Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Some interesting comments Chris Barratt on 'Wedge Politics' in this article in the Gadflyer. Wedge politics is when a candiade or party aims to tear the country apart on an emotive issue and pick up the larger piece. With Michael Howard getting all excited on 'asylum' we may be faced with this yet in the UK.
The article draws on a book by Princeton political scientist Tali Mendelberg (2001) "The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality". This looks at Bush Seniors winning campaign in the 1988 US Presidential elections. The willy Horton televison ads which appeared on the surface to be about crime and punishment but wee in fact about 'race'.
Baratt notes:
" Mendelberg uses sophisticated cognitive experiments and careful statistical analysis of the (election data) to prove this seemingly counter-intuitive finding: that racial messages only induce an electoral response when they are made in implicit terms. Even more tellingly, she shows that if they can be exposed as racial in nature, they lose their effectiveness, leading the very voters who responded to the racial appeal in the first place to desert the candidate when the appeal's true nature becomes clear. Mendelberg goes on to show through a series of cognitive experiments that the norm of racial equality has become so pervasive that even racially resentful voters are repelled by explicit appeals to racial prejudice.

It's worth pausing here to explain this unusual finding. What Mendelberg has found is that voters must be confident that their motives in supporting a candidate are unimpeachable. If they believe that a candidate has become associated with an unsavory political view, they will abandon that candidate, even – and this is important – if part of them agrees with that view."

In other words when Charles Kennedy exposed the Conservative immigration policy as racist during the Romsey by-election, it was no accident that voters were repelled from the Conservatives. Looks like a message of hope here as we face tough campaigns in the coming year in the UK when we can expect many Conservative wedges..

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