their meaning is constituted and understood. So it is important to understand what the usage of the term consumer, as opposed to voter/citizen, implies. This term provides a frame of reference through which understanding of the world is generated. But in turn, this also serves an ontological function in that it serves to define understanding of that which constitutes what is real. In this sense then, the usage of ‘consumer’, both in terms of its own meaning and related to a broader economic and political discourse, serves to construct and create the perception of the public as consumers. While an object, or indeed reality, may exist independently of its discursive articulation, it is argued here that it is the perception of that reality which serves to constitute it. As such, if

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voters are perceived of as consumers, this in turn, serves to render voters AS consumers, thereby re-creating the meaning of the public in the public sphere and political process. In this sense, if voters are perceived and discursively constructed as consumers by political actors this serves an ontological as well as the analytical function (at present conflated) within much of the literature. If it is accepted that discourse contributes to our understanding and construction of political reality then this represents a fundamental shift in the way in which politics is practised. To reconstruct voters (and by extension citizens) as consumers carries with it a series of implications which are drawn out below.

What are the implications of conceiving citizens as consumers? First, where the marketing concept has been normatively employed, it has been suggested that the consumer is able to influence the production process, to gain the political product that they ‘want’. However, if it is accepted that it is the process of production that generates these wants then the fulfilment of them by producers is a self fulfilling prophecy. Producers cannot fail to satisfy wants that they themselves have created. This also undermines claims to enhancing accountability. If producers are creating wants, they are accountable only in the sense that they respond to what they have created. This is also different from citizenship conceptions of accountability which function (as above) to act as a check and balance upon governmental/elite power. Second, while the public may well not be that ‘passive’, what the discourse of production and consumption does do is define the parameters of debate, so that the possibility of wants or preferences emerging outside of those defined by the producers are limited, and have limited potential for realisation. What this means is that wants that exist outside of the production process are marginalized. As noted above, production generates wants to suit its own interests. The production process determines consumers’ wants. Rather than emerging from autonomous consumers, producers impose wants upon consumers. Consumers become alienated from their wants, as they are removed from them and their instigation. Not only are wants constructed, but once identified and fed back into the production process they are moulded to suit the interest of the producer, rather than the consumer. So rather than being involved the ‘consumer’ is removed from the production process. What this suggests is that the public can only ‘want’ the politics they are given by political


The Construction of the Political Consumer

actors and there is little, if any, opportunity for the public to influence the content of politics. Third, this would then mean that even if there are wants which exist outside the production process, these may become marginalized. This in turn could have a series of effects. Either these wants find may expression elsewhere – for example, through extremist parties or in single issue organisations/campaigns. Or they become suppressed. So, even if political wants are able to emerge from outside the process of production, if they are not satisfied through the formal political process, then there is no reason to assume the public will take part in that process. Fourth, to be a citizen means to take part in a formal political system and processes. If the term citizen is removed, this also denies the meanings attached to it, which include both rights and obligations. To remove the obligation to take part in the formal political process generates real concerns in terms of electoral participation. Recent British General Elections have seen a downward turn in electoral turnout (a trend only slightly bucked at the 2005 election). As such, removing the civic duty to participate formally may exacerbate this decline in the formal processes of politics. Fifth, the dominant language of the market focuses on production and consumption and negates wider normative concerns. The processes of production and consumption negate the notion of a public sphere or public space where political issues may be deliberated. Clearly there’s a debate over the constituent aspects of politics (see Leftwich) but politics, whether about power, the distribution of resources, conflict or resolution of conflict, is inherently normative. Crucially it is underpinned by a conceptualisation of a civil society. In democratic theory the public sphere is where citizens become sufficiently informed about political elites that they may hold those elites to account (cf. Habermas, 1989). It is not suggested that there was a ‘golden age’ of politics where this happened, however, it provides an ideal through which civil society may be conceptualised, which is lacking in the theorising of politics as a marketplace. Finally, if citizenship rights are negated and consumer ‘rights’ take their place, it might be worth speculating on what this may ultimately generate. Does this mean that obligations to obey laws (again enshrined in notions of citizenship) disappear? Can consumers choose not to ‘buy in’ to certain

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laws? If the public have consumer rights in respect of their political elites does this mean it will be possible to sue/prosecute an MP? Will this marketisation mean that accountability will occur individually, through the courts rather than the democratic process?

Conclusion Baudrillard suggests that consumption is a mode of discourse through which societal structures are conveyed and understood (2003) and the purpose of this chapter has been to suggest that the seemingly straightforward term ‘consumer’ has a series of implications for the process and activity of politics. It has been argued that to define voters as consumers downplays the rights and obligations of citizenship contained within the term voter or citizen. Moreover it has been suggested that this contributes to a fundamental redefinition and subsequent reshaping of what politics is. As emphasis shifts to the marketing rather than the ‘political’ aspect of elections and the activity of politics more broadly, so this in turn implies changes in political behaviour with consequences for democracy as a whole. To emphasise production and consumption of politics, it has been argued, may serve to further alienate and disengage the electorate. (While not wishing to suggest there was once a time that the public were entirely satisfied and engaged with the political process, it may be worth noting that the increase in sophistication and usage of marketing techniques has also been accompanied by a decline in electoral turnout in Britain). There has been a wealth of literature describing the existence of a ‘democratic malaise’ (e.g. Blumler and Gurevitch, 1995; Marquand, 2004; Hay, 2007) detailing declines in electoral turnout, trust in politicians, belief in the efficacy of the political system. If political marketing is not to contribute to this process then it is important to highlight and retain a distinction between the notion of the consumer as an analytical category, and the rendering of consumers as ontological constructs. That is, the term consumer contains a set of values that are alien to the very idea of ‘politics’. It has been argued here that politics, characterised by marketing contributes to an emphasis upon the production of consumption, rather than the consumption of production which may seriously damage the health of the democratic process.


The Construction of the Political Consumer

Bibliography Baudrillard, J (2003, 1970) The Consumer Society. Myths and Structures(London: Sage) Blumler, J. G. & Gurevitch, M (1995) The Crisis in Public Communications (London: Routledge) Butler, P & Collins, N (1999) ‘A conceptual framework for political marketing’ in (ed) B. Newman Handbook of Political Marketing (London: Sage) pp55-72 Butler, P & Collins, N (1994) ‘Political Marketing: Structure and Process’ European Journal of Marketing 28 (1) pp19-34 Downs, A. (1957) An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper & Row) Drucker, P.F. (1954)The Practice of Management (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc) Ellis, P.D. (2006) ‘Market orientation and performance: a meta-analysis and cross-national comparisons’ Journal of Management Studies 43 95) pp1089-1107 Farrell, D. & Wortman, M. (1987) ‘Parties Strategies in the Electoral Market. Political Marketing in West Germany, Britain and Ireland’ European Journal of Political Research 15 pp297-318 Galbraith, J.K. (1999) The Affluent Society (London: Penguin) Gitlin, T (1978) ‘Media Sociology: The dominant paradigm’ Theory and Society 6 pp205-53 Greenley, G (1995) ‘Market Orientation and company performance: empirical evidence from UK companies’ British journal of Management 6 pp1-13 Harrop, M (1990) ‘Political Marketing’ Parliamentary Affairs 43 (3) pp277-91 Habermas, J (1989) The structural transformation of the public sphere (Cambridge: Polity) Hay, C (2007) Why we hate politics (Cambridge: Polity) Higgins, M (forthcoming) The Media and its Public (Maidenhead: Open University Press) Houston, F (1986) ‘The Marketing Concept: What it is and what it is not’ Journal of Marketing 50 April 50 pp81-87 Jaworski, B.J. and Kohli, A.K. (1993) ‘Market orientation: antecedents and consequences’ Journal of Marketing 57 July pp53-70 Keat, R (1994) ‘Scepticism, authority and the market’ in R. Keat, N. Whiteley and N. Abercrombie (eds) The Authority of the Consumer (London: Routledge)

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Keith, R. (1960) ‘The Marketing Revolution’ Journal of Marketing January Kohli, A.K. and Jaworski, B.J. (1990) ‘Market orientation: the construct, research propositions and managerial implications’ Journal of Marketing 54 April pp1-18 Kotler, P & Kotler, N. (1999) ‘Political Marketing. Generating effective candidates, campaigns and causes’ in (ed) B. Newman Handbook of Political Marketing (London: Sage) pp3-18 Kotler, P. & Levy, S. (1969) ‘Broadening the Concept of Marketing’ Journal of Marketing 33 pp10-15 Lees-Marshment, J. (2001) ‘The Marriage of Politics and Marketing’ Political Studies 49 (4) pp692-713 Lewis, J., Inthorn, S & K. Wahl-Jorgensen (2005) Citizens or Consumers. What the media tell us about political participation (Maidenhead: Open University Press) Leftwich, A (2004) What is Politics? The activity and its study 2nd edition (Cambridge: Polity) Levitt, T (1960) ‘Marketing Myopia’ Harvard Business Review July/August Livingstone, S., Lunt, P & L. Miller (2007) Citizens and consumers: discursive debates during and after the Communications Act 2003 Media, Culture & Society, 29 No. (4) pp613-638 Lock, A. & Harris, P (1996) ‘Political Marketing – vive la difference’ European Journal of Marketing 30 (10/11) pp28-9 Lury, A (1994) ‘Advertising – moving beyond the stereotypes’ in (eds.), R.Keat, N. Abercrombie, & N. Whiteley The Authority of the Consumer (London: Routledge) Marx, K (1994) The Economic and Political Manuscripts in ed Simon, L Karl Marx. Selected Writings (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company) Marquand, D (2004) Decline of the public (Cambridge: Polity) Marshall, T H (1950) Citizenship and social class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) Newman, B. (1994) The Marketing of the President. Political marketing as campaign strategy (London: Sage) O’Cass, A (1996) ‘Political marketing and the marketing concept’ European Journal of Marketing 30 10/11 pp45-61 O’Leary, R & Iredale, I (1976) ‘The Marketing Concept: Quo Vadis?’ European Journal of Marketing 10 (3) pp146-57 Pakulski, J (1997) ‘Cultural citizenship’ Citizenship Studies 1(1) pp73-86


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Reid, D.M. (1988) ‘Marketing the Political Product’ European Journal of Marketing 22 (9) pp34-47 Sackman, A (1992) The Marketing Organisation Model: Making Sense of Modern Campaigning in Britain paper presented at UK PSA Annual Conference in Belfast, April. Cited in Wring, 1997 Savigny, H (2004) ‘Political Marketing: A Rational Choice?’ Journal of Political Marketing 3 (1) pp21-38 Scammell, M (2003) ‘Citizen Consumers: Towards a new marketing of politics’ in j. Corner and D. Pels (eds) Media and the Restyling of Politics (London: Sage) —. (1999) ‘Political Marketing: Lessons for Political Science’ Political Studies 47 (4) pp718-39 Schudson, M (2006) ‘The troubling equivalence of citizen and consumer’ The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 608 pp193-204 Shama, A. (1976) ‘The Marketing of Political Candidates’ Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences 4 pp764-77 Smith, G and Saunders, J (1990) ‘The application of Marketing to British politics’ Journal of Marketing Management 5 (3) pp295-306 Stevenson, N (2003) Cultural Citizenship. Cosmopolitan Questions (Maidenhead: Open University Press) Wensley, R (1995) ‘A critical review of research in marketing’ British Journal of Management 6 (special issue) s63-82 Williams, R (1989) ‘The idea of a common culture’ in Resources of Hope (London: Verso) Wring, D. (1997) ‘Reconciling marketing with political science: theories of political marketing’ Journal of Marketing Management 13 pp651-63


This book asks if the ‘electorate’ are understood better, or more appropriately, as a consumer rather than as a citizen. In this conceptual chapter, I start by outlining the case for the Market’s increased attractiveness, a number of reasons why notions of being a consumer appear more vital than being a citizen are offered, which concur with the historian Lizabeth Cohen who argues people are now “bringing market expectations to their appraisals of the Government itself, judging it by the personal benefits they, as segmented purchasers, judge consumer offerings” (2003 pp344). I argue that because much of the literature affords critical difference to the notions of consumer and citizen, a discourse that positions one over the other appears tenable and that increasingly dominance is afforded to the consumer (Edwards 2000). However, I argue for a hybrid position, where citizenship can survive, and at times, even thrive in consumer cultures. This position is supported by reference to a number of examples of political consumption and to consumerist-like engagement in the political sphere. Contemporary forms of citizenship, through our being ‘good consumers’ not only have a long tradition, but, should be considered positively as they generate a sense of empowerment often perceived as greater than the act of voting (Schudson, 1998, 2006). It is out of these reflections on the increasingly co-constructed relationship between consumer and citizen that this chapter makes its key contribution, suggesting that we find, in the everyday experiences of individuals, a messy interface, where, often unintentionally, through the Market, we take on citizenly roles and we have civic experiences as consumers. I draw on a number of examples that demonstrate how powerfully this fusing of


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

consumer and citizen has entered common political discourse. Flowing from this is the idea that the character of citizenship is altered; we are all now, to a greater or lesser extent, ‘Consumerist Voters’. The chapter ends by suggesting this form of ‘citizenship-light’ has significant implications for electoral engagement at both a societal level and for the individual voter.

A case for Market attractiveness Here, I outline three reasons for the attractiveness of the Market and subsequent dominant discourse of the consumer. The Market is considered a space where agency is most readily realised. Individual freedom has come to mean an ability to make personal choice. Choice of this sort is celebrated in consumer spheres.

The Market as agency-friendly Agency is frequently and perhaps most tellingly demonstrated through the autonomous choices we face and make, as evidenced in our consumer culture. Our notion of free choice is well matched to market environments. For example, very little consumer choice is perceived as obligatory. In politics, all is bundled - our choice can only be for a package of promises. As Beck and Beck–Gurnsheim (2000) and Bauman (2001) have argued, our individualised society allows us to find fulfilment in privatised consumption more than in the collectivist sphere of politics. Being inconsistent in our cumulative consumption choices is usually inconsequential and easily remedied. Indeed, the Market encourages such contradictions urging us to try novelty, embrace change and unpredictability. Sovereignty as consumer is manifest in a sense of continually renewed power and importance each time we make a decision. The mantra of consumer always being right is, at least initially, highly attractive. A location where the disentanglement of choice and obligation is most readily possible, where responsibility is usually limited to significant others, and where the opportunity to think primarily of one’s self is encouraged - such a location is highly attractive and has come to epitomise a free space. “These characteristics reassure and empower customers by providing a space where they are able to exercise a greater sense of individual will and authority than is normally possible in other environments” (Fitchett 2004 p303). A virtuous circle emerges - consumer as a figure of authority results in consumer needs/wants being treated as the most important in the Market, at least rhetorically, and so feeding this sense of consumer importance further.

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Market power, due in part to this liberator status, is a space we connect with freedom. Rose (1993) posits an explicit link between the discourses of freedom through markets with the development of liberal governance. The requisite of ‘light’ government is considered an advance of civic subjectivity. We function within a set of codes, requiring what Rose refers to as ‘strategies to conduct the conduct of the free’. In other words, most of us internalise a normative view of what being free means, and increasingly, individuals relate to their freedom as consumers. Governments either retreat from this arena or act to sustain it - the ideological battle in politics is consequently diminished. A further reason for our consumer-centeredness is that, as consumers, we are treated as special (Fitchett 2005). As long as we play the role of the potential/actual purchaser we are afforded attention, and considered worthy. Our fear of losing this status, along with other advantages gained through consumption (possessions and careers) reinforces the importance we attach to freedom as consumer. As consumers, we appear powerful, whereas, as citizens, we feel increasingly marginalised. Playing the consumer role is better practiced, more easily understood and rewarded than when we play the citizen. The notion of psychic energy (Csikszentmihalyi 2000), coupled with the idea that constant choice is exhausting (Mick 2004) may mean we use most of our psychic resource in consumer spaces, leaving little energy for the political arena. Applying the work of Couldry (2002, 2005) and Couldry and Markham (f/c) it is evident that conditions encouraging involvement are prevalent in consumption. Both availability of a context for discourse, and a sense of proficiency in that discourse exist where they are often lacking in traditionally political spaces. This idea of a welcoming space can be linked to the notion of voice in the public sphere (Hirschman, 1978). As Marquand (2004) argues, sustaining public discourse involves much effort requiring sustained debate, it means valuing professionals and other expert groups in a way that limits consumer sovereignty. A different version of ‘voice’ is offered in market spaces - characterised as accessible, manageable, friendly, and limited in consequence. This voice is also considered to be as much about exit as it is about talk - for example, if you are not happy with one provider, then simply move to another, since plural solutions seem readily available in market spaces. As consumers, we have a certain type of voice and a capacity to use it, and through this, believe we have control over our own destiny. The attractiveness of the Market is reinforced by the routines of our daily lives which create habitual consumption practices (Warde 2005).


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

The relative agency-friendliness of the Market is reinforced by structures in the political sphere impeding our ability to secure the outcome we choose. Additionally, a lack of meaningfulness is increasingly attributed to many political issues. If most political discourse and debate occupy limited territory (Scullion and Dermody 2005), and presents largely indistinguishable alternatives (Schwaizmantel 2003, Cox and McCubbins 2005) and are largely devoid of ideological resonance, (Andrews and Saward 2005, Gamble 2000), the value attached to such choice is consequently diminished.

Freedom considered as individual choice Our sense of freedom excels in Market spaces, whilst constraint is apparent in political spaces. The Market has a great deal of self-regulation whilst politics is highly rules-based. The former is convenient, the latter remote. We expect the outcome to match our choices in the Market, whilst in politics we are never sure it will. We often turn to the former to lift our mood – shopping as therapy – whilst politics is likely to be the cause of our mood needing a lift, (Furedi 2004). Our political voting system means that many see little point in their action, i.e. voting in a ‘safe seat’ (see Lilleker’s chapter in this edition). Political parties present choice on their terms - support our stance or another party stance, the capacity to demonstrate your own stance is highly restricted (For a fuller articulation of this argument see Savigny’s chapter in this edition). The enterprising self will seek to maximise his own position…. he will seek to shape his world in order for it to become what s/he wishes to be (Rose 1996). A major consequence of this is the emergence of both expectations and responsibilities for making one's own decisions, creating a poor fit with any sense of the collective will found in a political system dependent on party tickets (Whiteley and Seyd 1998). As autonomous beings we more readily accept it is for us to shape our own lives, and not the role of the state. Much contemporary framing of political issues reinforces this type of engagement. Recently, a Government Minister addressed his audience as consumers when he encouraged them to ‘take action against excessive food packaging’ (Independent, September 2006). Here, the concept of individual consumers making decisions in the marketplace is posited as the way to address environmental concerns. Even in relation to what might be Human-kind’s greatest current threat global warming - we see choice through the Market positioned as a potential solution, from carbon trading through to the idea of car clubs

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being positioned as a green alternative (Guardian, November 2006). This is not to deny that political actions are taking place, but that a dominant discourse linking us as individuals to such issues is within the Market – as consumers – rarely beyond the Market as citizens who have the right to challenge its hegemony.

Choice thriving in consumption A dominant rhetoric in Western culture places opportunity for individual fulfilment at the centre. Personal choice becomes the main instrument to achieve this - the Market, idolising choice as it does, comes to be seen as the solution. The salience of consumer choice is apparent in the way that it impacts our everyday lives. This is evident in many consumer attitudes that, unquestioningly, value possession of choice and more choice is argued to be a good thing, (Schwartz 2004). Consumer choice can be characterised as reducing dissonance, allowing us to reject the profusion of alternative offerings with ease, because within the Market there is constantly availability, thus denial of alternative brands is knowingly temporary. We are encouraged to frequently change our minds, to experiment, to take safe risks. Political choice, increasingly characterised as lacking ideological division (Ginsborg 2005, Corner and Pels 2003), allows an indifference to the outcome. It is characterised by irreversibility, complexity and requires long-term time-frames. All of this serves to exacerbate our sense of denial, and gives finality and a sense of loss to our choice making. In part, as a result of the arguments outlined above that help explain Market attractiveness, we see the prominence of the consumer emerging. Market rhetoric creates sovereigns of us all, masters of our own destiny so long as we act within the rationalism supporting the system. This idea of consumer over citizen is sustained by the fact that much literature affords critical difference to the two concepts and it is to this the chapter will now turn.

Citizen and Consumer as mutually exclusive Marshall’s seminal work affords citizenship a trio of rights; personal freedom, participation in political processes and a sharing of the benefits from societal wealth (1964). The concept is considered to be something beyond individual self-determination, despite being centred on entitlement, because, the benefits of citizenship result largely through the


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

collective development of a civil society (Turner 2001) Citizens are concerned with solving public problems (Boyte and Skelton 1998), through possessing a sense of belonging to a wider community (AbalaBertrand 1996). Citizenship is thus about rights balanced with responsibilities, where agency is manifest through voice, where decisionmaking must involve giving due consideration to justice, equality and the widest possible consequences, a place that ultimately affords superiority to broad societal wishes. This version has to be seen in stark contrast with what being a consumer requires, the two positions develop different cultural values and norms, (Lasch 1978). Sennett (cited in Bull 2000) argues that our immersion in consumerism leads to apathy about others, to him being a consumer is instead of being a citizen. A dichotomy is exposed between a fundamental principle of the Market, segmentation, which places emphasis on difference, and a first order principle of citizenship: i.e. the idea of a common good, (Cohen 2003). This mutually exclusive position is reinforced by Ginsborg (2005) in his polemic against manifestations of consumer choice in public spaces, which he argues is damaging for democracy because, as the choices made by consumers are given preference, our choices, for example, as workers, have been weakened. Sharply-contrasting world visions have been developed, one based on involvement in society as citizens of a nation the other with involvement in a corporate world as consumer units (Elliot 1982). What then are the implications of taking a mutually exclusive position with regard to the essence of these concepts, consumer and citizen? Adopting such a position has resulted in claims of superiority, the privileging of one over the other. One group argues citizenship is worthy and consumption generally trivial, the other that the notion of citizenship has become empty whereas consumption offers rich contemporary meaning (Gabriel and Lang 1995).

Citizen as more worthy than consumer The implicit assumption running through much political science and sociological literature is that buying is an inferior act compared to voting (Elliot 1982, Habermas 1992, Seyfang 2005). The former is rooted in selfinterest, whilst the latter takes its inspiration from a regard for others. One is rooted in trust of others, the former in self-reliance, (Sennett 1998). There is a withdrawing from citizenship, and this void seems to be filled by an even smaller, anti-political group of activists, devoid of claims for legitimacy beyond their own pet projects and pet hates (Bauman 2001). This is considered troubling, as many strands of market populism seem to

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attack democratic politics as a failure because it does not offer sufficient personal choice. There is a concern that ‘NIMBY-ism’ is becoming the default position for contemporary articulation of ‘consumer citizenship’. Much action in the market is based on little more than short-term personal whim, with no perquisite to be democratic; it takes on exclusionary and elitist forms, for example shopping malls banning teenagers wearing hooded tops and Christian groups in the USA boycotting Disney because they run ‘Gay Days’ in their theme parks. Consumer citizenship is considered an intellectually lazy way to express a political wish – it is often quick and visual, but rarely thought through in detail. Concerns are also raised about where legitimacy resides and with the Markets lack of equality of access (see also Savigny’s chapter in this book for an argument about the dangers of introducing notions of consumer into politics). Greenberg cautions that we should “pause in our haste to praise consumer protest as the best democratic voice” (2004 pp. 78). Despite this view that citizen is more worthy than consumer, contemporary culture is characterised as a space where our private consumption concerns occupy us far more than public governance issues. And some argue that consumer over citizen is no cause for alarm.

The emergence of Consumer over Citizen The prevailing discourse sees the rise of consumerism at the expense of citizenship, and the decline of public over private sphere (Marquand 2004). It is acknowledged that, on the surface at least, the Market’s appeal is that it appears to be a non-discriminatory structure (Edwards 2000). All can participate, all can at least dream about owning that new car. The Market, offering such expressions of agency as outlined above, is conceptualised as a totalising logic (Kozinets 2001), authority is thus cited in the structures that constitute the market. Those who eagerly disown what to them are illusory notions of Market sovereignty come to demonstrate most powerfully the fallacy of their position because the small rebellions they perform against the Market (from recycling instead of buying new to the desire for ‘stressed clothes’) etch out alternative modes, and in so doing, help create the very novelty, variety and choice that affords yet more legitimacy to the Market’s claims to be the great liberator: “Consumerism offers apparently democratic value structures” (Miles 1998 pp. 10). Here, the apparent freedom through our choice making is equated to democracy. Market populism is viewed as anti elitist, expressing popular will through the ‘laws’ of demand and supply. Choice


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

in consumption permits “without prejudice, the articulation of any and all tastes and preferences”(Frank 2001 cited in Clarke and Newman 2006). The Market’s most powerful vessels, contemporary global brands, afford rich meaning to consumers. They increasingly carry multiple sensemaking capacities (Schroeder and Borgerson 2003) and through this allow consumers to use them to make statements about themselves, their chosen lifestyles and their values. The more liberating post-modern perspectives on consumerism argue that Market spaces let us negotiate, and, to an extent, control our self-identity through the continuous choices we make as consumer (Shankar and Fitchett 2002). Despite the discourse of difference and the polar positions that place consumer over citizen, or citizen as superior to consumer I argue that individuals’ life worlds see the two notions blended together, the outcome is a change in the character of contemporary citizenship, not its demise.

A change in the character of citizenship Consumption can be considered a political site because it is where agency preferences can be, and often are expressed. As consumer decisions take on political dimensions consumption offers citizenly experiences within private and individualistic spaces. Consumer decisions have a political dimension, that is not to say that consumption has only this purpose, or that this purpose is always enacted, or indeed that agents have to be fully aware of the political dimensions of their decisions. It is “open for everyone, low cost [offering] individualised engagement” (Micheletti 2004 pp xxiv). For many, their sense of civic experiences comes from their consumer life sphere (Couldry 2004). A political gesture in the market is attractive, as it is quick, easy, and accessible, offering a visible output (Andersen & Tobiasen 2004). Although they refer to such acts as “gestures”, indicating a relative triviality - this may not be how the individual feels about their temporary brand switching, or the email of complaint they send to the corporate manager, or the disgust aimed at Vodafone because they propose to build a mobile communication mast in their neighbourhood. The phenomenon of ‘Momism’, describes the manner in which people often connect with politics without adopting a traditional citizenly role (Eliasopth 1998). Thus, from buying healthy options for their child’s lunch, the lack of a sports field at their child’s school may emerge as salient, and they become involved in longer-term politicised action. A significant body of literature also alerts us to the

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growth in ethical consumption, it can be “astonishing to realise how many factors and implications come to a nexus in a bag of coffee beans”, (Mick 2005). By choosing between brands based on how their parent companies act as agents in the world, we are making our consumer choice a political choice too (Scammell 2003). Indeed, it has been recently found that some consumers embrace the voting metaphor as a way of explaining their ethical consumer decisions (Shaw et al 2006). A type of citizenship can survive, and at times thrive, in a consumer culture. ‘Monitorial Citizenship’ (Shudson 1998) is one form of consumerist voter where the consumer, by checking they have not been duped, gets the best deals by monitoring competitor offerings and using legal recourse to protect their consumer rights, thus take on citizenly qualities. Rather than denying citizenship, being a consumer offers outlets where actions and decisions take on ‘civic’ qualities and can lead us to consider broader public issues. ‘Politics-lite’ - rooted in being a consumer, rather than Politics-heavy - rooted in being a citizen is what emerges. It is what is referred to here, in response to the books core question, as the ‘Consumerist Voter’.

Emergence of the ‘Consumerist Voter’ The Market as a site for political discourse and action is not new, what is different is the shift in the location of power from public to market sphere, and our awareness of this change. From food riots and tea parties to cloth boycotts and petrol station blockades, profoundly political acts take place in market spaces where the protagonists are primarily outraged consumers driven by extraordinary market circumstances. Being a consumer often leads us to be citizenly in subtle, sometimes unintentional ways. In many Western countries, accumulated wealth results in a desire to protect our possessions and accompanying status, the outcome of our being wise consumers, provides incentive for us to protect what we have….as we seek to do this we start to act in citizenly ways. A concern for neighbourhood, an interest in crime rate trends and a view on inflation that stem from our role as consumers acts as a bridge into the political sphere. The ‘supermarket state’ affords brands politicised qualities, the consumer and brand owner know they can potentially trigger political actions, and at


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

times they do so (Bennett f/c). For example, groups who seek societal change increasingly attack and subvert the advertising messages of consumer brands; sections of society come to be defined in part by their consumption patterns e.g. the Pink Pound, DINK’s. Others express their values through rejecting corporate brands that represent globalisation: Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca Cola for example become easy targets for silent boycotts and noisy on-line chat. At the same time, brands use politicised market positioning, for example, eco-labelling, philanthropic acts, and ethical production processes. Politicised agency is thus inadvertently offered to consumers and producers as a result of the contemporary importance afforded to brands. The lack of involvement and commitment in mainstream politics is in part a cause of and a consequence of, finding compensatory quasi-citizenly outlets in our lives as consumers. At times, we feel able to impact the wider public sphere most readily as a result of market based actions, for example by boycotting certain organisations and brands. Whilst at times, our frustration with an often distant and unresponsive political system leads us to vote with our wallet, for example, turning to private medical provision. The most obvious and profound illustration of the potency of ‘Consumerist Voters’ is witnessed in the arena surrounding global warming - the environmental damage verses economic growth discourse (Korten 2000, Csikszentmihalyi 2000).

Everyday experiences of being a ‘Consumerist-Voter’ The ideas outlined above, supporting the ‘Consumerist-Voter’ reject both the arguments that emphasise unbridgeable differences between consumer and citizen and those arguments that preference one over the other. The duality of consumer verses citizen is erroneously maintained because we focus our studies at the edges; we are either the unconscious dupe or the reflexive individual agent (Daunton and Hilton 2001). Most consumption is routine habitual activity and, whilst it can not replace citizenship, it does not stand in opposition to civility (Hilton 2006). He draws our attention to the ‘silent centre ground’ of consumer activity where we don’t act as the guiltless narcissistic rampaging individual or as the flag-waving eco-warrior. Neither position takes sufficient account of life experiences of the human condition, where the roles we play out and spaces we occupy in our lives inevitably coalesce and co-produce meaning (Couldry 2005, Scullion 2006). Investigating the everyday lives of people as they perform consumer and citizenly acts, a fusing is evident where

Richard Scullion


boundaries between the two notions are blurred. Here I argue that the dominant discourse connecting the electorate to political issues has become consumerist, whilst at the same time the language of commerce has taken on a civic character.

A consumerist discourse connecting the electorate to political issues It is evident that a consumerist discourse is embedded in the way we connect with political issues. In the late summer of 2006 the Communication Workers Union called for customers of WH Smith, a major retail chain, to boycott the stores in order to show opposition to them taking over some of the roles currently performed by the Post Office. In this instance the market is positioned as both the problem and the site for its solution. As the following examples illustrate, the notions of consumer and citizen are combined in a manner that makes it difficult to disentangle them. Channel Four covered the issue of immigration in a series of special reports in September and October 2006. Of particular interest here is how those who argue that the issue is principally a matter of economics - the CBI Spokesperson who claimed that immigrants are a requirement to meet the demands of the low- paid sector of the economywere afforded a dominant position in the debate. The political elite, too, have contributed to the emergence of a consumerist discourse connecting the electorate to politics. New Labour mimics commerce, using the language of branding and emotional loyalty as a connecting point and the focus group as the preferred way of justifying their policy output. Chief pollster Philip Gould talked of “picking up the vibe” on the doorsteps; not by being on them but through holding professional market research sessions (Gould 1998). Prime Minister Blair made regular reference to consumers as the critical audience in his speeches. “Our goal is to put the consumer first”.....”Customer satisfaction has to become a way of life”. Whilst, during the election for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, several of the candidate’s teams talked about the need to offer ‘personal control’ of public services (see for example Liam Byrne and Ann Rossiter Guardian, May 2007) One outcome of this fusing of consumer and citizen is greater transparency - we increasingly see and experience the links - the politics of being a consumer - and so this helps to shape what it means to live in contemporary consumer culture. Mainstream media coverage assists us in this greater sense of connectedness between politics and consumption.


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

This claim is illustrated by the BBC 6 O’clock news who ran a daily series of ‘special reports’ in July/August 2006 which offered us as viewer a number of consumer-oriented options in terms of what we can do to save energy, to recycle, to improve our community environment. In effect they demonstrated a shift in assumed responsibility from public sphere as citizens to private sphere as individual consumers. As part of this series the BBC news of August 22nd 2006 ran a feature on car safety where a Government road safety expert appealed to consumers “we need you to demand it” in order to get improvements in car safety features. This was followed by a representative of the manufacturers who was asked why new safety features were not fitted to cars as standard, his response being “we can’t fit everything… the customer simply won’t tolerate it given the extra costs involved”. Here we see a discourse that affords the consumer responsibility for the outcome. The decision about future road safety is positioned as a matter for market machinations. Such framing is increasingly typical of the manner that the media connect us as consumers to the political sphere. This is the dominant discourse that comes to define the parameters and dimensions of a subject matter (Butler 2002). We are increasingly addressed as political consumers. ‘Power to the People’ ran the front-page headline of the Independent newspaper on February 23rd 2007. The story argued how what it called consumer militancy was beginning to challenge both the power of the state and big business. It cited consumers demanding reduced bank charges through to football supporters boycotting games in protest at high ticket prices. Indeed, an independent report published in June 2007, chaired by Sir Alan Budd, criticised much news coverage of business because it too often and too readily takes the consumer’s point of view. It cited coverage of threatened strike action by British Airways cabin crew, where emphasis was placed on customer disruption at the expense of covering the issues made by the employees in the dispute.

Commercial discourse increasingly taking on a civic character The Market itself is adding civic qualities to consumer choice with its plethora of calls to demonstrate, ethical, green, wise and moral behaviour through how you consume. It is increasingly hard not to face political choices as we make our way down the supermarkets aisles - organic or not, pampers or cotton, fair trade or cheapest? This adds another layer to our consumer sovereignty…. it allows us to feel that we are good citizens through being wise consumers. The notion of ‘beautiful corporations’

Richard Scullion


(Scammell 2003) is pertinent here. It places considerable responsibility on the consumer who should demand this beautification, in order to continue the buyer/seller relationship. The definition of ‘beautiful’ is, though, determined within the Market context, and consequently includes efficiency, profit, and added value…. inevitably it is a certain kind of ‘Capitalist Friendly’ beauty. The growth in brands’ desire for authenticity takes consumers to its roots, and exposes its corporate history. No longer are we just buying the product but also its ethos, its processes, its stance in the world, thus affording much consumption a political quality. It is an inadvertent invitation for us to take on the role of social and ethical critic whilst being consumers (Cochay 2004). Our expanded knowledge of brands and their corporate position on, for example, equal rights for gay and lesbian employees, and our ability to differentiate market offerings based on philanthropic gestures, contributes to our consumer choices taking on citizenly qualities. This consumerist discourse is sustained by its associations with individual empowerment (see Zwick et al in this edition).

Consequences of the ‘Consumerist-Voter’ for future political engagement. Should we despair at the idea of the consumerist electorate or should we relish the adaptability and endurance of citizenship within a consumer culture? Given the stance adopted in this chapter arguing against the structuralism of consumer or citizen, the response needs to accommodate both despair and relish simultaneously. Two versions of a future where consumerist voters dominate are briefly outlined, they are presented separately to assist understanding rather than to suggest any outcome is likely to be anything other than fragments of both.

Consumerist-Voter as the occasional Citizen-lite A sporadic, light sense of citizenry, inadvertently realised through being a ‘good’ consumer, does not offer any possibility of a vigorous alternative to Market and private-sphere hegemony. The broad church of the market-place leaves space for an array of actions, some containing elements that challenge current practice, not the system itself. Most politicised consumer actions are not a threat to the Market’s continued existence, more a recognition that the dominant meaning of market activity is open to constant reassessment. Inglehart (1997) points to ‘post


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

materialist’ values emerging as a result of increased affluence and comfort that are creating a set of attitudes that partly reject the ethos of constant acquisition. Some consumers are choosing to consume less in order to increase their perceived quality of life. Voluntary simplifiers are, by renouncing the ‘more is always better’ mantra, demonstrating a search for a better society (Shaw and Newholm 2002). However, most voluntary simplifiers use the market to attain their version of the ‘good life’ and feel able to search for such a lifestyle because of the possessions they previously acquired through the Market. Consumerist Voters are thus, at best, a form of ‘citizen-lite’, producing modest compromise to the dominant way society is organised without challenging the embeddedness of those prevailing societal structures. For example the International Organisation of Consumer Unions calls for social justice and fairness in the market-place, rather than calling to replace it. The Market’s power relations do not require democratic values, thus, at a macro level the ‘Consumerist-Voter’ contributes to and accesses a restricted political sphere which takes as given many of the questions concerning how we should structure our society. Our being ‘Consumerist Voters’ contributes to an expansion of the discourse around ‘needs’, where all of our desires, wants and wishes are framed as ‘needs’, reducing our capacity for compromise and might be considered anti-civic in nature, (Bauman 2001). Ballard’s trajectory of consumer society in his novel Super-Cannes (2000) portrays a world of excess and decadence, where values of community and civic responsibility are cast off, where there is no place for alternative views and the embracing of otherness. A bleak reading of the Consumerist-Voter resonates with this fictional vision of the future. At the level of the individual, the consequences of a consumerist-voter for electoral engagement will be less ‘Worcester Women’ or Basildon Man’, more an electoral landscape featuring irrelevance and indifference juxtaposed with the constant bubbling of single issues and bursts of sporadic infuriation. The rhetoric of the marketplace comes to dominate political communication and action and is manifest with tax being accepted as a direct exchange process, payment in return for service delivery. Such a consumerist electorate might expect: politicians to demonstrate their values, only for them to be sneered at as dogma.

Richard Scullion


a party loyalty card to keep alongside all their other loyalty cards, that promise them specific benefits in return for ‘support’ the right to vote or abstain on more and more occasions, and not be labelled apathetic when they decide not to 'click the vote box now'. less of the political classes, but a right to continue blaming them when 'things don’t feel right', when things fail, and when they feel frustrated. Ultimately the Consumerist-Voter may have an opt-in tax portfolio where they expect the ability to switch their tax payment balance from, for example, mental health care to security services if they feel an increased sense of national risk.

Consumerist-Voter as permanent citizen Voter turnout studies on mainstream political participation demonstrate that the majority of people in Western liberal democracies contribute to the political process only occasionally, as the exception not the rule (Putman 2000, Clarke et al 2004). The Consumerist Voter has far more opportunity to get and stay involved, albeit in a less direct way, by for example boycotting certain brands each time they go shopping. Acts within the Market allow them to monitor Government actions, raise their voice and vote with their feet. In the political sphere, as individuals, we perceive little power, whilst in shopping we feel far more empowered, (Millar 1998). People seek to attach importance to those parts of their lives that they feel they have some control over, thus 'shopping really does matter'. The subjective experience of the individual becomes paramount as customer or client (Needham 2006). Because individuals care about their consumption activities, they are motivated to be interested in actions and ideas that impact it, from interest rates and therefore disposable income, through to planning applications for new superstores. There are signs that some consumers are using criteria, when making choices, which take into account true and full entropy costs , where wider societal benefits are carefully weighed, for example with regard to the distance food produce has to travel before reaching the shop (Csikszentmihalyi 2000). Consumption acts such as boycotts that involve co-ordination and cooperation are inherently more political than those motivated only by the expression of a personally held value (Friedman 2004). Some forms of political consumerism are considered a vibrant response to the decline in


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

sites of traditional political participation (Micheletti, Follesdal and Stolle 2004). Vibrant, because such actions are adaptive to societal shifts, more inclusive with fewer barriers to entry, especially for women, thus this spreads the political to once private spheres; including sexuality and identity. In this way it is a sign of a mature democracy where its members can act in citizenly ways in many spheres of life, “consumer choice is thus a tool for political progress” (Micheletti, Follesdal and Stolle 2004 pp289). The growth of consumer boycotts, of environmental and organic consumption and of an ethical dimension increasingly impacting consumer preferences coupled with much vociferous anti-corporate activity are seen as indicative of a shift. It can be characterised as a form of permanent political engagement, largely located outside mainstream political sites. Citizenship is described as ‘rights bearing’ different from, but no less civic than previous types (Shudson 1998). Indeed he argues that such a manifestation should be welcome given it affords a sense of empowerment, “The more people among the total population who are eligible to shoulder the burden of public decision making and are equipped to do so the better” (Schudson 1998 pp306). Such an enduringly engaged consumerist electorate might expect: a constant flow of information and access to more when they feel it is required. to be listened to and acknowledged for any contributions they make. to see outcomes of any decisions made, often the expectation will be for speed of delivery over due process. . a share of responsibility and blame when things go wrong, if they appreciate a link between their own choice and the resultant conclusion. If the Consumerist Voter does build up a personal opt-in tax portfolio with the ability to switch their tax payment balance in response to changes in either the external environment or their personal wishes, this many serve as a key connection point to the wider community, in other words enhance citizenship.

Concluding comments In this chapter I have argued that the Market’s increased attractiveness has led to the consumer being afforded a privileged position over the

Richard Scullion


citizen and that because much of the literature affords critical difference to the notions of consumer and citizen, a discourse that positions one over the other appears tenable. However, I suggested citizenship can survive, and at times, even thrive in consumer cultures and that in the everyday experiences of individuals within the context of Market attractiveness, the character of citizenship is altered; we are ‘Consumerist-Voters’. If, you see in market choice a “life-long opportunity for individuals to practice, revise and perfect. …habits of reflection….to search, experiment and thus play an active role in shaping their own destiny” (Bevir 2006 pp 12), the ‘Consumerist-Voter’ may be embraced as contributing positively to political engagement. Whilst the Market offers the seduction of appearing to reject external authority, embracing change, and challenging tradition, it may be seen as offering the best form of liberty yet known to us. Alternatively, the hegemony of Market ideology restricts our thoughts and actions, and has no requirement to operate under democratic principles (Bauman 2001). Mainstream politics is marginalised if it is not seen as supportive of the Market, reminiscent of our national institutions becoming zombie-like, unable to cope with, and serve the ‘self-politics’ that has emerged as a result of our citizenship being shaped through our being predominately consumers (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2000). However, the ‘Consumerist Voter’ helps us to understand that the two notions - consumer and citizen - do not only and always have to be seen as diametrically opposed. Such polarised views arise as a result of ideological motivation mixed with an exaggerated view of past citizenship (Gabriel and Lang 1995). Investigating the everyday experience of individuals and the discourses that link them to the political sphere, reveals a context where the two concepts are fused, where we take on citizenly roles in Market spaces and our consumer experiences contain civic qualities. As such, we need to investigate the broader lives of individuals if we want to understand how this blending of consumer and citizen is manifest for them. Acts with political meaning may be located and initiated in either sphere, we risk missing much of the meaning individuals attribute to being a citizen and being a consumer if this more holistic perspective is not adopted. The tentative thoughts outlined on the consequences of this changed character of citizenship for electoral engagement offers two distinct pictures, however, the reality is likely to be a blurred plurality of new forms of engagement as “seekers, consultants, browsers, respondents,


The Impact of the Market on the Character of Citizenship, and the Consequences of this for Political Engagement

interlockers and conversationalists” (McQuail cited in Dahlgren 2003 p168). This type of plurality is strikingly similar to the ways contemporary consumers are also understood.

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The use of political marketing tactics is generally overlooked in Belgian politics, especially in municipal politics. Nevertheless, several interesting campaign tactics can be identified during the 2006 municipal elections. The research presented in this chapter focuses on two distinct aspects of political campaigning: the declining role and influence of party ideology and the personalization of politics. These evolutions have significantly changed the relationship between voters and politicians over the past decades. It is hypothesized that voters are no longer merely steered by their political affiliation or ideological beliefs. Instead they seem to be behaving as consumers, temporary purchasers of a particular political product. The first section offers an overview of theories and discussions describing the role and influence played by political ideology and political personality. The second - empirical - section covers two Belgian case studies. The first, the innovative campaign of the incumbent mayor of the city of Antwerp (Patrick Janssens); the second describes the particular campaign tactics employed by the liberal democrat party (VLD) and the social democrat party (sp.a) in the city of Ghent. The case studies prelude a discussion of the impact of these new ways of political campaigning on Belgian politics.


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

Theoretical Background: The Role and Influence of Political Ideology Societal evolutions Until the first half of the twentieth century, the voting behaviour of most Belgian citizens seemed easily definable: a workman traditionally voted for the socialist party, a Christian opted for the Christian democrat party, and a businessman was a typical liberal democrat voter. This voting behaviour was passed on from father to son; furthermore these convictions endured all one’s life. During the second half of the twentieth century western societies underwent several profound changes resulting in significantly diminishing social class differences (Nisbet, 1959; Clarke, Lipset, Rempel, 1993; Franklin, 1985) and confessional dividing lines (Blumler, Kavanavagh, 1999). These changes were instigated by societal changes, economic growth, and the development of the welfare state. Consequently, citizens became increasingly individualistic (Beck, BeckGernsheim, 2002; Mair, Müller, and Plasser, 2004). McAllister (2003) stated that this widespread partisan dealignment should - without a doubt be considered one of the most profound changes in voting behaviour over the past century (Clarke, Stewart, 1998; Dalton, Wattenberg, 2000; Webb, Farrell, Holliday, 2002). The weakening of partisanship gave rise to so-called volatile voting behaviour (Franklin et al, 1992). The basis of voter decision making shifted from long-term loyalties to short-term, and campaign-specific attitudes. Consequently, political parties became encouraged to compensate their declining grassroots support by focussing their professional electoral campaigning on the volatile voters in the political middle ground (Bowler, Farrell, 1992; Thevissen, 1994; Swanson, Mancini, 1996; Bartle, Griffiths, 2001). As Lilleker (2005) summarizes: “With partisanship decreasing and fewer voters possessing lifetime attachments to one party or another, the floating voter is seen as an important segment that needs strategic targeting through political marketing”.

Party evolutions Volatile voting behaviour and the declining party membership had a strong impact on the traditional parties. Because these political parties could no longer take their traditional support for granted, they needed to

Soetkin Kesteloot, Philippe De Vries & Christ’l De Landtsheer


evolve into so-called catch-all parties (Kirchheimer, 1966), aiming to broaden their electoral base. Generally, three characteristics of catch-all parties are advanced. Firstly, catch-all parties reduce their strong ideological opinions and embrace a less ideologically pronounced profile. Secondly, these catch-all parties aspire to reach each voter, no longer merely focussing on their own social class, or their ‘classe gardée’ (Kirchheimer, 1966). Furthermore, instead of exclusive bonds with traditional social groups, catch-all parties attempt to reach new social organisations (e.g. socialistic parties trying to reach environmental organisations). Thirdly, the power structure within these parties is clearly concentrated in the hands of their leaders. These catch-all parties are thereby no longer focussing on their members, but targeted every single, potential voter. Hence, the introduction of political marketing tools and strategies, such as opinion polls, advertising, and promotion of the leader, contribute to the process of building the party as a consumerstyle brand within an electoral marketplace.

The end-of-ideology The new strategy outlined in the previous paragraphs complements the end-of-ideology thesis. This became extremely fashionable amongst American political scientists in the fifties. Bell (1960) claimed that ethical and ideological differences became irrelevant, reasoning that economic developments are determining political output. In his words: “In the Western world, […] there is today a rough consensus among intellectuals on political issues: the acceptance of a welfare state; the desirability of decentralized power; a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism. In that sense […] the ideological age has ended.” Lipset (1960) reached similar conclusions in his book ‘The Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics.’ Moreover, Fukuyama (1992) asserted in his essay that the era of ideology had passed. With the imminent collapse of communism and the increasing shift towards liberal democratic systems, the era of great ideological struggles did in fact belong to history (Andrews & Saward, 2005). The liberal-democratic ideology triumphed while other ideological belief systems had failed, or were deemed unviable (Fukuyama, 1992). Although the end of ideology-debate seemed persuasive, it was heavily criticized. Bell’s theory did not just imply the end of ideologies, but


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

suggested the rise of an ideological consensus between the established political parties. Critics underlined that the prevailing ideology was merely hiding ideological differences between political parties and should not be interpreted as an ideological consensus, but as a convergence of ideologies (Heywood, 1997; Wolinetz, 1991). Critics argued that the triumph of welfare capitalism and the convergence of ideologies should be considered temporary. They thereby referred to the rise of more radical New Left ideas and the growth of more modern ideologies, such as feminism and environmentalism. Even though it is generally assumed that ideologies are flexible and adjustable to new situations in society, political parties are still mobilized along traditional cleavages. Political parties originating from the cleavages of the nineteenth century - like labour-capital, church-state and centreperiphery - keep mobilizing citizens based on these ideologies. The cleavages are - as it were - ‘frozen’ into the party system. Even if the conflict itself has diminished – or maybe even disappeared - the cleavages survived thanks to the institutions and parties based upon them (Lipset, Rokkan, 1967; Knutsen, 1988). Responding to these criticisms, Cox and McCubbins (2005) noted that during coalition formation the themes that bring political parties together are pushed forward, while points of disagreement seemingly disappear. In other words, the ideological positions depend on the point of view of the possible coalition partners. Nonetheless, the void left behind by referring political ideology to the background needed to be filled. Political consultants eagerly did so by emphasising individual politicians over party and ideology. These political candidates can be perceived as political brands, approved or discarded by electoral consumers. The individual politician - or political product - is thereby positioned on the political market, introducing political consumerism. The democratic electoral system was unmistakably set up to give political candidates the opportunity to introduce themselves to the voter audience, while stressing what they stand for. Today however, politics has taken a remarkable twist. By using scientific polling, political candidates are now using marketing research to attain the exact opposite. Politicians are trying to map the voter audiences, and their expectations. Afterwards, these aspirations and expectations are incorporated into the electoral campaigns. The political candidates and their entourage are trusting that the proposed ideas and points of particular attention will sell in the marketplace. In

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other words, the voter consumer is presented with a carefully tailored political product. This evolution - combined with the trend towards 10second sound bites - is encouraging voters to form opinions about political candidates, issues, and policies in a short period of time based on a restricted set of cues; similar to a reaction to point of sale or television advertising. The candidate image or overall impression is becoming more important to the audience than policy, party, or ideology (Newman, 1999a, 1999b; Maarek, 1995; Lilleker & Lees-Marshment, 2005). These political evolutions are undoubtedly explaining the growing emphasis on the political product or candidate as will be noted in the ensuing section.

Personalization of Politics The personalization of politics must be understood against the background of Perception Politics. The trend of Perception Politics is conceived as an evolution towards commercialization, globalization, and the growth of a visual culture in which mass media play an important role. As a result of the modernization of politics a new dynamic in political communication can be distinguished, in which the dramatization of politics - according to the rules of media logic - is taking place. Style has become increasingly important to the expense of content. This dynamic is - furthermore - including the expanding phenomena of infotainment (the mixture of entertainment and information), and politainment (the mixture of politics and entertainment). Perception Politics is encouraging voters to form impressions of political candidates based on certain cues such as language style, appearance characteristics, and non-verbal behaviour instead of well-considered opinions, and arguments. (De Landtsheer, 2004; Holz-Bacha & Norris, 2001; Esser, 1999; Grabe, Zhou & Barnett, 2001; Leroy & Siune 1994).

Political Personality The trend towards Perception Politics has encouraged voters to judge politically relevant images based on media presentations before, during, and after election campaigns. Those images - used to flesh out the character of the political candidate - embody projections of their expectations, hopes, and values onto particular candidates. The assessments and attributions made by voters concerning these political candidates are extensively based on perceived personality and guide party identification, voting intention, and ultimately voter behaviour (Peffley, 1989).


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

Research by Pierce (1993) has indicated that voters are often more heavily influenced by perceived personality traits of political candidates than by political issues (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Zimbardo, 2002). Several studies are unveiling how voters focus on the traits of political candidates, especially those traits perceived as predictors of candidates’ office performance, such as: competence and integrity, in other words aspects of political personality (Conover, Feldman, 1986; Feldman, Conover, 1983; Kinder, 1986; Peffley, 1989; Lodge, Stroh, 1993; Rahn, Aldrich, Borgida, Sullivan, 1990; Sullivan, Aldrich, Borgida, Rahn, 1990; Funk, 1999).

Personalization in Presidential and Parliamentary Systems Politics has - consequently - become increasingly personalized. This personalization is assumed to be most noticeable in presidential systems. Nevertheless, the personalization of politics is not restricted to presidential systems alone. In parliamentary systems the emphasis of political campaigns seems to be turning towards individual leaders as well. The trend of personalization in these parliamentary systems is referred to in different ways, from the ‘presidentialization of politics’ (Mughan, 1993; Poguntke, Webb, 2005), ‘institutional presidentialization’ (Maddens, Fiers, 2004), or ‘presidential parliamentarism’ (Hazan, 1996). In such parliamentary systems the prime minister is generally perceived as akin to a president. This is understandable since the prime minister is leading the government and often has significant influence. Moreover, the role of the president, king or queen is reduced to a symbolic, moral, or strictly ceremonial role. (McAllister, 2005) Bean (1989) argued that the characteristics determining perceived leadership and political suitability are undoubtedly universal, regardless of the political system. He continued his reasoning by implying that leaders in parliamentary systems are even more likely to be judged and evaluated based on their non-political and personal qualities, emphasizing that political parties are much stronger in parliamentary systems and represented by several political candidates. Consequently, non-political and especially personal qualities of political candidates become more important. In presidential systems on the other hand, the politician in charge will be evaluated based on the political decisions taken. Political candidates in presidential systems are acting as surrogates for their political parties, absorbing the programmatic traits normally considered as party responsibilities (Bean, 1993; McAllister, 2005). Presidential systems

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are - furthermore - encouraging individual responsibility. The presidential executive authority resides with an individual who is elected to the position for a fixed period of time. Moreover, parliamentary systems governed by coalition agreements are encouraging collective responsibility, meaning that the elected candidate is dependent upon the confidence and trust of the members of the legislature (King, 1994; Rhodes, 1995). Furthermore the personalization of politics draws voter attention away from local issues towards the national political stage. A trend magnified by the explosive growth of electronic media. McAllister (1996) continues this reasoning by arguing that major political parties have turned their focus from local candidates to national political leaders (McAllister, 2003). Consequently, the emphasis moves from party policy to candidate personality (Wattenberg, 1991). The instigators of this personalization which will be discussed in the subsequent section - are numerous and complex. Nevertheless, it does appear that international evolutions in political communication have become so uniform and pervasive that they overshadow all other explanations (Negrine, 1996; Schudson, 1995). Important to note is that numerous scholars believe that the emphasis on political personality will further the decline of political parties and political ideology over the years to come. (McAllister, 1996)

Instigators of the trend towards the Personalization of Politics The exponential growth of electronic media is often advanced as the major instigator of the personalization of politics (Bowler, Farrell, 1992; Glaser, Salmon, 1991). This conclusion is clearly intertwined with the appearance of political candidates and leaders in these media, indicating the importance of visibility (Bartels, 1988; Miller, 1990). Rigorous tests concerning the personalization of politics are nevertheless rare. McAllister (2005) points out three distinct reasons. First of all collecting consistent data - overtime - is no sinecure, especially when these data need to be gathered in a range of different countries. The second reason is concerning the changing character of leadership and leadership personality. A third and final reason is focusing on the changing qualities and characteristics which voters end up seeing - and especially seeking - in their political leaders (Miller et al, 1986; McAllister, 2005). Numerous scholars are considering the modernization of politics as the main instigator of the personalization of politics. The past decades have


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

seen the style and practices used in political campaigning have changed drastically. The modernization of politics has led to a profound professionalization of political campaigning. Norris (2000) describes this evolution as a result of the transition from a modern to a post-modern level of campaigning. This professionalization has been accelerated by fundamental changes in the relationship between politics and the media (Gunther, Mughan, 2000; Bennett, Entman, 2001; Moog, Sluyter-Beltrao, 2001). Furthermore, the worldwide proliferation and professionalization of campaigning techniques has left no room for amateurs in modern party headquarters (Johnson, 2001). The dominant role of political parties in the designing of election campaigns is thereby seriously questioned. Instead of trusting party members to communicate party issue positioning, party leaders are embracing new ways to mobilize and persuade the electorate, such as: television appearances and direct mailing (Plasser, 2001). These new ways all promote the personality of individual political candidates, leaving party politics and strong political ideological convictions at the door. On top of that, television and other media are glad to concentrate on political personalities instead of airing profound discussions of political ideological issue positioning, reinforcing the trend towards perception politics and a superficial consumerist attitude towards voter choice. Nonetheless, it is not only the media that play a key role in this process of personalization. Political parties - especially spin doctors and political consultants - clearly understand that it is much easier to market political choices through attractive political personalities, who can promote the party issues and policies more effectively, compared to dull political candidates, or let alone through the publication of political documents. Voters prefer to hold individuals accountable and responsible, rather then a government or a political party (Bean, Mughan, 1989). Kinder indicated how voter evaluations are depending on a modest sample of what they know, overshadowed by a dominant sample of conveniences. Voters are employing a small number of issues systematically linked to political candidates, political leaders, and their performances (Iyengard, Kinder, 1987; Kinder, 1998). Furthering this reasoning, political marketing strategists are positioning the political candidate as a political brand, which needs to be sold, or repositioned when it is no longer working. Following the laws and regulations of business marketing, unsatisfied consumers will switch brands or try new products. In politics the voter, or consumer, is lending his/her vote to a political party or individual politician. When hopes and

Soetkin Kesteloot, Philippe De Vries & Christ’l De Landtsheer


aspirations are not met, voters ruthlessly withdraw. (Maarek, 1995; Newman, 1999; Lees-Marshment, 2004). The political candidate is labelled as a service provider, while viewing the citizen-voter as a customer-consumer. Political marketers are investing heavily in the shaping of consumer perceptions and expectations. In other words, whether it is a product, a candidate, or an issue, marketing has become an indispensable aspect to understand what voters want and need. According to Newman (1999b) the marketing research applied in the political arena includes various tactics, such as: benchmark surveys used after a candidate has decided to run for office, trial heat surveys used to group candidates in hypothetical match ups early in the campaign, tracking polls conducted on a daily basis near election day, cross-sectional and panel surveys conducted to find out where the electorate stands on certain points and issues, and exit polls carried out after the votes have been cast. This all suggests the design of the product to match voter requirements and the encouragement of a consumerist perspective of politics. In the next section two Belgian case studies will be presented. Against the background of the declining influence of political parties, ideology, and the increasing personalization of politics, two remarkable campaigns will be discussed. The first case is a clear example of the trend towards personalization, while the second case is clearly showing how political personality can overshadow political ideology.

Case Study 1: Antwerp Before 2006 In 1994 the extreme right party - Vlaams Blok - achieved a historic election victory in the city of Antwerp (second largest city of Belgium and largest city of Flanders). The party continued to gain support over the following years, resulting in one out of three Antwerp citizens voting for the Vlaams Blok during the 2000 elections. Consequently, it was not possible to install a democratic administration, especially since all democratic parties refused to form a coalition with the popular but extreme right wing party1. A city council was installed with representatives of four 1

This isolation of the members of the Vlaams Blok is called ‘the cordon sanitaire’. The democratic political parties agreed to refrain from forming coalitions or other political arrangements with the extreme right party. (Damen, 2001)


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

political parties, SP or the social democrat party (19,5%), VLD or the liberal democrat party (17%), CVP or the Christian democrat party (11,1%), and Agalev or the green party (11,1%). In 1999, after a considerable electoral defeat, the party leadership of the SP asked Patrick Janssens to become the new party chairman. Janssens worked in the advertising business before he switched to politics. He modernized the party and gave it a new name: SP became sp.a. After a series of fraud affairs in the Antwerp city council in 2003, Janssens was asked to say his farewell to national politics in order to pick up the mayoral sash in Antwerp. The 2006 municipal elections were without a doubt considered an important test for the popularity of Janssens and the potential of the Vlaams Blok (who changed their party program and name to Vlaams Belang after being condemned for racism by a Belgian court in 2004)

Campaign 2006 As can be deduced from the Antwerp context outlined explained above, Janssens was very much aware of the importance of the 2006 municipal elections. Therefore, the ex-advertising executive came up with a unique election campaign and strategy, one previously unseen in Belgian politics. Janssens set up a presidential campaign, transcending political parties and ideological issues. After the elections Janssens explained his strategy as follows: “The campaign was carefully puzzled out. The mayoral candidate was placed at the centre of the campaign, presented as being ready and competent to lead a team of politicians from different political parties and ideological colours. Therefore a program which appeals to everyone was needed” (Terzake06, 2006). Janssens clearly admitted that political party colour and ideology were banished to the background while personality, leadership, competence, and especially the perception of political suitability became of particular interest. Similar to the style of positioning of many service brands, he underlined his exceptional management capacities in which all Antwerp people can trust. To the immense disappointment - and even anger - of his party members and coalition partners, Janssens decided to brand only himself: campaigning alone, without party members, logo, or slogan. This presidential campaign created bad blood with Janssens’ coalition partners, for the incumbent mayor supposedly acted as though he deserved all credit for the accomplishments of the previous administration. Ironically the

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message that was repeated endlessly during his campaign was “Het stad is van iedereen” or [The city belongs to everyone]. On Janssens’ campaignposters famous Antwerp citizens - with various backgrounds and professions, such as: scientists, entertainers, writers, and actors - posed willingly. Pictures were accompanied by a short adulation of Janssens’ competences and the word: “Patrick”. The picture of Patrick Janssens himself was nowhere to be found. Examples of the campaign posters are presented below. Figure 4.1: The Patrick Jansens Campaign Posters

Accompanying Text: “Eindelijk heft ’t Staad een manager én een minnaar. Een leider met een glimlach, gezond verstand, een vaste hand. Dit gaat niet over partijpolitiek of ‘tegenstem’. Dir gaat over “we hebben hem”. Laten we hem dus houden.”


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

Accompanying Text: “Veur A. Patrick, en veur niemand anders.”

Accompanying Text: “Omdat ik mijn stad, jouw stad, onza stad in vertrouwde handen wil.”

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Accompanying Text: “Omdat Antwerpen bijzonder is.” In a television debate - discussing the presidential campaign of Janssens different opinions could be heard. Janssens vigorously defended his campaigning techniques, adding: “There is nothing wrong with nicely packaging a product when the product is good.” Nevertheless, some people - amongst whom were communication advisor Noël Slangen and political scientist Carl Devos - argued that the tactics contained several serious dangers. These specialists pointed out that first off all new coalition partners would feel the urge to create a clear profile for themselves in order to come out of the shadows of a patronizing mayor. Secondly, the campaign posters can be interpreted as an attempt of Janssens to detach himself from the regular political game, which several voters will perceive as extremely arrogant. Commentators concluded that the campaign would have a strong effect, but only on citizens who didn’t really care that much about politics: “Voters who appreciate Janssens will love the campaign, his opponents will hate it.” (Terzake06, 2006).


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

The election outcome The election outcome left no doubt: Janssens’ strategy and campaign tactics clearly paid off. Janssens became by far the most popular politician in Antwerp. Filip Dewinter - front man and leader of the Vlaams Belang was the undefeated champion when it came down to preferential votes during the past elections in 1994 and 2000. But Janssens left the competition far behind with 71.289 preferential votes against 62.246 for Dewinter. Nonetheless, the Vlaams Belang gained 0,5%, while VLD and Groen! lost considerable support (7,3% and 6,4%). These election results indicated that Janssens - as expected - did steal voters from his former coalition partners. Several weeks after the elections sp.a, CD&V, and VLD formed a classic three party coalition led by Janssens. The campaigning tactics and strategies applied by Patrick Janssens undoubtedly paid off, in spite of the critics. The director of a renowned Belgian advertising agency (Duval Guillaume) stated that the campaign had worked because it didn’t suffer from what he calls ‘the party syndrome’ in which the party and the party chairman take the lead. By applying this tactic, in which he transferred many strategies from advertising, Janssens was able to attract liberal democrat or green voters and not only social democrats. Nevertheless, other advertising agents declared that the campaign was effective because of the enormous media attention and ensuing pr-effects (Anon, 2006). While the campaigning tactics and strategies employed by Patrick Janssens were unprecedented in municipal Belgian politics, another unique campaign caught the eye. The second case study analyzes the particular and equally unprecedented - campaign strategy used in the city of Ghent.

Case Study 2: Ghent Before 2006 In Ghent (the second biggest city of Flanders) the ‘red’ social democrat party (SP who changed their name to sp.a), and the ‘blue’ liberaldemocratic party (PVV who changed their name to VLD) had governed as the purple coalition since 1988. During the consecutive municipal

Soetkin Kesteloot, Philippe De Vries & Christ’l De Landtsheer


elections of 1994 and 20002 the citizens of Ghent prolonged the purple administration. The socialist mayor - Frank Beke - became one of the most popular mayors of the country. The elections of 2006 were announced as an extremely exciting battle, since the popular mayor, Frank Beke, withdrew from politics because of health problems. “Who will be the successor of Frank Beke?” and “Will the purple coalition survive?” were without a doubt the most pressing questions in Ghent.

Campaign 2006 A few weeks before the local elections of 2006 a remarkable advertisement caught the eye of the Ghent citizens, instantly followed by the entire Belgian media. The advertisement showed the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (VLD) and Vice-premier Freya Van den Bossche (sp.a) - both Ghent citizens - sitting on a bench in a park. In an almost sexual and suggestive way Van den Bossche says: “That was great Guy, wasn’t it?” Verhofstadt answers: “It sure was, want to go again Freya?” This amateur looking advertisement was published in a free regional advertising magazine. Nonetheless other media quickly picked it up - thanks to well-spread and co-ordinated press leaks. This technique can be considered a new way of campaigning in Belgian municipal politics. Never before had two prominent ministers of two different political parties teamed up to campaign together. This advertisement was designed to make a clear statement: the social democrat party (sp.a) and the liberal democrat party (VLD) strived to continue their purple coalition in the city of Ghent. Sp.a and VLD would not compete with each other, but would work together in a constructive, positive way. Also during other - highly mediatized - campaign events Verhofstadt and Van den Bossche showed up as a team. The premier and vice-premier - for example - appeared together at concerts organized throughout Belgium for tolerance, against racism and hate, underlining that they work in tandem.


One member of the pro-Flemish party VU-ID helped the purple coalition to obtain the majority.


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

Figure 4.2: The Verhofstadt/Van den Bossche campaign poster

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Furthermore, both the retiring mayor - Frank Beke - and the prominent national politicians - Verhofstadt and Van den Bossche - pushed Daniël Termont (sp.a) to the forefront as the new and most suitable leader for the city of Ghent. Both parties thereby emphasized the importance of the political personality. In this campaign it was clear that any ideological differences between the social democrat and the conservative liberal party were bridged. Liberal or socialistic accents were downplayed, marginalized to the background, and even ignored in order to guarantee the survival of the purple coalition. The management qualities and the good government of the city was stressed, instead of the ideological differences between the two parties. So this campaign in Ghent can also be seen as offering a consumer-oriented style of campaigning. Moreover, these local elections had an enormous symbolic value since they were considered the first serious test for the Belgian national government which also consists of a coalition between the social democrat and the liberal democrat party. If the campaign strategy of the premier and the vice-premier would fail during these local elections, it would have been a bad omen for the federal elections in 2007.

Election outcomes The strategy employed clearly paid off: the incumbent, purple coalition survived and gained 28 of the 51 seats in the council. Termont was installed as the new mayor. Moreover their challengers suffered severe losses. The Vlaams Belang even lost votes in Ghent (-1,5%). The support of the national politicians seemed to be remunerated: both Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Vice-premier Freya Van den Bossche were elected to the municipal council. The purple coalition triumphed by referring political party positions and ideologically coloured issue statements to the background and by pushing political personalities to the forefront.

Conclusion & Discussion Even though the end-of-ideology is not generally accepted - even strongly criticized - the evolution of the Belgian electoral market offers contrary evidence. As discussed above, electoral volatility, political personality, presentation and consumerism seem to have gained significant importance and the voter appears to be increasingly perceived as a consumer of peripheral communicational cues as opposed to a processor of political information.


Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

Street (2001) speaks of packaging politics. This term is referring to the idea that public representations of politics are increasingly being managed and controlled. The effect of this packaging trend is claimed to diminish the quality of political discourse, or in other words to ‘dumb it down’. Political arguments are thereby trivialized, emphasizing how appearances matter more than reality, personalities more than policies, the superficial more than the profound. These packaged or designer politics (Scammell, 1995; Franklin 1994) have undeniably resulted in changed political campaigning, maybe even in a new political culture as Clark and Hoffman-Martinot suggested (1998). Although there is some consensus about what changes are taking place, there is as good as no agreement as to how these changes should be judged and interpreted. Some - optimistic - scholars tend to greet them positively, as a rational adaptation to contemporary realities. Van Zoonen (1998) argues that the popularization of political communication should be seen as an attempt to restore the relationship between citizens and their representatives; aiming at regaining the necessary sense of community between public officials and the electorate. This positive, optimistic approach is often accompanied by the claim that perceptions, impressions, and media management techniques have always played an important role in politics (Abramson, 1988; Kavanagh, 1995; Rosenbaum, 1997; Scammell, 1995). Nonetheless, Gitlin (1991) endorses a less positive perspective. He argues that politics has always been raucous, deceptive, giddy, shallow, and sloganeering. Media and their audiences are thereby presumed obsessed with speed, quick cuts, ten-second sound bites, one-second scenes, and out of context images and consequently, being intolerant regarding the rigours of serious arguments and the tedium of organized political life. The fact remains that over time politicians have increasingly devoted their attention to generating images rather than drawing up detailed policy proposals (Street, 2001). Moreover, politicians do seem to be positioned to focus communication towards an electoral marketplace, aiming appeals at a voter consumer who prefers emotional appeals as opposed to hard persuasion. It can therefore be argued that consumerism has gradually been introduced in the electoral markets. A growing number of citizens are no longer lifetime devotees to a particular political party, let alone a political ideology. Instead, the political consumer is highly influenced by individual political personalities. Moreover, these voter-consumers will easily abandon a political product when expectations are no longer met.

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Because no Belgian mayor has ever branded himself - like the Patrick Janssens in Antwerp in 2006 - and no prominent national politicians ever teamed up to campaign together - like Verhofstadt and Van den Bossche in Ghent - the strategies described and discussed in this chapter cannot be generalized as characteristics of Belgian municipal political campaigning as such. Nevertheless, we believe that these examples are clearly indicating the direction in which Belgian municipal elections are likely to evolve in the future: by focusing on political personality and despatching party ideology to the background these campaigns proved that consumerism will drive political behaviour. It is, however, necessary to stress that - even though political ideology is pushed to the background this should on no account be considered the end of ideology.

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Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

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Introducing Political Consumerism in Belgian Municipal Elections

Lees-Marshment, J. (2004). The Political Marketing Revolution: Transforming the government of the UK. Manchester, Manchester University Press. Leroy, P., Siune, K. (1994). The role of television in European Elections: the cases of Belgium and Denmark. European Journal of Communication, 9, 1, 47-69. Lilleker, D., Lees-Marshment, J. (2005) Political marketing: a comparative perspective. Manchester, Manchester University Press. Lilleker, D. (2005). The impact of political marketing on internal party democracy. Parliamentary Affairs, 58, 3, 570-584. Lipset, M. (1960). Political man. The social bases of politics, New York, Doubleday. Lipset, M., Rokkan, S. (1967). Party systems and voter alignments: crossnational perspective. New York, Free Press. Lodge, M., Stroh, P. (1993). Inside the mental voting booth: An impression-driven process model of candidate evaluation. In: Iyengard, S., McGuire, W.J. (Eds.), Explorations in political psychology. Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 225-263. Maarek, P.J. (1995). Political marketing and communication. London, Libbey. Mair, P., Muller, W., Plasser, F. (2004). Political parties & electoral change. London, Sage Publications. Maddens, B., Fiers S. (2004). The direct PM election and the institutional presidentialization of parliamentary systems. Electoral Studies, 23, 4, 769-793. McAllister, I. (1996). Leaders. In LeDuc, R., Niemi, L., Norris, P. (Eds). Comparing Democracies: Elections and voting in global perspective (pp. 280-298). London, Sage. —. (2003). Calculating or Capricious? The new politics of late deciding voters. In Farrell, D., Schmitt-Beck, R. (Eds.), Do political campaigns matter?(pp. 22-40). London, Routledge. —. (2005). The Personalization of Politics. In: Dalton, R., Klingeman, H.D. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior (Forthcoming). Miller, A.H., Wattenberg, M. P., Malanchuk, O. (1986). Schematic assessment of presidential candidates. American Political Science Review, 80, 521-540. Miller, W.L. (1990). How voters Change. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Moog, S., Sluyter-Beltrao, J. (2001). The transformation of political communication? In: Axford, B., Higgins, R. (eds.) New media and politics, London, Sage, 30-63.

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Mughan, A. (1993). Party leaders and presidentialism in the 1992 British election: a postwar perspective. In: Denver D. (Eds.). British Elections and Parties Yearbook, 1993. London, Harvester Wheatsheaf. Negrine, R. (1996). The Communication of Politics. London, Sage. Newman, B. (1999a). The Mass Marketing of Politics. Democracy in an Age of Manufactured Images, Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications. —. (1999b). Handbook of Political Marketing, Thousand Oaks, Sage publications. Nisbet, R. (1959). The decline and fall of social classes. Pacific Sociological Review, 2, 11-17. Norris, P. (2000). A virtuous circle. Political communications in postindustrial societies. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Peffley, M. (1989). Presidential image and economic performance: A dynamic Analyses. Political Behavior, 11, 4, 309-333. Pierce, P.A. (1993). Political sophistication and the use of candidate traits in candidate evaluation, Political Psychology, 14, 1, 21-35. Plasser, F. (2001) Parties’ diminishing relevance for campaign professionals. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 6, 4, 44-59. Poguntke, T., Webb, P. (2005). The Presidentialization of Politics in Democratic Societies. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Rahn, W.M., Aldrich, J.H., Borgida, E., Sullivan, J.L. (1990). A social cognitive model of candidate appraisal. In: Ferejohn, J.A., Kuklinski, J.H. (Eds.), Information and democratic processes. Urbana, IL, University of Illinois Press, 136-159. Rhodes, R.A.W. (1995). Introducing the Core Executive. In: Rhodes, R.A.W., Dunleavy, P. (Eds.). Prime Minister, Cabinet, and Core Executive, London, Macmillan. Rosenbaum, M. (1997). From soapbox to soundbite: party political campaigning in Britain since 1945. London, Macmillan. Scammell, M. (1995). Designer Politics: How Elections are Won. London, Macmillan. Schudson, M. (1995). The Power of News. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. Street, J. (2001). Mass Media, Politics and Democracy, New York, Palgrave. Sullivan, J.L., Aldrich, J.H., Borgida, E.,Rahn, W.M. (1990). Candidate appraisal and human nature: Man and superman in the 1984 election. Political Psychology, 11, 3, 21-35. Swanson, D., Mancini, P. (1996). Politics, media and modern democracy. Westport, Praeger.


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The language of “brands” is now the common currency of political discourse. However, it is rare to witness exactly how political brands are created and developed. This chapter focuses on a telling example of political branding in action: the strategy to “re-connect” the UK Prime Minister in the run up to the 2005 General Election. Further, it argues that branding is the new form of political marketing. If market research, advertising and news management were the key signifiers of marketed parties and candidates in the 1980s and 1990s, ‘branding’ is the new hallmark. The brand concept has analytical value: we cannot truly understand the communications appeal of Tony Blair unless we see how brand ideas were incorporated into the campaign. The significance of this is greater than the individual example. It is indicative of a truly consumerised paradigm of political communication; one in which the media and news management are still outstandingly important, but in which the prime relationship (with voters) is shaped fundamentally by the approach, methods and conception of voters as citizen-consumers. However, before looking at how brands operate in politics, it is helpful to understand the development of brand power in the commercial sphere.

Brands: what are they? Our common if loose understanding that brand refers to image and reputation is more or less right. As consultants Anholt and Hildreth (2004) put it “…a brand is nothing more…than the good name of something”. In marketing terms a brand is defined as “the psychological representation” of a product or organisation; its symbolic value, rather than tangible use value. At a basic level the brand acts as a short-cut to consumer choice, 1

A version of this chapter appeared in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 2007; 611; 176.


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enabling differentiation between broadly similar products. However, most intriguing for marketers is the way brand image works, appearing to add a layer of emotional connection which operates over and above the pure functional use-value of a product. Thus, in the classic example of brand power, “two thirds of cola drinkers prefer Pepsi in blind tests, yet two thirds buy Coke” (Burkitt, 2002). Although brands, most famously CocaCola, have existed as household names for more than a century, the brand idea acquired its contemporary ubiquity over the last 20 years or so. The term “brand” is everywhere now, applied not just to products, companies, organizations and celebrities but also to cities, nations and even private individuals, such that job-seekers, for example, are encouraged to “consider yourself a brand” to impress interviewers (Whitcomb, 2005). A common thread in the marketing literature is that brand-image is not, nor can be, the simple creation of advertising. The peculiar property of the brand, as distinct from the product, is that it is authored not just by the promotional strategies of companies. The brand emerges also and crucially from customer experience and perception. Promise, the agency which Labour commissioned to conduct research prior to the 2005 General Election, claims that “brands belong to everyone…shaped by millions of conversations which take place every day between a company and its customers…customers and non-customers”. Ultimately, the brand is “only as good as the grapevine says it is”. The customer contribution is known as brand equity. Brand equity is effectively a gift which customers may bestow or withhold and thus it is a complex source of strength and weakness for companies. It may add billions to corporate worth; equally it is sensitive to competition and may be highly vulnerable even to small shifts in consumer perception and behavior. Consequently, all aspects of brands, their definition, research, communication and methods of economic evaluation have become increasingly sophisticated as management invests in brand development and research, while consultancies compete to sell brand-building formulas. On the economic side, statistical models compete to demonstrate the importance of brand equity within overall brand worth, linking financial values to equity indicators, such as consumer awareness, preference, satisfaction and scores on specific image attributes, and increasingly, perceived social responsibility. On the definition and research side, marketers draw on cognitive and neuro-psychology to make sense of consumers’ emotional responses and attachments to brands. It has led to a burgeoning marketing interest in emotional intelligence and the ways that

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reason and emotion work in consumers’ purchase decisions (Heath, 2001; Franzen and Bouwman, 2001; Goleman, 1996; Woods, 2004). James Donius’s influential model (see Table 1, cited in Woods, 2004) distinguishes between “boundary conditions” (the basic economic and functional performance of a brand) and “brand differentiators” (cultural, social and psychological associations) in consumer choice. In mature markets, where many products meet the basic boundary conditions of reliable functionality and acceptable pricing, consumer choice is decided overwhelmingly by the less tangible attributes of brand differentiation. Table 5.1: What makes a brand distinctive? Cultural

“symbol of our society”


“grew up with it”


“says something about me”


“value for money”


“works better”

Brand differentiators

Boundary conditions

The task of brand research lies in discovering how differentiators operate in consumers’ perceptions and to find patterns of differentiation. A common theme is that, while brand differentiators emerge from multiple and diverse experiences and psychological associations, they often work at a low level of consumer attention. Consumer psychology, drawing from cognitive psychology, calls this low-involvement processing (Heath, 2001). Moreover, “many of the encounters that each of us has with a brand are experienced beneath the radar of conscious attention. The tiny details that do contribute to brand image such as the quality of plastic carrier bags, the information on a till receipt…sneak into our brains invisibly” (Gordon, cited in Burkitt, 2002). Hence the skill of brand research is to


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make explicit that which is normally unexpressed and to convert it into a prioritized order that can assist brand development and promotion. Thus, brand research is primarily qualitative, seeking to delve beneath the surface evidence of quantitative polling. The UK tradition (Burkitt, 2002) draws from human psychology, premised on the assumption that people can understand their own motivations, although they may need help (“moderation”) to access and make explicit “views and values that people have not thought about in a very conscious way or do not normally admit to”. It enlists enabling and projective techniques from counselling and self-development to uncover respondents’ normally unspoken intuitive associations and hard-to-admit private feelings. Typical techniques include “mood boards” (collections of pictures/images which evoke emotional territories, lifestyle and feeling), “concept statements”, in which respondents are asked to write down their views before discussing them, and party-game type associations, which are probably the best known among the brand researcher’s devices. Hence questions such as: “if product X was a car/fruit/football team what kind of car/fruit/football team would it be”? Beyond this, and as we shall see in the case of Tony Blair, researchers call upon techniques of psycho-analysis to access respondents most privately held or even repressed opinions.

“Reconnecting the Prime Minister”: the techniques of political branding The strategy to “reconnect” Tony Blair with disaffected voters prior to the 2005 UK general election offers a sharp illustration of the use and centrality of brand thinking. Labour, although consistently ahead in the polls, approached the campaign nervously, worried at their ability to mobilize their own supporters and concerned at the depth of anger towards Blair, especially among women voters. Moreover, Labour, as the party of government for eight years was particularly susceptible to rising public cynicism. Politicians, Philip Gould believed, were talking to an “empty stadium” 2; voters felt powerless and ignored and were looking for a more interactive engagement with politicians. The 2001 contest had produced the lowest post-war turn-out, at 59%, and Labour strategists feared that another record low could render them vulnerable to a hung parliament or 2

Philip Gould (2003) “The Empty Stadium: the world turned upside down”. Lecture to the Political Communication class, Department of Media and Communication, London School of Economics & Political Science.

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worse should the Conservatives motivate their base through their campaign of anti-Blair appeals and promises of tough immigration policy and lower taxes. This was the context in which Labour, in January 2005, enlisted the services of Promise plc, a commercial consultancy specializing in brand building. Promise set out its approach, methods and recommendations in an unusually detailed paper for a Market Research Society conference (Langmaid, Trevail & Hayman, 2006). The following account and quotations all come from their paper, unless otherwise stated. Promise came to Labour’s attention in December 2004 through an article written by Charles Trevail, one of the company’s founders, in the Financial Times. Trevail had argued that Labour was a “premium brand”; a high-cost, high service product which precisely because it raised consumer expectations to high levels was especially vulnerable to credibility problems. Promise runs an annual index tracking the fit between consumer expectations and experience of leading brands. It had concluded its 2004 survey with the finding that two-thirds of brands failed to live up to their promises, and that “premium brands were especially likely to let customers down”. This, said Promise, was “the pain of premium”: premium products offered high quality to customers and their very success brought with it the risk that consumers may “idealize these brands – they imbue them with lots of positive qualities they’d like them to have, and which they cannot always live up to”. Trevail’s argument was spotted by Shaun Woodward (now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) who arranged a meeting between Promise executives and Labour campaign strategists, Philip Gould and Sally Morgan, at Number 10 Downing Street in December 2004. Following that meeting Promise conducted preliminary research for Labour, involving standard focus groups of Labour loyalists and former Labour voters who were now undecided. Although it mainly confirmed what Labour already knew, the party’s campaign team were impressed with the analysis of respondents’ “relationships with Blair personally” and how these fed into overall attitudes. It dovetailed with Labour strategists’ thinking about the importance of Blair to the Labour brand. Promise was invited to join the Labour team working on the party brand and commissioned to devise a strategy to counteract the Conservatives and crucially to recommend ways to “reconnect” Tony Blair to the electorate. Thereafter, Promise researched only undecided voters, focusing particularly on groups of women who had previously voted Labour. The focus was in line with Gould’s own surveys which found that the hostility


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to Blair and Labour was especially keen among women and “might severely damage their showing at the polls”. Promise began by attempting to isolate the Blair factor through the type of numerical scaling it uses in its brand index, asking respondents to award marks out of 10 to parties and leaders on the basis of two attributes: reputation and delivery. It then asked respondents to score Labour and Conservatives against their own set of ideal attributes driving their opinions of political parties (competence, leadership, teamwork, integrity, in touch, understand, interactive). “Worryingly for New Labour, the Tories outperformed them on all of the attributes”; and worse for the Prime Minister, he scored lower than his party. Overall, Promise concluded that the New Labour brand was threatened, undermined by constant media attacks, the Iraq war, the perception that Blair had lied about weapons of mass destruction. A key finding was that Blair personally was crucial to brand perceptions and that there was a marked deterioration in perceptions of the Prime Minister over time, from enthusiastic welcome of the young Blair to resentment and anger at the later tough Blair. To probe further the link between perceptions of Blair and the party brand, Promise used “expressive techniques”, including asking respondents to write a letter to Mr. Blair, “to let him know what they thought and more importantly how they felt”, assuring them that “we would place the content of their letters before him, as we did”. Promise summarized the emotional experiences of Blair under three broad headings (see Table 2): “you’ve left me”, “you’ve become too big for your boots” and “you need to reflect on what you’ve done and change”. Table 5.2: Letters to Blair (from undecided women voters) Key phrases Theme 1: you’ve left me! “you should have come home” (Tsunami); “your country needed you”; “where were you when the disaster happened”; “all the promises you made that never came to fruition”

Underlying emotional experience


Abandoned & unimportant

Put us first Get back in touch Get more involved with us

Margaret Scammell Theme 2: too big for your boots/celebrity “a president with Cherie”; “globetrotting holiday makers”; “celebrity hero worship (Bush”); “thought you were a people’s person, not a movie star”. Theme 3: reflect and change “take time to think”; “how foolish you’ve been”; “you’ve lost sight of reality”.


His self-importance & global lifestyle leaves me feeling inferior/undervalued

Re-order priorities Get back to basics Get real

Not held in mind Uncontained Out of control

Think, reflect – are you still the bloke we elected; have you moved on to bigger things?

Source: Langmaid, Trevail and Hayman (2006) Reconnecting the Prime Minister

From these broad emotional themes, they then drew on Gestalt psychology and the “two chair” exercise, asking a volunteer to act out both parts of an imaginary two-way conversation between herself and Blair. The conversation was reported as follows: Woman voter to Blair: “I thought you were one of us. A people person. Yet you were more interested in sucking up to people more famous than yourself. To do that you even put our boys’ lives at risk in Iraq even though more than a million people had marched against that war. Why didn’t you listen? Why are spending so much time away from us? Why didn’t you come home straight away after the tsunami? How could you stay on holiday when our people were dying?” Blair to woman voter: “I’m afraid you’ve only got part of the picture. From where I sit the war in Iraq was crucial to the cause of world peace. But I understand that it’s difficult to see the whole thing for you (boos from the group!). You put me in charge and I must do what I think to be the right thing. I am sure that history will prove us right in the end”.

After group discussion of the conversation, the woman returned to the chair tasked to be Blair saying what she would like to hear from him. This is what she said: Blair to woman voter: “I understand your feelings and I realize that there are many who do not agree with me over Iraq…I still believe on balance


Marketing Politics in the Consumer Age that we did the right thing, though I have been shocked to appreciate the depth of frustration among those who disagree with me. I solemnly promise to spend more time at home in contact with our own people and to debate these issues more seriously before we launch on such an endeavor again.”

It was a relatively small difference in Blair’s response but it produced an extraordinarily positive reaction from the group. This was the crucial moment in the strategy to re-brand Blair. The women’s anger towards Blair stemmed not just from opposition to the Iraq War, although that was deeply unpopular, but from perceptions of Blair’s patronizing tone and self-justificatory response to criticism. Promise researchers had been taken aback by the “degree of aggression – even hatred” directed at Blair. Moreover, the strength of hostility was related to the warmth of their welcome to the younger Blair, who had seemed so “fresh”, “approachable”, “modern, progressive and easy to look at and listen to”. Promise concluded: “There appeared to be almost two completely separate Mr Blairs out there in the public’s consciousness. The one, ideal, almost perfect as a leader and source of hope; the other almost equally mendacious, even wicked as a source of disillusionment and despair.” Ideal Tony had become Terrible Tony. Respondents reacted to Blair “with the feelings of jilted lovers: he had become enthralled by someone else, a figure more powerful than ourselves, the resident of the White House….Therefore feeling rejected ourselves we must start to reject him”. The task, as Promise saw it, was to integrate the two Tonys, the young, hopeful Tony and the older tough Tony, into a new “mature Tony”; and the two chair exercise suggested ways to do this through communication style and tone. At the same time as the Blair focus groups progressed, the Promise team worked on a new brand model for Labour, approaching the issue “as they would any other large brand”, exploring the environment in which the brand existed, how it was promoted, and most importantly what it meant to consumers. New Labour had emerged out of a sophisticated brand strategy, driven by “intimate contact with voters, the party’s customers’. But by 2005 it was badly tarnished: “The brand lens through which people viewed the party had become clouded by the Iraq war and constant media attacks on the government…The research categorically stated [that] New Labour had a problem with their leader, but so influential was he as an icon of the brand, the party also had a problem that reached the very core of the brand”. The New Labour brand, personified by Blair had stopped

Margaret Scammell


listening, it was too reliant on him, but without him seemed lightweight, all spin rather than substance. Labour scored badly on three core attributes, as defined by focus groups: competence, integrity and teamwork. The depth of dissatisfaction “could not be reversed over the 12 week period before the election. However, we realized that the brand did have an opportunity to address issues of integrity and teamwork head-on…We recommended a strategy that portrayed members of the Cabinet working as a team; something that was very much lacking for the Tories.” Promise developed a strategy to rebrand New Labour as “progressive realists”: passionate, friendly and inclusive for the benefit of all. It needed to show strength in depth by promoting a greater range of spokespeople, competence through highlighting management of the economy, should emphasize public services (“this brand is about we, not me”), and communications that looked “in touch”. For Blair this meant showing that he understood why people were angry, and that he should drop the much-resented “I know best” stance in favor of “we can only do this together”.

“Mature Tony”, the “Masochism Strategy” and the 2005 General Election The plan to “reconnect the Prime Minister” got its first airing in February, 2006 with Blair’s speech to the Labour Party Spring Conference at Gateshead. To the delight of Promise, soundbites chosen by the media highlighted the new “mature Tony” approach: “I understand why some people are angry, not just over Iraq but many of the difficult decisions we have made, and, as ever, a lot of it is about me,” said Blair. “So this journey has gone from ‘all things to all people’, to ‘I know best’ to ‘we can only do this together’. And I know which I prefer. A partnership. Forward together. It’s your choice”. Promise’s main recommendations appeared in Labour’s campaign War Book: “TB must connect with the electorate…and make it clear that he has not abandoned them”; he should show greater candour, humility and willingness to listen (cited in Kavanagh & Butler, 2005: 57). This emerged publicly as the “masochism” strategy, in which the Prime Minister increased his personal appearances on television in the run up to the election, deliberately seeking out aggressive interviewers and asking TV shows to find hostile audiences to question him. The masochism strategy, with its underlying analogy of a rocky marriage between Blair and the


Marketing Politics in the Consumer Age

electorate, provoked considerable press interest and no little contempt as the Prime Minister was subjected to some humbling encounters. He was repeatedly lambasted over Iraq; while in the most excruciating confrontations a hospital worker asked the Prime Minister if he would be prepared to "wipe someone's backside for £5 an hour", and in the popular Saturday night show Ant and Dec’s Takeaway a child asked him: “My dad says you’re mad. Are you mad?” As the pro-New Labour commentator Andrew Rawnsley (2005) noted, much of the press did indeed think that the strategy was madness: “The traditional campaign playbooks say that leaders should always be displayed among crowds of cheering supporters affirming their goodness and greatness. And predictably conventional reporting has depicted these TV trials as evidence that the wheels are already coming off a 'humiliated' Prime Minister's campaign.” However, the masochism strategy was central to Labour’s campaign, as was the attempt to showcase a united leadership team. The latter was easier said than done, requiring a concerted effort from Labour campaigners to heal the much-reported rift between Labour’s most powerful figures, Blair and Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Labour’s longest-serving campaigners, Philip Gould and Alastair Campbell were convinced that Brown’s inclusion was indispensable to electoral success; without Brown, Blair would look isolated and vulnerable. As one Labour insider said (cited in Kavanagh and Butler, 2005: 58): “I think Philip and Alastair were both kept awake at night by the thought that if Gordon did not come back, Tony would be humiliated”. After weeks of negotiation the pair was persuaded to bury their differences. The re-uniting of the Lennon and McCartney of British politics was signalled in the party’s first election broadcast (PEB) of the campaign. Directed by film-maker Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley) the PEB featured Blair and Brown chatting together about their common values and achievements; it was a “soft-sell about a ‘partnership that’s worked’” (Harrison, 2005: 111). Remarkably, this was the first PEB under Blair’s leadership that had highlighted any Labour politician other than him. As Labour’s campaigners predicted, the Blair-Brown double act contrasted with the Conservatives’ reliance on Michael Howard. It also went with the grain of commentary from the Labour-supporting press (such as the Guardian and Daily Mirror), which despite considerable misgivings over the Iraq war, urged readers to hold their noses and vote Labour despite Blair (Scammell and Harrop, 2005). In the event, Labour’s efforts

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successfully raised the team profile (Scammell & Semetko, in press) but could not protect Blair from brutal press treatment, with the Conservative tabloids repeatedly calling him a liar. However, ultimately Labour campaigners had reason to celebrate the success of their strategy. This was due not so much to election victory, which according to virtually all the polls was never in real doubt. Rather, it was because, unlike 1997 and 2001, Labour managed to improve its opinion poll rating over the course of the campaign. Its preferred issues of the economy, health and education increased in importance to voters as the campaign progressed, while it augmented its lead over the Conservatives as the best party to deal with them. Moreover, for all the hostility directed at Blair he managed to improve his advantage over Howard during the campaign (Kavanagh and Bulter, 2005: 89; Norris, 2005). Crucially there is some suggestive circumstantial evidence that the “reconnection strategy” may have been effective with women. For the first time the gender gap favoured Labour rather than the Tories. The success, much like the election result itself, was qualified since there was an overall swing away from Labour, compared to 2001. Nonetheless, the defection was significantly less among women than men (Worcester, Mortimore and Baines, 2005: 224-6). It should be noted that Promise’s claims for success cannot be proved by the evidence; there is at best a correspondence between implantation of their strategy and movement in the polls. This falls a long way short of conclusive proof. Nonetheless, and typically in campaigns, correspondence is used as an indicator of effectiveness.

Branding: its value for political campaigners Branding as a concept and research method has both particular and general value for campaigners. The particular value is demonstrated in the “reconnection strategy”; its general usefulness becomes clear in the evolution of political marketing thinking. The reconnection strategy was a strikingly different way to deal with the problem of leader unpopularity. Margaret Thatcher, although widely respected as a strong leader, was also deeply disliked by a large minority of the population. The Conservative solution for her in the 1987 election was a presidential campaign which highlighted her advantages as an experienced and strong leader but made little attempt to alter an entrenched public perception that she was “out of touch” and “talked


Marketing Politics in the Consumer Age

down” to ordinary people (Scammell, 1995). Labour in 1992 had the opposite problem with then leader Neil Kinnock and its remedy was to promote the leadership team and protect Kinnock as far as possible from exposure to hostile questioning from the press and public. Neither course perfectly fitted the bill for Blair in 2005. It would have been impossible to shield him from the scrutiny of the press, much of which treated the campaign as a referendum on the Prime Minister (Scammell and Harrop, 2005: 131). The option of protecting him from the public, with a Thatcherlike presidential campaign, was considered seriously (Langmaid, Trevail & Hayman, 2006: 6), but was riskier for Blair than it had been for Thatcher. First, being seen as in touch was the essence of the New Labour brand, and until the Iraq War had been personified by Blair. He personally and the party generally had more to lose than Thatcher had. Moreover, his closest advisers, including Gould and Campbell, were concerned to bolster his authority in the party. The “Tough Tony” was largely responsible for the party’s current image problems; he should be seen to be spearheading the solutions. The general value of branding to campaigners is both conceptual and practical. It provides a conceptual framework to distinguish and fathom links between the functional perceptions of parties and leaders (the “boundary conditions) such as economic management, policy commitments and the competence to deliver, and the emotional attractions (“brand differentiators”), such as “one of us”, authenticity, approachability, attractiveness to the ear and eye. It brings together the emotional and intellectual, rational and irrational (“sometimes disturbing irrational”, Burkitt, 2002: 9), the big and tiny details that feed into overall images. Branding is underpinned by the insight that these images are highly vulnerable, constantly changing and rarely under complete control. The near-permanence of change has become a Gould mantra. One of his key criticisms of political science analysis is that it is so “static”; it can explain admirably a moment in time but cannot capture the “messy unpredictable and often random nature of politics as it happens” (Gould, 2001). Thus “re-assurance” was a key task of the brand in 1997 as Labour’s research demonstrated that target voters were unconvinced that New Labour really was new (and would not go back to the old ways of special interests and tax-raising). However, by 2001, re-assurance had turned into perceptions of caution and excessive concern with opinion polls, and so Labour had to re-fresh the brand, be prepared to show bold leadership, be “less nervous of unpopularity”, far less concerned with the press “and, dare I say it, opinion polls” (Gould, 2002). By 2005, new New

Margaret Scammell


Labour needed to change tack again and re-establish “Tough Tony” as the listening, caring, in-touch leader that target voters thought he was when they first elected him. Arguably branding is now central to the permanent campaign. The original model of the permanent campaign, as first used by President Carter’s strategist Pat Caddell (Blumenthal, 1982), was characterized inter alia by continuous polling, intense news management and constant attention to media images. This model, says Gould (2002) has had its day”. It may be an understandable reaction to a “relentlessly intrusive media” and, he admitted, it had characterized the early years of the first New Labour government. However, spin was not only insufficient to maintain political leadership, it ultimately “contaminated” the Labour brand and undermined public trust. Permanent revolution, said Gould, rather than permanent campaigning, was the “better label for what is happening in British politics today”. Permanent revolution meant constant sensitivity to changes in the electorate’s mood because yesterday’s strengths can transform rapidly into today’s weaknesses. In similar vein, Needham (2005) argues that the brand concept, rather than the permanent campaign, is the more useful to understand communication in the governments of Blair and Bill Clinton. The permanent campaign focuses on the instruments of media politics; the brand concept uncovers the underlying strategic concerns of efforts to maintain voter loyalty through communication designed to provide re-assurance, uniqueness (clear differentiation from rivals), consistency of values, and emotional connection with voters’ values and visions of the good life. Part of the general attraction of branding stems from its practical familiarity. Branding emerged from marketing concepts and methods which have been employed in politics on both sides of the Atlantic since the 1970s. It uses qualitative research techniques, designed to tap into emotional connection, which are essentially an extension of methods long used in political advertising research. However, the advantage of branding is that it provides a conceptual structure to link advertising insight into all aspects of strategic positioning, development and promotion. Unlike advertising, branding is not wedded to a particular form of communication. Paradoxically, given the shared methods, the marketing turn to branding has coincided with shaken faith in advertising itself as capable of encompassing all the details, big and small, that create brand image. As former Conservative vice-chairman and celebrated advertiser


Marketing Politics in the Consumer Age

Lord Maurice Saatchi (2006), puts it: we are now living in a postadvertising world.

Political branding: a consumer model of political communication and what it means Branding is shifting campaigning emphasis away from a mass-media based model of political communication to a thoroughly consumerised and individualised model. This is evident not just in the reliance on brand thinking but also in the perception that voters’ attitudes to politics are shaped by their experience of consumerism. There is a perfect, and arguably self-fulfilling circle: campaigners research voters as though they were consumers; and their research is finding that voters’ attitudes towards politics are profoundly shaped by their experience as consumers. This is made clear in Gould’s 2003 “brand environment” analysis entitled “The empty stadium: the world turned upside down” in which he argued for a new campaign paradigm. The analysis posited a fundamental mismatch between people’s experiences as confident consumers, on the one hand, and insecure citizens, on the other. Affluence and a profusion of choice had empowered people as consumers but the pace of globalization, threats of terrorism and environmental erosion had led to insecure citizens. Individuals’ sense of greater control as consumers exacerbated their sense of loss of control as citizens. Conventional politics was blamed for the rising climate of insecurity and social fracture, while simultaneously being considered irrelevant to a “new consumer world of empowerment, selfactualization” and personal values. Consumer power had led to a paradigm shift within marketing thinking, from “interruption marketing” (unasked for, unwelcome) to “permission marketing” (anticipated, relevant, personal). All interruption marketing was resisted, said Gould, but political communication was the most resisted of all. He warned that “if we play the game as we have always done”, the stadium will continue to empty. Modern campaigning required more personal and interactive communication and necessitated that politicians engage on the tough issues: asylum, crime and social disintegration. “It is better to disagree with the public than ignore it.” Branding is not the elusive magic bullet to political success. There is no magic formula. Brand research does not provide automatic answers; its results and recommendations are negotiated by the relevant political actors. It is not suggested either that branding provides a direct causal arrow from market research to concrete policy, although it certainly maps

Margaret Scammell


out broad territories for political attention. However, it does explain better than alternative accounts why and how New Labour has actually communicated. The masochism strategy, “mature Tony” and the attempt to re-position the party as “team Labour” all emerged from a brand-based view of the political market. The Labour example demonstrates a key principle of political marketing explanations of modern political communication. The prime driver of change in political communications practice is not the media, vastly important though they are, but campaigners’ strategic understanding of the political marketplace, encompassing both the electorate and competitors. The reconnection strategy makes it abundantly clear that Labour viewed the electorate as citizen-consumers of a political brand. Branding in politics raises profound concerns for the health of democracy. Mostly these are familiar to political marketing generally: the danger of misleading the public through an increasingly sophisticated understanding of consumer psychology and the importance of communication style; the threat of de-politicisation as politicians are encouraged to accent the personal; neglect of the wider public itself as research hones ever more precisely upon amenable target groups. Equally profoundly, branding encourages both politicians and citizens to import into politics, and give legitimacy to, the tiny details that differentiate brands and inform consumer choice. Branding in politics may be uncomfortable for those advocates who prefer to imagine that political marketing, properly speaking, is about delivery of properly-researched promises. However, branding exposes opportunities as well as threats. The reconnection strategy reveals a determined effort to understand voters, take seriously and not dismiss as irrational, their emotional (dis)connections with politics. Theoretically it can assist connection between citizens and leaders, and need not mean, and in the case of Labour in 2005 did not mean, the absence of substantial political debate. For Blair, it was the reverse, as he voluntarily sought out his critics and faced up to them. We have not yet developed ways to distinguish good (democraticallyspeaking) branding from smart (effective) branding. We have some clues in the brand model itself with its analytical separation of boundary conditions and brand differentiators; and as commercial brand research becomes increasingly concerned with considerations of ethics and social responsibility, so it will offer more. This task is now urgent because political branding is here to stay. It is yet more confirmation that we live in the age of the citizen-consumer.


Marketing Politics in the Consumer Age

Bibliography Anholt, S. & J. Hildreth (2004) Brand America: The Mother of All Brands London: Cyan Books Blumenthal, S. (1982) The Permanent Campaign New York: Simon & Schuster Burkitt, Catherine (2002) ‘Are you less emotional intelligent than Blair? And if so why should you care?’ Paper presented to the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association. Aberdeen 2002 Franzen, Giep & Bouwman, Margot (2001) “The mental World of Brands: Mind, Memory and brand Success” Henley-on-Thames, UK: World Advertising Research Centre Goleman, Daniel (1996) Emotional Intelligence London: Bloomsbury Gould, P. (2001)…In Bartle et al Political Communication —. (2002) “What 'permanent campaign?” BBC Online Retrieved at: Harrison, M. (2005) “On Air” in Dennis Kavanagh & D. Butler The British General Election of 2005 Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave pp94-118 Heath, R. (2001) The Hidden Power of Advertising: How Low Involvement Processing Influences the Way we Choose Brands London: Admap Publications Kavanagh D. & D. Butler The British General Election of 2005 Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Langmaid, R., C.Trevail, & B.Hayman (2006) “Reconnecting the Prime Minister” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Market Research Society London. Needham, C (2005) “Brand leaders; Clinton, Blair and the Limitations of the Permanent Campaign Political Studies 53(2):343-361 Norris, P. (2005) “Did the Media Matter? Persuasion, Priming and Mobilization Effects in the 2005 British General Election Campaign” Paper presented to EPOP, Political Studies Association, September 2005 Rawnsley, A. (2005) “Tony Blair wants a good kicking” The Observer February 20.,6903,1418478,00.html Saatchi, M (2006) “The strange death of modern advertising” Financial Times 21 June. Scammell, M. (1999) ‘Political Marketing: Lessons for Political Science’ Political Studies 47(4):718-739 —. (1995) Designer Politics Basingstoke, Macmillan

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Scammell, M. & M. Harrop (2005) “The press: still for Labour despite Blair” in D.Kavanagh & D. Butler The British General Election of 2005 Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan Scammell, M. & H.Semetko (in press) “Electoral Coverage in the UK”. In L.L. Kaid (ed.) The Handbook of Electoral Coverage London: Sage Trevail, C. (2004) “There’s more to brands than Coca-Cola” Promise Corporation. Retrievable at: Whitcomb, S. (2005) Interview Magic Indianapolis, IN: JIST Works Woods, Richard (2004) “Creating Emotional Maps for Brands” Paper presented to the Annual Conference of the market Research Society, London UK


Introduction The purpose of this study is to explore images and text as tools of positioning with an overview of how consumerism drives political behaviour. It will discuss how the visual cues that dominate the landscape of advertising have influenced the way consumers see most forms of communications, and how in turn consumer life has infiltrated political life in this way of reading visual cues. The method employed investigates the semiotic properties of a set of images and how they influence the viewer, in this case the voter, to respond as a consumer within the context of the commoditisation of politicians. The study will reference publications that specialise in discourse and image interpretation, composition and concepts of modality in respect to defining models of reality.

Every picture tells a story Throughout the twentieth century, and now in the twenty first century, images have been used as agents of conscious and subconscious persuasion in both a commercial and political context. Politicians, much like products, depend on popularity with the public for their survival. And the way politicians and products gain or lose favour very much depends on the public perception they project through media channels. (Messaris 1997: pp. 137). These are made up of public relations, press, radio, television, internet and ambient, including word of mouth. This chapter deals with two very familiar ‘products’ in the form of George W Bush and

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Tony Blair focusing on the way they have been projected through photographs in newspapers, magazines and the internet over a six month period before and after the invasion of Iraq (2002 - 2003). It continues with an analysis of their credibility from a consumerist perspective over a four year span to 2007. The following poem warns the reader of the gullibility of anyone presented with a limited perception about a given subject. Whether a brain surgeon, or a bread maker, we are all capable of accepting a persuasive point if its presentation appears to be credible. “The New Rose” The new rose trembles with early beauty. The babe sees the beckoning carmine the tiny hand clutches the cruel stem. The babe screams. The rose is silent. Life is already telling lies. —Spike Milligan, 1979

In the aftermath of 9/11, the climate of sympathy for the United States around the world created a fertile opportunity for the Bush administration to present an argument for a robust response to the offenders. It was important that the presentation of this response was given a credible platform. The media used to deliver this plan for response included newspapers, and the internet which is the focus of this study.

Background Every politician, just like every product, has a shelf life or use by date. In terms of products, a shelf life is measured by the acceptable time span that any product is considered useable or useful. For instance, the shelf lives of food products are significantly shorter than those of machines. With products, it is usually possible to determine the length of a shelf life by the materials or ingredients that make up the product. There are times, however, when the shelf life of a product can be prematurely terminated because of a manufacturing fault, or for ethical reasons due to sudden social changes, both of which are unplanned for. It is in this area that the parallel between products and politicians, from a consumerist perspective, is more obvious. Both products and politicians depend on their popularity with the public for their survival. Once they lose favour with their supporters they no longer become the preferred


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

choice and risk losing to a more popular competitor. The shift from one product or competitor to another is determined by the comparison of benefits to the customer that are on offer. In some cases this loss of customer support can be temporary, in other cases permanent. The way products and politicians gain or lose favour very much depends on the public perception they project through information channels, or media. Public perception in turn is shaped by the nuances of information that are presented whether by hard facts, or by more subtle emotional inferences, sometimes called ‘warm fuzzies’. It is in this emotional field that the picture of a product will generate its most potent effect because visual cues have the highest modality. And this cultivation of emotion is created by the media through powerful symbolism. In 1935 Leni Riefenstahl unwittingly created one of the 20th century’s most powerful presentations of a product, in this case Adolph Hitler, by using a documentary style of communication to persuade the German population of the ‘benefits’ of Hitler and his Nazi Party. The documentary called “Triumph of the Will”, which was commissioned by Hitler, was an opportunity for Riefenstahl to express her genius in film making. From her perspective the project was primarily a work of art. From Hitler’s perspective the documentary was a perfect propaganda vehicle to persuade the German population that he and his Nazi Party were the ‘product’ with the best benefits for the public to ‘purchase’. After repeated public viewing, the film proved to be a triumph of persuasion, requiring no voiceover, simply relying on the carefully crafted editing of actual events in a seamless package of moving images. Through its revolutionary use of camera angles and editing its impact on the post-war movie and advertising industries is without equal. In this context the recent political packaging of George Bush and, to a lesser degree Tony Blair, demands scrutiny. This paper will focus on a small number of photographs that have appeared in newspapers and magazines in New Zealand prior to and during the invasion of Iraq as flashpoints connecting the politicians with potent symbols of religion, culture and power. As a result of their decisions to attack Iraq the popularity of George W, Bush and Tony Blair, four years later, was in serious decline. It is arguable that they are past their collective shelf life and are no longer ‘products’ that are preferred by the majority of voting ‘consumers’.

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The significance of Modal Cues in communication Because this study is focused primarily on images, we will explore how sight is considered the most reliable sense with reference to photography. Seeing in our culture is another form of understanding. We see with our own eyes. We look at the problem. We adopt a viewpoint. We focus on an issue in order to measure what is 'real' and 'true'. The level of trust we have for the information we receive depends on the modality markers of the message itself, and the textual cues for what can be regarded as credible and what should be treated with circumspection. ‘Reading Images: the Grammar of Visual Design’ by Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen has this to say. 'A social semiotic theory of truth cannot claim to establish the absolute truth or untruth of representations. It can only show whether a given ‘proposition’ (visual, verbal or otherwise) is represented as true or not. From the point of view of social semiotics, truth is a construct of semiosis, and as such the truth of a particular social group, arising from the values and beliefs of that group.'

and: 'Visuals can represent people, places and things as though they are real, as though they actually exist in this way, or as though they do not. And modality judgements are social, dependent on what is considered real (or true, or sacred) in the social group for which the representation is primarily intended.' (Kress & Leeuwen 2000: 159, 161)

With respect to analysis of the selected images we will point to the key visual modality markers that measure the naturalism of the photographs. The degree of credibility ranges from high modality (most credible) to low modality. And the types of modality markers include colour, contextualization, representation, depth, illumination, and brightness. These markers, all of which will be used in the analysis, can be defined as follows: Colour saturation - a scale running from full colour saturation to the absence of colour (black and white). Colour differentiation - a scale running from a maximally diversified range of colours to monochrome. Colour modulation - a scale running from fully modulated colour (e.g. many different shades of red, to plain, unmodulated colour). Contextualization - a scale running from the absence of background to the


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

most fully articulated and detailed background. Representation - a scale running from maximum abstraction to maximum representation of pictorial detail. Depth - a scale running from the absence of depth to maximally deep perspective. Illumination - a scale running from the fullest representation of the play of light and shade to its absence. Brightness - a scale running from a maximum number of different degrees of brightness to just two degrees (e.g. black and white). And more visual information is interpreted through composition, of which there are three interrelated systems. Information value - the placement of elements endows them with the specific informational values attached to the various 'zones' of the image: left and right, top and bottom, centre and margin. Salience - the elements are made to attract the viewer's attention to different degrees: placement in the foreground or background, relative size, contrasts in tonal value, differences in sharpness. Framing - the presence or absence of framing devices disconnects or connects elements of the image, signifying belonging or not in some sense. Of course, there are other theories that can be used to question the credibility of images, one of which is examined by Paul Messaris who studied visual persuasion in advertising. In his book 'Visual Persuasion' Messaris (1997: 142) investigates the recognition of visual deception which he breaks into five areas. The first is when a photograph is staged. This occurs when the viewer is misled into thinking the photograph is a record of unmanipulated reality in which case its use, whether by an advertiser or politician, can be considered a lie. The second is when a photograph is altered. If a viewer is not informed of computer manipulation and believes the image was captured through the camera lens, then it becomes a visual fake or lie. The third occurs when photographs are edited together in sequence and their juxtaposition is used to create a misleading impression about the relationship between the real-world events recorded in those images. The fourth involves selection which is a way of controlling what is shown to the viewer through framing and cropping and what is left out, thereby leading the viewer astray. And the fifth occurs when a photograph is mislabelled, in which the deception arises not from the image itself but from the words that go with it. Therefore it is the context in which the image is used, and not just image manipulation, that determines whether it can be considered truthful or not.

Dave Brown


From these theoretical notions a conclusion will be drawn regarding the perceived credibility, or reality of these images in the context of their message, and how, after examination, the audience eventually responds.

Analysis The photographs have been sourced from local newspapers, magazines and from the internet. They were selected because of their reference to iconic symbolism which distinguished them from stereotypical images of politicians that frequent the media daily. They are unusual in that they signify the power of association that goes beyond the familiar media ‘photo opportunity’. They make reference to Western cultural values that are translated through dress code, body language and location in a context that brings their credibility into question. The analysis will consider staging, editing or juxtaposition, selection and labelling of the images and their relationship to text in the form of public speeches made in the same period. Image 6.1 - George W at Mt. Rushmore

This picture appeared on many conservative websites, in particular, The image was used as a photo opportunity that emphasized Bush’s presidential status as he addressed the nation on issues of Homeland and Economic Security. By positioning himself amongst the


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

legendary past presidents honoured in the monument, Bush symbolically acquires their greatness. The photograph of President Bush was taken at Mt. Rushmore in August 2002, almost one year after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The picture is cropped so that George W. Bush appears as one with the four presidents carved in the famous Mt. Rushmore monument George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The scale of his profile matches the scale of the carved images. And the angle of the photograph suggests a position of authority and historical significance.

Visual Modality Markers for George W at Mt. Rushmore The position of Bush takes a primary modal role because of a number of markers. First, he is standing in the foreground looking from left to right which is where the reader first scans the picture. Second, he appears in full colour against a duotone of pale off-white rock and azure blue sky. The implication suggests a living breathing legend set alongside effigies of four of the nation’s greatest presidents who have endured the test of time. Third, he is lit in such a way that the contrast of shadow and light corresponds to those of the monument to suggest a sculptural effect that symbolizes a sense of permanence. And fourth, the angle and scale of his head is deliberately juxtaposed to complete the composition of the picture so that he appears as a ‘natural’ addition to the monument. As we shall see further in this study, camera angles play a crucial role in the way viewers interpret the role of the primary subject within an image. In their study ‘Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design’ Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen note the way these types of images affect the respondents: “Newsworthy people and celebrities in magazine articles generally look down on the viewer: these models are depicted as exercising symbolic power over us.” (Kress & van Leeuwen 2000: 146) This politically iconic image was reinforced by the reassuring language Bush used in his address to the nation in August 2002. “I hope you can tell that I’m an optimistic person. I’m an optimistic person because I understand America. I know we’re going to prevail in this war

Dave Brown


on terror. And as we do so, I believe, as sure as I’m standing here, we’re going to bring peace to parts of the world that haven’t dreamt about peace in a long time.” George W Bush

The words that appeared with the image suggested a new era, where the promise of stability and peace would be the outcome of a victorious war against those who were responsible for the attacks. But how convincing would this be? In what, to this day, has become one of the great insights in military strategy, Carl Clausewitz challenged those who misunderstand the complexity of declaring war in his classic study of military strategy ‘Vom Kriege’ written in 1832: “No one starts a war - or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so - without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” and: “War is a continuation of politics by other means. The political objective is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose” Clausewitz (1832). What we read and saw in the following build up to the invasion of Iraq was a continuing series of political pack shots and captions, all of which made reference to iconic symbols that are part of Western culture. These images were supported by statements that provided information packaged to convince the reader of the need for those in authority to act, which from a consumerist perspective, sold the message. My interest in this subject continues with two photographs appearing side by side in a September 2002 issue of the New Zealand Herald. The images feature George W Bush and Tony Blair both using identical body language, with Bush in the dominant role. Bush’s pose is quintessentially Western - the classic cowboy expression unique to America. Both hands have thumbs tucked firmly into the front pockets of a pair of jeans held up by a silver Texan buckled belt. Countless cowboy images have appeared over decades in Hollywood movies and on Television which have cemented an unmistakable body language. Alongside Bush is a shot of Tony Blair with exactly the same swagger but dressed in a traditional suit and tie. His thumbs are tucked in his belt for greater effect, but the pose is overtly similar to his cowboy partner.


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

Images 6.2 & 6.3 - Welcome to Marlboro Country

Dave Brown


Visual Modality Markers for Welcome to Marlboro Country The dominant modal role in both pictures of Bush and Blair is one of body language made up of the following markers. First, both Bush and Blair appear to be relaxed and are enjoying the casual attitude of the cowboy which echoes the laid back, informal confidence so familiar in the images we have experienced in Hollywood movies and advertising. Second, the clothes they are wearing are significant because Bush, who has the stronger modal representation on the left, sets the tone with the open neck, buckle belted denim outfit wrapped in an unbuttoned suede jacket. Blair, on the other hand, is dressed in a more familiar suit and tie however all reference to formality is cast aside by similarly exposing his belt while adopting the same gesture. Third, the eye contact that Bush has with the viewer is supported by the sideways glance that Blair makes towards Bush, as if to make both photographs one. This has been deliberately positioned by newspaper editors to amplify their partnership. Fourth, the symbolism of the open coats in both photographs makes reference to having nothing to hide and a confidence in being able to roam free - ‘unprotected’ from attack because this time they are ready. Again, with reference to ‘Reading Images’, the angle of the viewer in these photographs to the subject is significant. They both appear friendly, familiar and very accessible: “If the picture is at eye level, then the point of view is one of equality and there is no power difference involved” Kress & van Leeuwen (2000: 146). Here we have two leaders endorsing the same attitude which clearly comes from the culture of the ‘free independent thinking man’ so aptly captured in the hero cowboy of the famous advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes. Marlboro Country quickly translates into an expression of the free world through Texas, oil, beef and big bucks. And we see deputy Blair alongside the Texas sheriff as they, with their posse of allies, are about to hunt down the terrorist outlaws. The pictures are supported with a caption that uses the word 'Pardners' in the cowboy vernacular which is also suggested in the Mt. Rushmore speech. “History has called us. History has put the spotlight on America. We’re the beacon of freedom, we’re the bastion of freedom, and we’re the protectors of freedom as far as I’m concerned. And we’re making pretty good progress. We’re making pretty darned good progress. We’re getting them one by one." George W Bush


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

The next picture also taken from the NZ Herald (November 2002) displays the connection Bush has with the moral crusade of Western Christianity against evil. Images 6.4, 6.5 & 6.6 - The return of the Messiah

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In the first image Jesus prays to his Father because the moment has come for him to complete the task that he and the Father set out to accomplish. 'Father, the time has come.' —John - Chapter 17, Verse 1

The second image reveals the power of the cross as a symbol of Christianity. It appears with a missionary preaching in the days of the conquistadors in South America. Alongside this is perhaps the most powerful picture in this study, perhaps because it is also the most graphic. By this I mean symbolically rather than merely visually arresting. It is hard to believe this shot of Bush gesturing in the body language of a religious leader is a coincidence.


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

Visual Modality Markers for the return of the Messiah There is high modality with body language and positioning, but also with colour and lighting that make up this image. First, the viewer looks up to the central character who stands before a very large cross which dominates the left background and creates a sense of equal modality. Second, the gesture is typically that of the preacher with the open hand raised to the heavens. Bush stands at an angle that allows his hand to bathe in a shaft of ‘spiritual light’. Third, Bush is wearing a traditional suit but is transformed into a religious leader because it emulates the dress code of television evangelists. Fourth, the glow of light surrounding the cross creates a halo effect around Bush as a key part of the structure of the image. Fifth, the colours in this image are highly saturated which allows the body/cross/glowing light elements to separate more for effect. In reference to image interpretation, Kress and van Leeuwen write in ‘Reading Images’ that image manipulation and staging are all part of the language used to create a desired impression. 'The credibility of newspapers rests on the ‘knowledge’ that photographs do not lie and that ‘reports’ are more reliable than ‘stories’, though the rise of Photoshop and ‘spin’ have begun to undermine both these types of knowledge. While the camera may not lie, those who use it and its images can and do.’ Kress & van Leeuwen (2000: 159). What makes this image even more powerful is the caption, a quote from the president, “I will let you know when the moment has come.” This is 100% pure Bible. And the symbolism dovetails with the Crusaders in their quest to rid the world of threats from their heathen enemies. It is a remarkable example of the packaging of the product, or ‘pack shot’ used so ubiquitously in advertising. The message is clear - “God is on our side.” and any Christian reference is reinforced, once again, through language in the Mt. Rushmore speech. “Listen, out of the evil done to this great land is going to come incredible good, because we’re the greatest nation on the face of the earth, full of the most fine and compassioned and decent citizens. May God bless you all, and may God bless America.” —George W Bush

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Images 6.7 & 6.8 - Stand by your man

Pictured is a shot of Bush and Blair marching in tandem to the podium of a White House press conference. We see the marching uniformity in their posture, their suits and their shiny shoes. The angle of the photograph suggests they are about to stamp their authority on world order. It is a statement of undoubted unity and confidence.


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

This picture appeared in The Listener, a New Zealand current affairs magazine, in February 2003. The photograph was taken as both leaders were about to announce their decision to invade Iraq. The viewer responds to this image using a completely different framework to the cowboy photograph, because here the image is supported by a very serious message that relies on facts about the enemy that have been uncovered and leave no option but to attack.

Visual Modality Markers for stand by your man The extreme low angle of this image is the marker of highest modality followed by dress and colour cues. First, the level of the viewer’s position is anchored on the spotlessly polished black shoe of George Bush from which both Bush and Blair appear positionally as cues to authority and urgency. Second, the fact that Bush is in the foreground suggests a higher modal presence along with the clutching of what appears to be a speech, which suggests he will speak first. Third, the uniformity of body language of both leaders creates a marked contrast to the cowboy pose in that each are rigorously in formation. Both have buttoned their jackets and have assumed the gesture of power by marching in step to the podium. The taut position of both left outstretched legs suggests a sense of speed and positive action. Fourth, the use of colour is a very powerful modal marker in this photograph. The picture is dominated by red, white and blue which are the primary colours of both the Stars & Stripes and the Union Jack. Both leaders are wearing white shirts with one tie which is blue (Bush), the other which is red (Blair). They are stepping on to a large red carpet which dominates the lower foreground and leads the viewer’s eye towards the flags. This image amplifies the degree of certainty and confidence and this was linked directly to the message that with ‘irrefutable knowledge’ an immediate strike on Iraq was essential. But, once again, in ‘Vom Kriege’ we are reminded by Clausewitz of the dangers of promoting a pre-emptive strike with an over-reaching level of ambition. ‘The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.' —Clausewitz (1832)

At the same time this picture appeared, the evidence presented in favour of the strike was printed in the Blair dossier and as part of George Bush’s State of Union address. Both the Blair dossier, and the Bush State of

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Union address focus on a list of ‘ingredients’ that suggest a clear and unequivocal case for invasion due to the misdemeanors of the Saddam regime. The case for invasion, therefore, appears watertight. This section of the dossier was quoted in an article written by Anne Penkreth in The Guardian in September 2002. ‘Ex-arms inspectors and other experts say the British dossier is credible and indicates that Saddam remains a threat to his neighbours.The dossier details Iraq’s continued production of lethal, chemical and biological agents that can be loaded into warheads and fired by missiles that could reach beyond Israel to Cyprus The deadly payloads could be launched at 45 minutes’ notice by 20 missiles which, the report says, have been hidden from the UN inspectors.’ The Blair Dossier

And in his State of Union Address in January 2003 Bush reinforces the gravity of the situation by listing a series of ‘facts’ designed to convince the public of the need for immediate action. “Iraq is in possession of 26,000 litres of anthrax, 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX gas, almost 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, connections to terrorism and the 9/11 attacks, and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program.” George W Bush

With the combination of this written evidence and the image projected in the announcement of their intentions, it is useful to study visual modality further. In his analysis of the language of film, ‘Le Langage Cinematographique’, Marcel Martin looks at the symbolic association of camera angles: ‘Low angles generally give an impression of superiority, exaltation and triumph.’ Martin (1968: 37 - 8); and in their book ‘Discourses in Place’ - a well documented study of the way we interpret language as it is materially placed in the world, Ron and Suzie Scollon write about the way we ‘look up’ to people in authority. ‘Power relationships are represented by a low-angle shot. A person seen from below looks more powerful to the viewer, perhaps because of the association of adults and children which gives this relative positioning.’ (Scollon & Scollon 2003: 96 - 7) When we compare this photograph to the ‘cowboy’ images there are interesting comparisons and differences. Not only is the positioning of images significant, but so too is colour. The deliberate choreographic choice of colour in the ‘Stand by your man’ image is seen as a powerful modal property, perhaps better explained in ‘Reading Images.’ ‘Colour is


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

also used to convey ‘interpersonal’ meaning. It can be and is used to do things to, or for each other: to impress or intimidate through ‘powerdressing’. (Kress & van Leeuwen 2000). And so we now have a new language that has emerged only months after the friendly, informal appearance of our leaders to one of distance and aloofness. This is about to change yet again in the next series of photographs that appear soon after the Iraq invasion. Images 6.9 & 6.10 - Good Guy - 2003

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On the Newsweek cover of November 2002, Bush assumed another more recent American icon - the ace jet fighter-pilot so unforgettably etched in the American psyche through the Tom Cruise role in “Top Gun”. He also took advantage of the 'thumbs up' gesture to imply a certainty in his actions, and this gesture is repeated in the second photograph. By May 2003 the invasion of Iraq was going according to plan, with virtually no Iraqi resistance. So confident was Bush of military success, he ‘co-piloted’ a jet fighter which landed on an aircraft carrier in San Diego waters, changed from his flying gear into a business suit and then announced a cessation of operations to imply total victory. In the background was a large banner with the words 'Mission Accomplished'. This was a photo opportunity for the media to project Bush as a military hero. But because the image masked the reality, it was full of fake ingredients. In other words, and over time, the modal cues lost their credibility.


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

Visual Modality Markers for Good Guy Top Gun - the gesture has high modality along with the theme’s title. First, the thumbs up gesture stamps a positive, confident message that echoes Churchill’s V for victory sign. Bush is looking directly at the viewer to reinforce his intentions. Second, the title ‘Top Gun’ instantly frames the context of the image. Not a cowboy, although the outfit could easily be adopted by a cowboy, but a jet fighter pilot in casual off-duty attire. The title commands equal salience because it defines the role of the subject. Third, the angle is at the viewer’s eye level which implies an equal power relationship, and therefore trust in whatever decisions Bush will make. Mission Accomplished - the gesture, positioning and colour are key markers. First, three months after the Top Gun image is printed, the same thumbs up gesture is used to celebrate ‘victory’ in Iraq. Second, another title appears this time behind Bush. Again, in ‘Mission Accomplished’ the message of victory and finality is what sets the context for Bush’s hand signal. Third, the way colour is used helps to emphasize the high modality of Bush’s positioning in the foreground. The red tie is offset against the red, white and blue of the banner which separates from the gun metal grey of the aircraft carrier. Fourth, because the background is relatively flat in illumination, one side of Bush's face seems to be bathed in light either by the sun, or by artificial lighting. This helps highlight the subject and acts as a modal spotlight. In his searing account of the credibility of the Bush administration, awardwinning economist Paul Krugman comments from ‘The Great Unravelling’ about the overt use of the Mission Accomplished propaganda that seems to echo the work of Leni Riefenstahl and appears virtually ridiculous in context. ‘Equally disturbing, in a different way, has been the ongoing effort to create a cult of personality round Bush. The infamous “Mission Accomplished” carrier landing, while ludicrous, was also chilling. Elderly friends, refugees from central Europe, described it as a Leni Riefenstahl moment. They weren’t saying that Bush is the equivalent of Hitler; but they were saying that the personal glorification of the president as a military hero, aside from its fakeness, wasn’t what they expected to see happening in America.’ (Paul Krugman 2004: XXI)

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These images enjoyed a level of media saturation not seen since the 9/11 bombings, and for a good reason. This 'accomplishment' was supposed to have been the successful response to the atrocity of 9/11 and it was a clear demonstration of the ability of those in power to orchestrate events designed to influence public opinion. A relevant reference to the use of the media in collusion with powerful institutions is made in more general terms by Tony Schirato and Jen Webb in their book ‘Understanding the Visual’ which studies the media as public sphere. 'The influence that is wielded in the social field by multinational corporations, and more generally by the institutions, values and logics of the media, has brought a situation where the media not only stand in for the public sphere, they have colonised and now dominate virtually every aspect of the social, cultural and political fields in the contemporary West.’ (Schirato & Webb (2004: 174)

The combination of this media penetration with the desire to shape the message of the Iraq invasion is also noted by Schirato and Webb. This is a direct reference to the collusion of media, private industry and government: “The 'War on Terror' constituted an interesting example of how the media adhere to the imperatives of the fields of the state and capitalism while at the same time looking after their own interests”. (Schirato & Webb (2004: 186). The way the war was officially reported suited the administration in Washington because journalists were ‘embedded’ with the military and therefore had less objective independence than those few who chose to work outside the larger networks, and risked editorial access problems to mainstream media. ‘Clearly the media were 'doing their bit for the war' - for example, by showing missiles and smart bombs zeroing in on, and destroying, so-called targets in Iraq (villages, bridges, military compounds), while accompanying these visuals with testimonies to the power, efficacy and righteousness of the actions - largely through the reproduction of military and state discourses about collateral damage, or missions being accomplished.’ (Schirato & Webb (2004: 186)

But, as time passed, the events promised and made manifest by the glory of perceived victory seemed to vanish. What was supposed to follow in the form of peace and democratization of the broader Middle East soon became tangled in protracted chaos and indeterminate occupation. We begin to see how separate realities emerge at the cost of the credibility of the 'user' (citizen/ voter) and the 'product' (politician). This masking of 'reality' is more graphically demonstrated in the following covers of


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

Newsweek that appeared in 2006. On three continents outside of America the cover story addressed the possibility of losing the war on terror in Afghanistan, whereas the cover story in the American edition featured the life of a celebrity photographer. This rather subtle form of censorship was quickly exposed on the internet on many American websites and suggests that media collusion is possible with mainstream ‘independent’ publications when a nation is at war. And, once this kind of screening is exposed, the credibility of those who are presenting the case for war is undermined. Image 6.11 - Four Newsweek covers

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The next image appeared in the NZ Listener soon after the decision to invade Iraq at a time when Bush demonstrated the hubris of a leader with no doubt as to destiny and his place in history: The Commander in Chief as a decider and a War President. But in context to the eventual outcome of his decisions it appears more like a person who is desperate and is ready to gamble everything to succeed. What appears at first to be an image of ferocity and strength transforms into the very symbol of terror itself - a willpower with no control. The picture was taken during a speech made by Bush to a military audience and was used in articles that were both for and against the war. Image 6.12 - Bad Guy - 2006

It is now four years since this image was used and it is clear the product has not stood up to its promise. George W is struggling to maintain credibility both internationally and domestically and Blair has paid a similar price due to an unpopular Iraq campaign.


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

Visual Modality Markers for Bad Guy The highest marker in this picture is one of facial expression and contextualization with the background. Bush is therefore the most salient element in the composition. First, because the background is out of focus and not fully articulated, the dominance of the sharp foreground image of Bush increases the perception of reality and heightens the modality. The expression is equally dominant in its aggressive, defiant chin-thrusting nature. Second, the dress code is significant as the viewer sees Bush wearing a US Army jacket that implies ‘Commander in Chief’ fused with the civilian shirt and tie. Again, the use of words is crucial to the way the message is received. Third, the background is soft, but still clear enough for the viewer to see military personnel wearing badged berets. This amplifies the contextual frame of Bush as a military leader. A comparison between statements made in 2002 to those made at the end of 2006 might explain the ambiguity felt by those from a Muslim culture. Although the picture is sourced from a speech made in 2003 it now assumes more modal significance to the more recent statement as the dominant perception of Bush from the majority Iraqi perspective. “It’s an example for all of us to remember that America is a country based upon our willingness to serve something greater than ourselves; our willingness to be something other than a materialistic society; a willingness for all of us to help define the American spirit and love our neighbor so that our country can have its full potential available for everyone who is fortunate to be an American.” —George W Bush

By the end of 2006 the American majority voted for a congress dominated by Democrats as a clear signal to the administration that called for a return of US troops from Iraq with tangible deadlines. The response from Bush was immediate and uncompromising. “They can’t run us out of the Middle East, they can’t intimidate America.” Bush told a news conference on Dec 20 2006. However much Bush tries to convince his country to hold out for victory the reality is that we have a politician who is incapable of changing his strategy, rather like a compulsive gambler. And with this resistance to change comes the death of his appeal as a political product and the end of his useful shelf life. The following passage makes a reference to the obsolescence of traditional foreign policies and it is written from someone who understands this position from a British perspective. One which understands the brittle nature of power, empire building and imperialism,

Dave Brown


and an inevitability of change. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, takes a broader view of the sell-by date reference. ‘And finally, we can truthfully say that our foreign policy - based as it is on 19th-century notions of the nation-state - is long past its sell-by date. We need a new set of principles to govern our diplomacy and military strategy - principles that are based on the idea of human security and not national security, health and wellbeing and not economic self-interest and territorial ambition. The best hope we can have from our terrible misadventure in Iraq is that a new political and social movement will grow to overturn this politics of humiliation. We are one human family. Let's act like it.' (Horton (2006)

Furthermore, after the use of such symbolic images, together with associated text, this quote from an article in the New Yorker written in 2007 makes the point about the frailty of credibility when trying to defend ‘facts’ that do not mesh with the actual reality. “In a competitive democracy, it is difficult to rescue a war built on distortions and illusions, because, to protect falsehoods proffered to voters in the past, a President and his advisers may find it tempting to manufacture more of them.' (Coll (May 2007).

Conclusion In this study, the visual analysis of a number of photographs of George W Bush and Tony Blair shows trust and credibility as key ‘ingredients’ that determine the shelf life of politicians. How this credibility is measured depends on interpretations that are read through a complex system of semiosis. This same system which has adopted a sophisticated merging of image and text has been widely practised in advertising and public relations as a way to influence consumer behaviour. It is very useful, therefore, to draw the comparison between politicians as products and voters as consumers. Products promoted in print media frequently appear as 'pack shots' that are essentially carefully composed photographs supported by a story or situation which communicates the benefits of the product. We have shown evidence that sight is the most reliable sense with reference to photography as a form of understanding a message. Therefore it comes as no surprise that certain photographs of politicians are used to advantage in persuading voters in the same way photographs of products more consistently attract consumers.


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective

It is, then, evident that the level of trust we have for the information we receive depends on the modality markers of the message itself and on the textual cues for what is credible or not. In the case of the selected photographs of George W Bush and Tony Blair the credibility of the images together with the text clearly breaks down, once they are more carefully examined. This study shows that just like products, the shelf life of politicians cannot last if the facts do not support the message. So what is to stop this collapse in credibility from happening again? This study cannot predict with any certainty how voters will react in future. We have seen how contemporary propaganda has been recycled using the same techniques as those created by Leni Riefenstahl and it is tempting to assume that the voter will not repeat the same mistakes. Yet we see the same patterns emerge. At closer inspection of these modal markers we are reminded of Pete Townshend's lyrics in this classic rock song by the Who: The change, it had to come We knew it all along We were liberated from the foe, that' all And the world looks just the same And history ain't changed 'Cause the banners, they all flown in the last war I'll tip my hat to the new constitution Take a bow for the new revolution Smile and grin at the change all around Pick up my guitar and play Just like yesterday Then I'll get on my knees and pray We don't get fooled again No, no! —Pete Townshend (1971)

Is it possible then, that voters in future will insist on more rigorous scrutiny by the media and for more credible information in the same way that products which list ingredients on the supermarket shelf are now more carefully scrutinised? The jury is out. One thing is clear. While both Bush and Blair's credibility as leaders decrease, the voting public are considering alternatives. It is inevitable that the next US election will offer 'new and improved' political candidates who will compete for shelf space with their own pack shots and lists of benefits. And, once again, their shelf life will be dictated by their ability to maintain trust. A trust that will depend, to some extent, on the modal significance of photographs and

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their accompanying text that voters are presented with. Such is the influence of a consumerist way of ‘seeing’ on politics that has been the subject of this study, manifested primarily through the visual cues of photographs and their powers of persuasion.

Bibliography Bush, G.W. (Dec 2006) news conference - —. (August 2002) - speech at Mt. Rushmore - —. (Jan 2003) State of Union Address - Coll, S. (Jan 2007). The Planner. The New Yorker - Clausewitz, C. (1832). Vom Kriege. Carl von Clausewitz. Horton, R. (2006) Iraq: time to signal a new era for health in foreign policy.The Lancet, 368: 1395 - 1397. Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (2000) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge. Krugman, P. (2004) The Great Unravelling. New York: Norton. Martin, M. (1968) Le Langage cinematographique. Paris: Editions du Cerf. Messaris, P. (1997) Visual Persuasion. London: Sage. John - New Testament - The Bible - Chapter 17 Verse 1. Penkrith, A. (Sept 2002) The Blair Dossier. The Guardian. Schirato, T. & Webb, J. (2004) Understanding the Visual. Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin. Scollon, R. and Scollon, S. (2005) Discourses in Place. London: Routledge.

Picture References ‘Bad guy’ image - - George_W_Bush_military ‘Cowboy’ image - NZ Herald Sept. 2002 4 Newsweek covers - - March 2007 ‘Good guy’ image - Newsweek Magazine - Nov. 2002 Jesus praying - Marching soldiers – Marlboro Man advertisement - Messiah’ image - NZ Herald Nov. 2002 Mission Accomplished - AP Photo/J.Scott Applewhite Missionary with cross –


How Voters View Politics from a Consumerist Perspective ‘Mt Rushmore’ image - ‘Stand by your man’ image - Listener Magazine (NZ) - Feb. 2003


In most appraisals of democracy today the media figures prominently (Dahlgren, 2000). As the main channel of communication between elected representatives and citizens, the performance of the media is much debated and often maligned. Given this position, a large amount of academic research has grappled with the impact of the media on ‘civic engagement’ or elements of citizenship. Unsurprisingly, given the complexities of untangling media and audience interplay, and the size of the issues at stake, consensus has been difficult to achieve. The task of assessing media performance in terms of facilitating democratic engagement and civic values might be easier in a static environment, but given the dramatic structural, cultural and technological changes to the media environment in the past 30 years, this job becomes even more daunting. It is therefore my intention to pull-together and extend some current strands of thinking on the relationship between the media and the electorate. More specifically, this involves considering what conception of voters the news media provide, both implicit and explicit. How are people encouraged to view politics? Does it reflect and encourage an electorate that is a spectator rather than a political participant? Do journalists, editors and producers see their job as serving the informational needs of citizens, or as competing for the attention of entertainment-hungry consumers? I will argue that due to changes in the media environment it is increasingly becoming the latter. This has had mixed consequences for media output and the images of public affairs offered to audiences. If taken as a whole, I argue the media currently serves the differing informational needs of its audiences well, and offers many outlets for active citizen expression. But at the same time, there is reason to believe that some trends in journalism


The Media and Media Audiences

can be encouraging audience passivity and even disconnecting audiences from the power to participate actively in political life. The focus of this essay will be largely on the news media (in the UK, with an occasional sideways glance elsewhere), but given the increasingly blurred boundaries between journalism and mediated popular culture (Brants, 1998; Dahlgren, 2000; Street, 2001; 2004), consideration will also be given to other media outputs. As political, social and consumerist discourses become ever more intertextual (Miles, 1998; Slater, 1997), so the relationship between civic and consumer culture also overlaps. I will therefore consider some of the implications of this for democratic engagement.

News media organisations and their audience: from a community of citizens to a market of consumers? Stanyer (2007) claims that 30 or 40 years ago the main news organisations in the US and UK saw their audience first and foremost as members of a national political community, and their role was to cater for their informational needs. Newspaper journalists had a commitment to providing accurate and factual information, and to serve the public as a whole, rather than particular interests (Hallin, 2000). This role was facilitated by their external environment, where newspapers were relatively sheltered from economic forces due to a stable income from advertisers, little direct competition for this revenue from broadcasters, and stable consumption patterns from readers (Patterson, 2000; SeymourUre, 1991; Stanyer, 2007). The same held for broadcasters, both commercial and public service broadcasters (PSB), whose ethos was to educate, inform and entertain (Curran and Seaton, 2003). This conception of the audience as citizens was enforced through regulators, who tightly monitored broadcasting output to ensure it met the standards for an informed and engaged citizenry. According to Stanyer, (2007), over much of the 20th century, the news media thus embraced their civic role. Journalism was seen as a public service, and the role of the news media was to provide a community of citizens with information on which to make political decisions, and act as a forum for expression of public opinion (Hallin 1992; Seymour-Ure 1991). The news media’s citizen-centred outlook arguably faded from the 1980s, as the media environment as a whole underwent rapid transformation. A number of factors combined to bring about this change (See McNair,

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1999; 2006; Stanyer, 2007; Swanson, 2001; Tunstall, 2002). Increasingly liberal media policy eroded barriers to merger, acquisition and expansion in the media, and spelled an end to spectrum scarcity. The broadcasting environment in particular vastly changed after 1990 and the launch of satellite multi-channel television, meaning terrestrial channels no longer had a monopoly on broadcast news. Alongside this was the revolution in new technology, facilitating the expansion of multi-channel television through digitalisation, and providing an entirely new platform for media expansion: the internet. These developments transformed the information environment, seeing an explosion in the number of news outlets and intensification of competition for audiences among them. Alongside the dramatic changes in the media environment in the last 30 years have been important cultural changes in their audience. In particular, the rise of a consumer culture which is based around consumption and individuality (Bauman, 2001; Firat and Dholakia, 1998; Wernick, 1991 – for a more detailed account of this see Scullion chapter in this book). News media audiences are thus increasingly behaving like consumers in the media market. Given greater choice, they have responded by relinquishing their former loyalties, and increasingly obtaining their news from a wider variety of sources (Dahlgren, 2000; Norris, 2000; Tunstall, 1996). Traditional news outlets such as evening television news broadcasts and newspapers have seen a decline in their audience figures, as more people migrate to alternative news sources offered by new media technologies. Although the cause-and-effect relations between the media and audiences are hard to disentangle in this cycle of information and economic change, there has been one significant consequence: given the hyper-competitive market for news provision, almost all large news media organisations during the 1990s gradually shifted from a citizen-centred model of news to a market-oriented one (Franklin, 1997; Stanyer, 2007; Underwood, 1998). News effectively became a commodity enterprise run by market-oriented managers, and these authors argue that audiences are now seen as consumers first and foremost, not citizens (see Langer, 2003; Bennett, 2000). According to Stanyer (2007), this rethink stretches across the divide between popular and serious, and commercial and licensefunded media. The consumer-centred approach has now become taken for granted by most large news organisations as the way to do news (AttawayFink, 2004; Beam, 2001 cited in Stanyer, 2007). So if we accept this re-conceptualisation of the news media’s role vis-à-vis their audiences, then what are the consequences of this for media output,


The Media and Media Audiences

and its subsequent ramifications for democracy? Let us start by considering the potential problems of this change, before some more optimistic perspectives are explored.

Market-driven news and dumbing down Due to open markets and an accompanying relaxation of corporate social responsibility norms, the political economy perspective sees the news media as increasingly promoting business decisions above public service and public interest (Bennett, 2000). News organisations now commonly adopt the consumer model, where the demands of consumers are catered for, as well as often created. The introduction of market research, aiming to understand the preferences of audiences, is now commonly used as a method of increasing profits (Attaway-Fink, 2004; Stanyer, 2007). Prominent themes to emerge from early newspaper audience research were: x Audiences as a whole had a limited appetite for political affairs. x The most popular items tended not to be ones most associated with traditional journalism, such as the comic strip and sport. Human interest stories were very popular. x Upmarket readers liked light news and human interest stories as seen in downmarket papers; but this does not work the other way round – so tabloid readers were not interested in financial or foreign news. x Readers responded to price and other marketing inducements. Promotions and freebies work (See Tunstall, 1996, pp. 217-218). With market research pointing in the direction of a smaller proportion of hard news, many would argue that financial imperatives meant news organisations were quick to follow. The result according to some critics is that firstly ‘hard news’ has been marginalised, and secondly, the presentation of news has been transformed strikingly in the direction of more dramatized, entertainment-oriented, and personality-centred images of society and politics (Barnett, 2002a; Bourdieu, 1998; Brants and Neijens, 1998; Franklin, 2004; Pfetsch, 1996). In the British context, Bob Franklin (1997) sees these developments as representing a downward trend in political journalism. He argues that: “news media have increasingly become part of the entertainment industry instead of providing a forum for informed debate of key issues of public concern” (Franklin, 1997, p. 4). The result is that:

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Journalism’s editorial priorities have changed. Entertainment has superseded the provision of information; human interest has supplanted the public interest; measured judgement has succumbed to sensationalism; the trivial has triumphed over the weighty; the intimate relationships of celebrities, from soap operas, the world of sport or the royal family are judged more “newsworthy” than the reporting of significant issues and events of international consequence. Traditional values have been replaced by new values; “infotainment” is rampant (Franklin, 1997, p. 4).

The evidence for Franklin’s claims in the UK however is ambiguous. This is not helped by the scarcity of systematic or comparative research, as well as the problems of classifying what constitutes ‘infotainment’ or ‘dumbing down’. There is evidence that tabloid newspapers, driven by market research, have largely abandoned coverage of subjects that do not attract readers (Rooney, 2000). This has inevitably led to more celebrity gossip, crime stories and sports coverage, but less foreign news and coverage of government (Carper, 1997; Curran and Seaton, 1997; McLachlan & Golding, 2000; Sparks, 2000). Broadsheet coverage of Parliament has declined over time (Franklin, 1997; McKie, 1999; McLachlan & Golding, 2000; Negrine, 1999; Straw, 1993), though whether this is cause for alarm is open to debate. There is little systematic evidence as to whether broadsheets have replaced ‘hard news’ with softer stories, though many have still argued that they are increasingly trying to attract audience share by injecting entertainment values into news stories (Brants, 1998; Brants and Neijens, 1998; McLachlan & Golding, 2000; Pfetsch, 1996; Bromley, 2001). Like newspapers, all broadcasters are under increasing pressure to rationalise their budgets, service more outlets and increase audiences at the very time that competition is growing not just from more channels but from on-line news sources (Barnett et al., 2000). ‘Accessibility’ and ‘consumer-friendliness’ have arguably become more important for broadcasters, given their shrinking audiences. Commercial channels like ITV and Channel 5 have adopted this most wholeheartedly, but the BBC, through its organisational need for popularity, has not been immune either, as reflected in the findings of recent internal reviews in news provision (see BBC, 2002). For some, terms like ‘consumer-friendliness’ mean widening the appeal of politics, but for others this argument can quickly become one for displacing serious political coverage with trivial and ‘catchy’ stories. Looking at current affairs broadcasting outside of news programmes, the consumer-centred model might also explain why hardhitting documentaries have been decomissioned or shifted to the periphery


The Media and Media Audiences

of schedules, and less challenging but profit-maximising ones like ‘Tonight with Trevor MacDonald’ or a myriad of docu-soaps are offered instead (see Tumber, 2001). It is the consumer-centred and market-driven nature of the modern news media that has encouraged downward trends in news provision according to these critics. If substantial and weighty news is superseded by the trivial, then the ability of audiences to engage with political life is compromised. For Bennett (1992), the result of a media concerned with the spectacle of news is that it can disconnect its audience from the power to participate actively in political life. They are “passive receivers, no longer active participants, in the dialogue of democracy” (Franklin, 2004, p. 14).

Politics as a specialist interest: media coverage of elections Trends in media coverage of elections can also be explained by the reconceptualisation of the audience from citizen to consumer. This can be seen in the amount of space devoted to election news in many media outlets as well as its direction. Given their audience’s apparent limited appetite for political information, news organisations are under increasing pressure to ration the amount of news items that may be worthy but do not attract the biggest ratings. So as not to risk haemorrhaging audiences, mainstream news outlets have thus reduced their coverage of elections, while simultaneously placing more material in niche supplements or online (Stanyer, 2007). Analysis of television coverage of general elections for example has shown that the amount of news devoted to the campaign on some terrestrial channels has fallen markedly since studies began in 1992, with BBC1 and BBC2 coverage almost halving (Deacon et al., 2005). The decline of election coverage in the British popular press is even more alarming, with Deacon et al. noting an increasing disengagement with the formal political process. Out of a possible 21 days of campaigning, the Sun, Mirror and the Star carried campaign news on their front pages in 2005 on seven, five and three days respectively (Stanyer, 2007). Broadsheets have maintained their coverage of general elections, but their substantial coverage can often be found in specialist supplements rather than the main sections. News coverage of second-order elections such as local or European elections is very low across the British media, and has virtually disappeared in the popular press (de Vreese et al., 2006; Peter et al., 2004).

Dan Jackson


Alongside the decline of elections and political affairs in main news outlets has been a growth in material on the web and 24-hour news channels. Such platforms provide an endless supply of information and comment for the engaged citizen, but there is little evidence so far that it has reached beyond the interested minority (see Schifferes et al., 2007). Shared experiences of political affairs via the mass media are therefore arguably in retreat: “Detailed election coverage, once a feature of mainstream news, is now treated as a specialist interest, there if the consumer wants it” (Stanyer, 2007, p. 117). The worrying outcome of such trends is that they may have damaging implications for political knowledge, interest and participation, as it becomes much easier for audiences to avoid substantive political coverage than ever before. The direction of election coverage is another concern for many. The political economy of the media and the need to attract audiences can explain the shift in media agendas from one focused on substantive issues, to one dominated by political scandal (Lull & Hinerman, 1997), campaigning strategies (e.g. Entman, 1989; Jamieson, 1992; Lichter & Noyes, 1996) and sports metaphors (Patterson, 1993). As the newsworthiness of election items comes under increasing scrutiny, the strategy news frame or ‘game schema’ arguably fits many news values that issue-based coverage does not. For example, previous research on news values has found that ‘human interest’, ‘conflict’, ‘shared narratives’ (e.g. Good Vs Evil) and ‘controversy’ are central news values (McManus, 1994; Price et al., 1997; Stephens, 1980). As stories that focus on political strategy and the ‘game’ of politics fit many of the above criteria, so they are more likely to be given space on the news agenda. The rising prominence of these types of reporting has been well documented in the US context, but less so in the UK. Still, election content analysis data tells us that ‘electoral process’1 news represented 44 per cent of all campaign news in 2005 (Deacon et al., 2005), up from 32 per cent in 1997 (Wring, 1997). Comparable data from the 1983 general election shows the figure at 30 per cent for television news and 26 per cent for five national newspapers2 (Semetko et al., 1991).


‘Election process’ includes discussion of campaigning strategies, opinion polls/ horse race, passing references to the chosen daily topic agendas of political parties, political tensions and infighting within parties, party spin/ PR/ news management, and other themes (Deacon et al., 2005). 2 Made up of ‘opinion polls’, and ‘party strategies and prospects’. Newspapers analysed were The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Times and The Guardian.


The Media and Media Audiences

For some, politics-as-game journalism is a reasonable response to increasing attempts by politicians to manipulate the electorate through political PR. It has ‘demystified’ the dark arts of spin doctoring, lending more transparency and balance to the political process (McNair, 2006). They are right, however, when this type of journalism regularly constitutes around half of all election coverage it is probably too much, as in-depth and prolonged attention to substantive issues is compromised. There is also evidence that consistent exposure to strategy-focused news has damaging effects on audiences, undermining their ability to engage with the political issues that they see in the media. This can have two related consequences: the first is that the likelihood of the voter learning from the media is stifled. Consequently, the ability to understand policy issues, generate opinions, and hold politicians to account is thus lost. This can then result in or aggravate a second problem: disenchantment and cynicism towards the political process. As Fallows explains: “By choosing to present public life as a contest between scheming political leaders, all of whom the public should view with suspicion, the mass media helps bring about that very result” (1996, p. 7). There is some evidence to confirm this from empirical research carried out in the USA which has measured the effects of strategic coverage, usually through experimental methods (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997; Rhee, 1997; Valentino, Beckmann & Buhr, 2001). It should be noted that there is no evidence for such a demobilising effect in the UK other than a small-scale experimental study, where those exposed to the strategy frame showed more political cynicism than their ‘issue’ frame (control) counterparts. The effects, however, were only for the less politically sophisticated and engaged, and caution should be exercised over any long-term impact (Jackson, 2005). It is therefore precisely because of their treatment of the audience as consumer and not citizen that processes described above are able to take place. The supposed squeezing out of ‘hard news’ in mainstream news outlets at the expense of ‘soft news’, and the growing trend of emphasising political strategies and conflicts over substantive issues is merely profitseeking news organisations following what they perceive their audiences to prefer. Though interestingly, Bennett (2001) has argued in the USA that market-driven news does not necessarily have to reflect public demand. For him, low budget, people-centred, dramatised news is not so much the result of popular demand as it is the most profitable product to produce. Other information formats at the high-brow end of the scale can turn out to be popular, and they are not losing money, but they are simply not making as much money as low-budget news. In this view, “bad news is not the

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choice of the people; it is the choice offered to the people” (Bennett, 2000, p. 4), and it is the responsibility of governments to step in to protect news provision from these market pressures. Either way, it is the consequences of commercial imperatives and market-driven journalism that are potentially impoverishing the information landscape.

Constructing a passive audience What exactly might these trends mean for how people imagine citizenship, public participation, governments, leaders and democratic accountability? There is reason to believe that the way politics is covered, particularly at elections, relegates audiences to passive spectators and not actors (Lewis et al., 2005). Process news for example, and the ‘game schema’ in particular, through its overwhelming focus on the activities and motivations of elites, constructs politics as a game played by politicians, not ordinary citizens. At precisely the time when citizens should be mobilised to turnout and vote, studies have shown that they are encouraged to see their role as passive observers of the actions of political elites (Brookes et al., 2004). When the public are referred to during election coverage it is in a limited capacity. There is very little substantive expression of their opinion, with voter apathy itself a prominent news theme (Brookes et al., 2004; Thomas et al., 2004).

Corporate media: corporate journalism? So far I have looked at how structural, regulatory and technological changes in the media have had profound implications for how audiences are conceptualised by news organisations. This has created a greater diversity of news offerings and for some critics, has led to standards in journalism to fall. Another critique of the contemporary news media relates to its corporate and commercial bias, which emanates from the organisation and structure of the media itself. As profit-seeking entities, commercial media organisations are reliant on advertising as the primary source of their income. As political economists have noted, this dependence can come at a cost (e.g. Baker, 1994; Hackett, 2001; Herman and Chomsky, 1988). Baker (1994, pp. 69-70), for example, identifies four consequences of this dependency: x Advertising discourages critical accounts of advertisers’ products, including their inadequacies or dangers. Exposés of wrongdoing by advertisers are also unlikely.


The Media and Media Audiences

x It encourages political blandness over partisan positions on controversial issues because advertisers want the maximum possible audience and to avoid offending potential consumers. x In order to promote a buying mood, advertisers want lighter material rather than critical thought or attention to difficult issues that might undermine the ethos of consumerism. x Because advertisers want consumers who are most able and willing to buy their products, the news media tend to adopt perspectives and serve the informational and entertainment needs of the relatively affluent. As a newspaper funded entirely by advertising revenue, the Metro perhaps best illustrates this argument. It is aimed primarily at well-educated people in the 15-35 age group, who are most attractive to advertisers (Wilcox, 2005). Its offering is largely apolitical, with minimal comment or political positioning that would be likely to challenge or offend any reader. Costs are low, as news copy is ‘cut and pasted’ from international news agencies with little or no editorial comment. Critics have argued that it has no independence that a cover price grants, as the ultimate sanction governing the content was displaced from the consumer to the advertiser (see Wilcox, 2005). With the recent launch of similar ‘copycat’ offerings, such as thelondonpaper and londonlite in the UK, there is even more chance that free newspapers will take readers away from paid-for titles within big cities. Another sign of the corporate influence on news provision can be seen in the newsroom itself. As news organisations increasingly belong to transnational conglomerates, holding interests in a range of different media and industries, conflicts of interest can bedevil news judgement, as journalists may feel pressured to promote or suppress certain viewpoints about the empire (Hackett, 2005). Newsroom culture in large commercial organisations moves away from an ethos of public service, as journalists are asked to become corporate team players. Once again, the reconceptualisation of the news audience from citizen to consumer has allowed and even encouraged this situation to develop. The consequences for democracy of a commercially dominated news media system are potentially harmful according to McChesney, as they carry a huge implicit political bias: “Consumerism, class inequality and individualism tend to be taken as natural and even benevolent, whereas political activity, civic values and anti-market activities are marginalised”

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(McChesney, 2003, p. 36). The news media are thus central in the definition of culture in terms of consumerism and not citizenship. For him, the combination of neoliberal media policies and corporate media culture tends to promote a deep and profound de-politicisation of society, evidence of which can be seen across the western world, and the USA in particular. The findings of a recent content analysis of British and American news would seem to be consistent with McChesney’s claims. After a comprehensive study of public opinion in the news media, Lewis et al. (2005) concluded that the public are represented more as consumers than citizens. They are largely portrayed as passive and powerless observers of the world, who have fears, impressions and desires, but have little to say about the big issues on the political agenda. They are also reactive to the news agenda, which is set by politicians and other elites. “Their power is limited to the ability to choose one product rather than another – or else, more subversively perhaps, to not buy anything at all” (ibid. p. 138). For Brookes et al. (2004, p. 78), this discursive construction of the apathetic electorate “works ideologically to legitimize a situation in which media and political elites are the key players, while citizens are incapable of making meaningful contributions to the debate”. In a very real sense, therefore, the media are helping establish the political alienation they claim to deplore. To summarise, there is a large body of opinion, supported by some convincing evidence, that the consumer model adopted by contemporary news organisations encourages the proliferation of certain types of journalism. According to this pessimistic perspective, this can in turn fail to serve the informational needs of many citizens and in some cases demobilise parts of the electorate. Secondly, the consumer model, itself a result of market deregulation and changes in the news environment, has (perhaps predictably) encouraged an implicit bias towards consumerist ideology over citizenship in the news media. Again, this can have damaging implications for democracy, as selfish consumption and individuality can take precedence over political participation and civic values.


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Diversification not dumbing down: the ‘postmodernist’ perspective I have so far given a largely pessimistic and one-sided account of the impact of market forces on news output, and what this means for audiences. An optimistic or sometimes labelled ‘postmodernist’ perspective (McNair, 1999) offers some entirely different interpretations of such changes. Proponents of this view do not dispute the marketisation of the news media in recent years, nor would they disagree with the reconceptualisation of the news audience from citizen to consumer, but they strongly disagree with the consequences, pointing out the many benefits the changes in news provision have brought for citizens. They firstly dispute the concept of wholesale dumbing down of news. Instead, what has taken place is a diversification of news provision, based around the concept of market segmentation (see McNair, 1999; Norris, 2000). They accept that many mainstream news outlets have introduced more ‘low-brow’ elements like an emphasis on visuals and human interest stories, but this hides the diversity of the overall news market. Concluding their large-scale content analysis of television news, Barnett et al. (2000) note that there has undoubtedly been a shift in most bulletins towards a more tabloid domestic agenda, yet in comparison with other Western countries, the UK’s broadcasting environment has arguably resisted many downward trends. What has occurred though is that news bulletins are more tailored to a specific audience and more consciously ‘branded’. Distinct editorial policies have emerged to aim for the highbrow, middlebrow or apathetic twenty-somethings. This desire of media outlets to target specific niche audiences has helped expand the styles and formats of political information, and can arguably provide an incentive to invest in quality journalism, as there is a clear demand for it at one end of the market. Part of this marketplace of information offerings includes of course the internet, where there are a number of sites that undoubtedly address their audience as citizen. Importantly for us, in contrast to how many mainstream news outlets construct their audiences, online forums, blogs and networks demand active audience participation. Citizens are therefore empowered and given a voice in the public sphere, including some of the resource poor and those with alternative and oppositional viewpoints (Coleman, 2002). Of course, it is important not to exaggerate the overall impact of the internet on democracy so far. The use of the internet for anything to do with politics or the public sphere comes very low on the list

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of purposes to which it is put to (Hill & Hughes, 1998). What is more, online citizen involvement so far has been largely dominated by the educated and wealthy (Chadwick, 2006). Still, for the motivated minority, it has provided a wealth of opportunity for information exchange and political expression. Another strand of the ‘postmodernist’ perspective acknowledges some of the trends outlined earlier but dismisses them as harmless or even beneficial to democracy. What might be loosely termed ‘popularisation’ could possibly mobilise engagement in audiences, even in non-traditional ways (Dahlgren, 2000). For example, the collapsing of boundaries between the genres of news, entertainment and drama are redefining what we might call ‘political’, and may result in offerings that are more accessible to broader audiences (see Dahlgren & Sparks, 1992; Street, 2001). These offerings can thus speak to their audience in new and different ways. Daytime chat shows or radio phone-ins, undoubtedly frivolous and trivial at times, nevertheless allow topics from the private sphere into the public; often framed as political. This can legitimise the views and experiences of ordinary people, even when faced by ‘expert’ or ‘elite’ opponents (see Livingstone & Lunt, 1994). Talk shows and radio phone-ins are offered at the high-brow and low-brow ends of the market, with programmes such as ‘Question Time’ arguably representing the former and youth-oriented talk shows on T4 or MTV the latter (though these are admittedly only shown sporadically). In these programmes, citizens can scrutinise political elites on issues of their choice. Although the audience and elite guests do not enter on an equal footing, there is still an element of empowerment given to citizens through the exchanges they offer. Turning back to the representation of audiences as found by Lewis et al. (2005), these types of programmes arguably represent a very different construction of the electorate. Far from being passive, powerless and apathetic, talk shows display an audience that is active, passionate and engaged.

Politics as a ‘lifestyle’ choice No matter which side of the debate over media performance you stand on, there can be little doubt that the information environment we are observing is in a state of uncertainty and flux. Traditional ways of receiving the news are under threat as a result of media fragmentation and technological change, meaning shared experiences of news events are in decline. Against a backdrop of increased competition for elusive


The Media and Media Audiences

audiences, media organisations are clearly tailoring their news offerings to the tastes of certain segments of the audience, which they now primarily see as a consumer. Many in the ‘optimistic’ camp are comfortable with this, as the informational needs of most people are catered for. There is also undoubtedly more news and journalism circulating in the public sphere than ever before, which should be considered a good thing (McNair, 1999). However, segmentation and fragmentation do bring potential dangers as well. In a commercially dominated system which is driven by the demands of advertisers, audiences can be segmented by technological access and spending power, not cultural or civic needs (McChesney, 2000). The resulting risk is that some citizens who are less desirable to advertisers are disregarded by the market. As Gandy (2000) explains, the targeting of ever more specialised and smaller groups serves to undercut a common public culture. In this sense, segmentation is implicitly anti-civic and anti-collectivist. As discussed earlier, another emerging feature of political coverage amongst mainstream news organisations has been to steadily cut back on weighty and substantive journalism in their main sections. Instead, it is increasingly offered as a choice for the interested consumer, such as through a newspaper supplement or online. For the interested citizen there has never been more information available, but at the same time it has never been easier to avoid political fare either. These developments also matter for how the audience is constructed by the media. The ‘postmodernist’ account would point out the vibrant array of TV, radio and online offerings where citizens are active and empowered. They are right. However, these types of programmes are a choice, which only a minority of citizens choose to take up. There is evidence that mass audience platforms such as the evening news bulletins and national newspapers, present public affairs as a world dominated and shaped by elites, where the audience are spectators not actors. This is a worry, because by representing a passive and apathetic audience of consumers not citizens, they may help bring about that very result (Lewis et al., 2005). If taken as a whole, the media seems to be reflecting, as well as constructing, what has been termed ‘lifestyle politics’ (see Bennett, 1998; Dahlgren, 2000). Although the term pulls together many diversified tendencies, an important one may be the renegotiation of political engagement and participation from a duty to a lifestyle choice. We therefore arrive at a point whereby one’s ease with these developments depends on where you see the role of the media in democracy, as well as

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how you conceptualise democratic engagement itself. From a traditional (and perhaps idealistic) perspective of citizenship and democracy, the rise of lifestyle politics represents a worrying move away from collective identity and participation, and towards opportunism and frivolity. For them, a liberal democracy needs an informed citizenry who can make rational decisions based on widely available information. As this information is often complex, untidy, or even held back, so it is the journalist’s job to overcome obstacles and shed light; to act as nation’s watchdog and present information with impartiality and objectivity (see Hackett, 2005). Those of a more optimistic temperament are less concerned with the move towards politics as a lifestyle choice. Joseph Schumpeter’s (1976) view of democracy for example, suggests that given the complexity of modern issues and the vulnerability of masses to irrational and emotional appeals, ongoing political participation is neither necessary nor even desirable. For many, falling electoral turnout is still of some concern, but it is compensated (and partly explained) by the rise of less formal expressions of political engagement, which demonstrate that many people still care deeply about issues that matter to them. From this perspective then, individualised lifestyle politics is not incompatible with a healthy democracy. Looking at the media’s role, in order to participate in political affairs, Norris (2000) argues the media does not need to fill voters with broad civics knowledge, but to provide enough context-specific information to enable them to assess the consequences of their political choices.

Conclusion These divergent philosophies cannot be easily reconciled, but they provide the intellectual backdrop to understanding some of challenges media change has brought about. Bennett and Entman (2001) identify what they describe as three ‘broad tensions’ facing media industries in mature democracies, which this chapter has explored. The first is between diversity and commonality: media fragmentation and segmentation have expanded the genres of what can be termed ‘political’, but shared experiences of politics are under threat. I have already suggested some of the dangers of increased segmentation along commercial lines, but changes in media technology (e.g. mobile text alerts, RSS feeds) mean that a more personalised experience of news and current affairs seems inevitable in the future. The challenge for media practitioners is to


The Media and Media Audiences

maintain a sense of shared identity in their offerings, so as to foster a culture that still values civic life. The second tension concerns the information necessary for citizens to participate effectively in democratic life, versus the entertainment-driven focus of an increasingly commercial-oriented media. At the crux of this tension lies the question (more relevant than ever) of what news is: is it what the public is interested in, or what is in the public interest? The traditional view, elucidated by Reuvan Frank, former president of NBC News, is emphatically the former: “This business of giving people what they want is a dope pusher’s argument. News is something people don’t know they’re interested in until they hear about it. The job of a journalist is to take what’s important and make it interesting” (cited in Hickey, 1998, p. 34). This view is challenged by the new forms of ‘political’ offerings, which are infused with infotainment values. For them, the terms (public interest versus what the public are interested in) might not have to be mutually exclusive. News organisations like the BBC would no doubt argue they are able to offer a mixture of both, even within a single news bulletin. Underwriting this second tension are the market forces of a largely commercial media landscape. Compared to the US system, Britain is still relatively protected from the worst excesses of the market, but this is not inevitable or permanent. The 2003 Communications Act, for example, represented a move towards further commercial influence in the media. There is now a real danger of an erosion of the traditional regulations that ensured commercial broadcasters invested in a range of programmes beyond simply the most profitable (see Barnett, 2002b). No matter which side of the dumbing down debate one sits on, both would agree that a range of news and current affairs outputs is essential, and should be vigorously defended. The final tension Bennett and Entman identify is between the need of the media to treat people as citizens on the one hand and as consumer publics on the other. If we consider the media environment as a whole, there can be little doubt that we are overwhelmingly addressed as consumers rather than citizens. The circulation of goods, the material and symbolic meanings of commodities, and the dominant position of advertising in its many forms make civic culture look diminutive in comparison (Dahlgren, 2000). Nevertheless, I have argued there are still many widely available media platforms where audiences are encouraged to consider themselves as active citizens, and these are aided by the opportunities that technological change offer. But these are offered as a choice, and so

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responsibility for the outcomes of these choices increasingly rests with the individual. This is not without its problems though, because representations of the public in mainstream news outlets like the press and evening news appear to do little to encourage an active audience of citizens (Lewis et al., 2005). This is a concern because these are still by far the most popular news platforms available, and are arguably the most important mediums for shaping how audiences imagine public life and their role in it. If most people are fed a diet of news that encourages them to view their role in political affairs as apolitical spectators, then it may be that it discourages them from seeking-out the mediums where active political engagement is celebrated and cultivated.

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Brants, K. (1998). Who’s Afraid of Infotainment? European Journal of Communication, 13, 315-335. Brants, K. & Neijens, P. (1998). The Infotainment of Politics. Political Communication, 15, 149-164. Bromley, M. (ed.) (2001). No News is Bad News. Harloe: Pearson. Brookes, R., Lewis, J. & Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2004). The Media Representation of Public Opinion: British Television News Coverage of the 2001 General Election. Media, Culture & Society, 26(1), 63-80. Cappella, J.N. & Jamieson, K.H. (1997). Spiral of Cynicism: The Press and the Public Good. New York: Oxford University Press. Carper, A. (1997). Marketing News. In P. Norris (ed), Politics and the Press: The News Media and their Influences. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner. Chadwick, A. (2006). Internet Politics: States, Citizens and News Communication Technology. New York: Oxford University Press. Coleman, S. (2002). The People’s Voice? In J. Bartle, J. Atkinson and R. Mortimore (eds.), Political Communications: The General Election Campaign of 2001. London: Frank Cass. Curran, J. & Seaton, J. (1997). Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain, 6th Ed. London: Routledge. Dahlgren, P. (2000). Media, Citizenship and Civic Culture. In J. Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds.), Mass Media and Society. London: Arnold. Dahlgren, P. & Sparks, C. (eds.) (1992). Journalism and Popular Culture. London: Sage. Deacon, D., Wring, D., Billig, M., Downey, J., Golding, P. & Davidson, S. (2005). Reporting the 2005 UK General Election. London: Electoral Commission. de Vreese, C.H., Banducci, S.A., Semetko, H.A. & Boomgaarden, H.G. (2006). The News Coverage of the 2004 European Parliamentary Election Campaign in 25 Countries. European Union Politics, 7(4), 477-504. Entman, R.M. (1989). Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press. Firat, A. and Dholakia, N. (1998). Consuming People: From Political Economy to Theatres of Consumption. London: Routledge. Franklin, B. (1997). Newszak and the News Media. London: Arnold. —. (2004). Packaging Politics: Political Communications in Britain’s Media Democracy, 2nd Ed. London: Arnold. Gandy, O. (2000). Dividing Practices: Segmentation and Targeting in the Emerging Public Sphere. In L. Bennett and R. Entman (eds.), Mediated

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Politics: Communication in the Future of Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hackett, R.A. (2001). News Media and Civic Equality: Watch Dogs, Mad Dogs, or Lap Dogs? In E. Broadbent (ed.), Democratic Equality: What Went Wrong? University of Toronto Press, pp. 197-212. —. (2005). Is there a democratic deficit in US and UK journalism? In S. Allen (ed.) Critical Issues. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Hallin, D.C. (1992). Sound Bite News: Television Coverage of Elections, 1968-1988. Journal of Communication, 42(2), pp. 5-24. Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon. Hickey, N. (1998). Money Lust: How Pressure for Profit is Perverting Journalism. Columbia Journalism Review, July/ August, pp. 28-36. Hill, K.A., & Hughes, J.E. (1998). Cyberpolitics: Citizen Activism in the age of the Internet. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. Jackson, D. (2005). Back into the Malaise? The Effects of Strategic News Frames on Voter Learning, Political Cynicism, and Policy Support – Paper presented at the PSA Annual Conference, University of Leeds, April 5-7, 2005. Jamieson, K.H. (1992). Dirty Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Langer. J. (2003). Tabloid Television and News Culture: Access and Representation. In S. Cottle (ed.), News, Public Relations and Power. London: Sage. pp. 135-152. Lewis, J., Inthorn, S. & Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2005). Citizens or Consumers? What the Media tell us About Political Participation. Berkshire: Open University Press. Lichter, R. & Noyes, R.E. (1996). Good Intentions Make Bad News: Why Americans Hate Campaign Journalism. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield. Livingstone, S. & Lunt, P. (1994). Talk on Television. London: Routledge. Lull, J. & Hinerman, S. (eds.) (1997). Media Scandals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. McChesney, R.W. (2003). Corporate Media, Global Capitalism. In S. Cottle (ed.), Media Organization and Production. London: Sage. McKie, D. (1999). Media Coverage of Parliament. London: The Hansard Society. McLachlan, S. & Golding, P. (2000). Tabloidization in the British Press. In C. Sparks & J. Tulloch (eds.), Tabloid Tales: Global Debates over Media Standards. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield. McManus, M. (1994). Market Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware? Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


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Preceding chapters have discussed the political consumer, and it is not our intention to reproduce those arguments here. However, some consideration of the notion of consumer is necessary in establishing the parameters of our ideas. Thus in this chapter we explore youth attitudes to electoral politics, and in so doing critique the notion of voter as consumer. Much has been written about 18-24 year olds’ consumption of electoral politics – much of it revolving around their disenchantment, distrust and disconnection. In parallel, consumption is an important dimension of this generation’s self-expression and social ties. We have, then, a group who express themselves through their consumption choices and who are marketing sophisticates. Consequently it is little wonder that politicians act as “magpies” in their use of tactical marketing techniques to reinvent their political offerings in order to influence the electorate’s voting behaviour (Dermody and Scullion, 2001). Particularly when we consider how marketing ‘thinking’ is being used to create a market-place agenda for political offerings, and to reinforce consumption as a dominant force in society (Brownlie et al 1999). This has resulted in a mindset of “consumption-think, consumption behave” (Dermody and Scullion, 2001, 1088) and the related notions of narcissism and celebrity-culture that portrays the immoderation, self-obsession, intemperance and profligacy that characterise consumerist society. As Desmond (2003, 3) argues “Modern consumers are narcissists to the extent that consumption is regarded as a frivolous individual activity opposed to the solidarity which is created through ‘honest’ work.” We can see this reflected in individuals who are more predisposed to reject political ideology in favour of policies that best suit their needs and wants – the realms of the selfish voter (Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd 2004) – and in the ‘doomed’ over promises of political parties who, in their efforts to appeal to these consumerist tendencies, compromise their values as they chase votes (Dermody and

Janine Dermody and Stuart Hanmer-Lloyd


Hanmer-Lloyd 2006; Dermody and Scullion 2001). We can also see this mirrored in the political market-place, where distrust and cynicism abound as parties compete to encourage the electorate to ‘buy’ them on election day. Little wonder then that tensions emerge when we begin to conceive of voters as consumers rather than a more traditional perspective of voters as citizens. What, then, is the connection with trust? Trust is central to consumption, since it underpins (repeated) marketing exchanges. Thus trust and its cousin’s cynicism and efficacy form the foundation of our evaluation of voters as consumers, based on empirical research of 1134 18-22 year old potential first-time voters. We begin our analysis by examining youth electoral consumption.

Youth electoral consumption The contemporary political climate in the UK – including the 2005 General Election1 – appears to be one of fear and distrust - 9:11, the ‘war on terror’ and the Iraq conflict – with cynicism and suspicion abounding on the ‘real’ reasons why the government went to war. As a nation, Britain is becoming more distrustful of its politicians and government, (Bromley et al 2001; Bromley and Curtice 2002; Curtice and Jowell 1997; Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd 2003; Dermody and Scullion 2001, 2003; Epstein 1998; Halpern 2003; Heatherington 1998; Nye 1997; O’Neil 2002; Pullman 2005; Putnam 2000; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993). Additionally, electoral participation in Britain appears to be in ‘meltdown.’ In the 2001 British election turnout reached an all-time low, with 59.4% of the British public voting (Mori figures). In the 2005 election, when turnout might have been expected to be higher because of protest over the Iraq war, turnout only increased to 61%. Perhaps, for the electorate, this was partially a response to a climate of who was distrusted the least rather than who was trusted the most? (Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd 2005). Of particular concern though is the proportion of young people failing to vote in elections. In the 1997 British General Election, 43% of 18-24 year olds did not vote, in 2001 this increased to 61% abstention, and in 2005 63% abstained (Mori 2005). A number of studies indicate this abstention is not confined to national elections; it also includes local and European elections – where youth turnout at each election point is steadily declining, (Bromley and Curtice 2002; Mori 2001; Mulgan and Wilkinson 1997; 1

For a detailed account of the 2005 British general election, please see Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd (2005, 2006). For the 2001 British general election please see Dermody and Scullion (2001[a]).


An Analysis of Youth (Non)Voting Behaviour

Park 1999; Russell et al 2002). An analysis of the evidence on youth electoral behaviour (Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd 2003, 2005) indicates that young people are the most disengaged of all the electoral segments in Britain. So why are they increasingly politically estranged? Our analysis of a range of studies indicates six key dimensions of youth political attitudes and behaviour – where trust and distrust, cynicism and efficacy feature strongly. Table 8.1: Youth Political Attitude and Behaviour Studies Youth Political Attitudes and Behaviour Turnout at elections is lower for 18-24 year olds than older voters, and the drop in turnout indicates an increasing predisposition amongst this younger age group not to vote in elections.

Studies Berman (1997); Bromley and Curtice (2002); Cockerell (2003); Curtice and Jowell (1997); Elliot and Quaintance (2003); Mulgan and Wilkinson (1997); Park (1999); Russell et al (2002); Schiffman et al (2002).

Young people are less interested in national political issues than older adults; and they know less about the election process.

Bromley and Curtice (2002); Diplock (2001); Park (1999); Parry et al (1992); Pirie and Worcester (1998, 2000); Russell et al (2002); White et al (2000).

Young people perceive politicians and governments as dishonest and inefficacious - contributing to their belief that voting is a ‘worthless’ act or creating anger resulting in the withholding of their vote.

Bromley and Curtice (2002); Diplock (2001); Mulgan and Wilkinson (1997); Park (1999); Parry et al (1992); White et al (2000).

Large proportions of young people feel alienated from British society, and are therefore not voting.

Dermody and Scullion (2005); Halpern (2003); Mulgan and Wilkinson (1997); Pirie and Worcester (1998, 2000); Putnam (2000); White et al (2000). Bromley et al (2001); Dermody and Scullion (2005).

Globalisation is undermining the credibility and authority of national governments - destabilizing faith in a nation’s elected officials and reinforcing youth electoral apathy.

Janine Dermody and Stuart Hanmer-Lloyd Electoral civic-mindedness is less strong in young people than it is in older adults, contributing to non-voting behaviour, or more self-centred voting behaviour.


Bromley and Curtice (2002); Halpern (2003); Mulgan and Wilkinson (1997); Park (1999); Pirie and Worcester (1998, 2000); White et al (2000).

Table 8.1 signifies that a significant proportion of young people do not want to actively consume electoral politics, it has no ‘meaning’ for them, thus there is nothing to consume. Further the lack of credibility and authority of electoral politics means that consumption of it would be worthless. Consumerist tendencies might exist, however, via self-centred voting choices, but clearly, for many in this generation, even this more ‘selfish’ exchange is not taking place. Even if we go beyond the traditional views of marketing as exchange towards the “symbolic manufacture of consumption” (McDonagh and Prothero 1996; Baudrillard 1993), we would still have to question the idea of young voters as consumers, simply because the majority of them are not consuming it! Thus consumption – voting - is not creating meaning and significance in young people’s lives. Overall it is very clear that distrust and cynicism have permeated youth attitudes and (non) consumption of electoral politics. As a result exploring electoral consumption, for this age group, from a symbolic perspective is fraught with difficulty2. How, then, do trust, cynicism and efficacy influence youth electoral consumption? We will now move the discussion on to provide an overview of this literature.

An overview of trust, cynicism and efficacy Political trust essentially involves a positive appraisal of the performance of governments, parties and leaders, combined with optimism and confidence in their intentions to do “good”, (Citrin and Green 1986; Hosmer 1995; Miller 1974a; b; Mayer et al 1995). The negative political attitudes and behaviour of young people imply that their appraisals are not positive, and that they are not hopeful or certain of the intentions of governments, political parties and/or party leaders to do “good”. This begins to explain why young people’s trust in politicians and government is declining. The intensity of trust can vary – from high to low (Miller 1974a,b; Lewicki et al 1998) and its calculative dimension can be either ‘specific’ or ‘diffuse’. ‘Specific trust’ involves satisfaction with government outputs and performance. ‘Diffuse trust’ is more values2

For a more detailed discussion on political signification and representation please see Dermody and Scullion (2001).


An Analysis of Youth (Non)Voting Behaviour

based; expressing public attitudes towards regime level objects - for example the values of a political party, integrity of politicians - regardless of their performance, (Citrin 1974; Citrin and Green 1986; Hetherington 1998; Miller 1974[a][b]; Miller and Listhaug 1990). Because the delivery of policy is very visible, it is easier to generate ‘specific trust’ than ‘diffuse trust’. ‘Diffuse trust’ is more difficult to generate because of questions associated with parties merging identities, sleaze and scandal – which are reflected in the British public’s declining political trust and increasing political distrust. Consequently, if young people have low trust in a political party’s values and integrity then regardless of the successful delivery on election promises trust will remain low. While political trust is essentially a positive orientation towards government and politicians, cynicism results from a negative orientation it is a position of distrust. This distrust takes two forms: firstly a belief that the government is not delivering its promises, thereby not satisfying the needs of the public; secondly a pervasive disbelief in the possibility of their good intentions in dealing with others, (Barber 1983; Damon 1995). Cynical attitudes towards government therefore focus on the integrity, purpose and effectiveness of government and its officials, (Durant 1995; O’Connell et al 1986; Starobin 1995). Thus, political distrust is the expectation that politicians will not act in the best interests of citizens, even engaging in potentially injurious behaviour, (Govier 1994). Like trust, the potency of distrust varies from ardent to milder degrees of cynicism, (Berman 1997). Ardent cynicism is an intensely distrusting position, where ideological beliefs are highly critical of government, and the public are paranoid about the government’s intentions. Milder cynicism involves less hostile beliefs about government, parties and politicians – they are less critical, less blaming and more evidence-based thus facts about the actions of political parties are given greater weight (Berman 1997). With many young people claiming that they are illinformed about the electoral process and parties’ manifestos, there is a risk that their cynicism verges on paranoia concerning the intentions of governments, politicians and parties to “do good”. Political efficacy has been defined as “the feeling that individual political action does have, or can have an impact on the political process”. (Campbell et al, 1954, 187) According to Bandura (1986), efficacy develops through successful experiences that cultivate confidence and expertise, while unsuccessful experiences - for example the failure of the anti-war and anti-tuition fees protests - can decrease efficacy. Political

Janine Dermody and Stuart Hanmer-Lloyd


efficacy has long been regarded as important to our understanding of public opinion, political behaviour and political systems (Campbell et al, 1954; Westholm and Niemi 1986). As Pinkleton et al (1998, 35) observe – “…citizens are likely to participate in the political process to the extent that they feel their participation can make a difference.” In addition efficacy can help explain the development (or not) or civic culture (Almond and Verba 1963), and, in examining the importance of political efficacy to individuals, it can act as an indicator of “quality of life” (Campbell and Converse 1972). As with trust and cynicism, the nature of efficacy can vary. Political efficacy has two distinct perceptual dimensions – personal political competence (the citizen) and governmental responsiveness (the system) (Balch 1974; Westholm and Niemi 1986). Not only are these conceptually distinct, they also behave differently with respect to other variables. As Westholm and Niemi (1986, 61) observe: “A feeling of personal political competence is correlated with an interest in politics, political knowledge and conventional political participation; perception of governmental responsiveness is not.” Figure 8.1 portrays some of the relationships between trust, distrust, cynicism and efficacy and engagement and alienation. For example, low trust, high distrust, high cynicism and low efficacy feed young people’s feelings of alienation, (Aberbach 1969; Finifter 1970; Miller 1974a; b), thereby contributing to non-voting behaviour. Essentially, they have no political hope, faith or confidence; they are politically sceptical, highly cynical, and ever wary and watchful of government, politicians and parties (Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd 2005). This representation concurs with a number of studies which indicate that the electorate, particularly young people, become caught in a cycle where their cynicism lowers their perceived efficacy, which in turn increases their cynicism and apathy still further (Bromley and Curtice 2002; Jennings and Niemi 1978; Lau and Erber 1985; Mulgan and Wilkinson 1997; Park 1999; Pinkleton et al 1998; White et al 2000).


An Analysis of Youth (Non)Voting Behaviour

Figure 8.1: Dimensions of Political Engagement and Alienation

Source: Dermody J. and Hanmer-Lloyd, S., (2003), Segmenting Young People’s Voting Behaviour Through Trusting-Distrusting Relationships.

However, studies have also indicated that cynicism does not always prevent individuals from voting. Bandura (1986), Capella and Jamieson (1997), de Vrees (2005, 2004), Horn and Conway (1996), Lau (1982), Mishler and Rose (2001), Pinkleton and Austin (2002, 2001), Pinkleton et al (1998), Shah et al (2002) and Zaller (1998) maintain that voters may participate, despite their cynicism, if their efficacy is high. Thus, it would seem that efficacy acts as a mediating variable in explaining cynics who still vote. Additionally, de Vrees (2005, 2004) and Capella and Jamieson (1997) note that individuals can be politically sophisticated (interested in and knowledgeable about politics) whilst being cynical and critical of government, politicians and parties. As a result, de Vrees (2005) questions whether cynicism may indicate an “interested and critical citizenry.” To some extent, of course, this depends on the nature of the cynicism – the paranoia of ardent cynicism versus evidence-based milder cynicism. In conclusion what emerges is that the relationships between trust, distrust, cynicism and efficacy and their effects on electoral consumption – (non)voting - are complex. Accordingly, the consequences of the combined rather than individual effects of different types of trust, distrust, cynicism and efficacy form the foundation of our analysis of voter as consumer.

Janine Dermody and Stuart Hanmer-Lloyd


Research design The empirical findings in this paper form part of a wider study examining youth political engagement, set within the context of the 2005 British General Election advertising campaigns (see Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd 2005, 2006).3 For this phase of the study, a quasi-random sampling approach was utilised for the survey. Filter questions were used to ensure all respondents were British Citizens aged 18-22; the interview was terminated if they did not satisfy these criteria. The survey involved street intercept interviews using an interviewer-administered questionnaire - in principle towns in geographic regions throughout the UK, during the three-week period following the General Election in May 2005. Once this time period ended all survey data collection ceased, giving a total of 1134 useable questionnaires. It is worth noting that while the sample criteria of 18-22 year old British potential first-time voters was satisfied, the respondent profile that has emerged contains over 60% of students and voters, which is double this age groups national pattern of approximately 30% students and 63% non-voters. The survey questions were identical to the 2001 study,4 with the exception of the trust, cynicism and efficacy attitude statements, which have been added for the first time in this study. The questions were checked against studies conducted since 2001 – to ensure they were still valid. As a result, some additional affective and cognitive measures5 were added to the semantic differential scales assessing attitudes towards two specific adverts. The questionnaire was fully piloted and revised prior to the survey commencing. The selection of trust, cynicism and efficacy statements used in this study are used in the British election studies, British social attitude studies and Mori’s opinion polls as well as academic studies (see for example Austin 3

With the exception of the trust, cynicism and efficacy statements, this study repeats research carried out by Dermody and Scullion on the 2001 British general election (see Dermody and Scullion 2001, 2005; Scullion and Dermody 2005). 4 The questions were based on key issues from the literature and previous research and 2 exploratory focus groups. (See, for example Dermody and Scullion 2001, 2005; Scullion and Dermody 2005). 5 Derived from the work of Robideaux (2002) for the affective measure and Hill (1989) and Tinkham and Weaver-Larisy (1994) for the cognitive measures.


An Analysis of Youth (Non)Voting Behaviour

and Pinkleton 1995; Citrin 1974; Craig et al 1990; de Vreese 2005; Jennings and Niemi 1978; Pinkleton et al 2002). The trust statements reflect diffuse trust – the extent to which the integrity of politicians, MPs, and the Prime Minster can be trusted. The cynicism statements include evaluations of the intentions and honesty of governments and politicians. The efficacy statements represent system and personal efficacy – the influence of voting on governmental behaviour and the degree of political awareness. The statement of personal efficacy - ‘I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country’ – can also be used as a measure of political sophistication (de Vreese 2005). The actual statements used are listed in table 8.3. In all cases respondents were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with each statement using a 7-point scale. The measure of involvement has its origins in the work of Citrin (1974), who used, inter alia, whether respondents voted in the election and their level of interest in the election campaign as evidence of political involvement. SPSS was used to analyse the survey data.

Results Youth Involvement in the 2005 Election The majority of our respondents maintained that they were interested or very interested in the 2005 general election (63%) and 61% claimed they voted – table 8.2. This indicates that the majority of our respondents were ‘involved’ – in varying degrees - in the election process. Of those who maintained they were interested, 83% claimed they voted compared with 17% who claimed they did not vote. Of those who maintained they were disinterested, 63% claimed they did not vote, while, interestingly, over a third (37%) claimed they did vote. These findings indicate a relationship between degree of interest and voting behaviour. Further analysis gives a Chi-square value of 224.061 with a significance level of p=.000 - illustrating a highly statistically significant difference between voters and non-voters and their levels of interest in the general election. Cramer’s value of .467 indicates a moderate strength of association between interest and voting behaviour.

Janine Dermody and Stuart Hanmer-Lloyd


Table 8.2: Level of Involvement in the 2005 Election Interesta

























N = 1004 (excluding not sure)

Did not vote



Pearson Chi-Square = 224.061

No answer



Sig = .000 .467




0 cells