Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Motivation and cynicism

A couple of weeks ago, Roger Scully’s Elections in Wales blog carried a guest post by a new colleague of his, Dr Stuart Fox.  It dealt with the subject of young voters and how to appeal to them.  It concluded, in essence, that the difference between younger voters and their older peers isn’t about the issues that concern them so much as about their willingness to vote at all; in broad terms, their concerns largely mirror those of other sections of the electorate.
I thought that it was an interesting conclusion.  By and large, the thrust of what the various parties are doing to attract younger voters assumes almost the direct opposite, and is largely based on the assumption that younger voters do have a different agenda and can be motivated to go out and vote for party X by an electoral offering which targets those policy areas which the parties assume are of direct personal interest to the target group.
In a sense, the parties are behaving in a consistent fashion here in assuming that issues like tuition fees and voting age will motivate younger voters – they also assume that issues such as pensions will motivate older voters, and so on.  It’s possible of course that the parties are right and the pollsters are wrong on this.  By that, I don’t necessarily mean that the pollsters are wrong in the numbers or in their analysis of the numbers – the post shows plenty of evidence to support the conclusions and analysis drawn from them.
But the validity of all that depends on the veracity of the responses given by people when asked the questions, and there are two obvious ways in which the answers might be invalid.  The first is that people might just be lying.  It is at least possible that people might say one thing (because they might not want to appear selfish) but do another; I seem to remember that there was some evidence of that phenomenon a few years ago in relation to the idea of an income tax rise.  The other is that people might be drawing a distinction in their own minds between what they see as being the ‘most important issues’ facing the country and what might actually motivate them to vote as individuals.  If either of those were to be true, than perhaps the parties have got it right after all.
But what if they’re not?  What if the responses given are entirely truthful, so that the analysis and conclusions drawn are entirely valid?  That would suggest (and not just for young people) that the electorate was going to decide much more on the basis of what they feel is right for the country as a whole rather than on a narrowly selfish basis. (And I realise, of course, that ‘group selfishness’ in this context isn’t at all the same thing as altruism).  That would suggest that continued and repeated appeals to the more selfish instincts of particular groups of people might simply add to the cynicism about politicians and parties rather than improve the motivation to participate.   

And I suspect that that cynicism, coupled with a feeling that ‘it doesn’t really make any difference’ (given that the offerings are all so similar) might actually be a more accurate reason for low turnout than any failure to ‘press the right buttons’ for any particular section of the electorate.


Anonymous said...

I don't see low turnout amongst young or old when it comes to voting Trump. Nor when it comes to voting Sturgeon.

We have tried to find a 'Welsh way' for Welsh politics and, sadly, it just bores people to death.

Anonymous said...

You could add Boris Johnson to that list.

Anonymous said...

Can you add Boris to the list? At the last London election there was a 38% turn out, a 7% fall on the previous election. Could just be he is good a manipulting the headlines through his antics.

Anonymous said...

Charisma .................... not a lot to be found in North Wales, of that you can be sure!

Anonymous said...

You can have as much charisma as you like, but it is policies and results of policies that are most important. Each year, London needs
nearly 50,000 new homes to accommodate its growing population and the undersupply of housing over the last decade or so. Mayor Johnson’ s self-imposed target of 42,000 homes a year already falls far short of London’s need. In 2014/15 the last year with full published details he was responsible for the construction of only 18,260 homes. He has also reduced the quota of affordable houses from nearly 50% to 25% over the 8 years he has been in charge. It is bread and butter issues that count not messing with your hair and pontificating in Greek.

G Horton-Jones said...

Perhaps too many of us hide behind the anonymous tag and are happy to do so
Is it that difficult to say what we really feel about things in Wales and have the conviction to put our names to our needs

Pete said...

I look at the politics of Wales and the rest of Europe from the same distance that you look at the politics of the U.S. The view of the forest tends to be different to the views of those who live in forest villages. The forest of Dean springs to mind.
On the subject of voting and voting intentions however, what I see is that no one is really giving anyone, young or old, a reason to vote. There is an odd conceit that has political committees arguing for days over the minutiae of a manifesto thinking that it will make an iota of difference on election day. "Only Boys Aloud" gets more Welsh votes on a TV show than any politician with years of campaigning, because they give a reason to vote for them and we feel proud that we did so. Is there a Welsh politician that can stir that kind of loyalty?
Compare that to what is happening in the states. The Donald is rallying thousands, his boast that he is bringing a million new members to the Republican party is not an empty boast. On the other side, Bernie is also rallying thousands and winning a huge swathe of support. Hillary is only ahead because of the Super Delegate system. They, the mainstream of the Democratic party, are scared that Bernie is too radical to win the presidency and so would usher in a President Trump.
Either way, and for the record I am Bernie all the way, they are both giving people a reason to vote. Record numbers at the primaries, forecast record numbers at the polls in November.
When someone has the courage, imagination and will to stick to the core message, give it out and damn the consequences. Then there is a reason to vote. For or against there is a reason.
This is what is truly missing, not a demographic but a message.