An introduction to political communication

Today was an exciting day. Not only was it the beginning of the second semester, but also my first class in a highly-regarded discipline: political communication. We had the chance to be lectured by Dr Nicola Furrie.

Political communication is almost ubiquitous. Politics, communication, philosophy, sociology, media studies, economics, journalism or cultural studies are all relevant points of view to approach this domain of public relations. Smart political communication requires having a solid historical and cultural background, but also an awareness of current debates and issues that the general public cares about.

Is political marketing killing politics?

The media discourse described by Foucault has led to apathy from the general public. Even though citizen journalism is more and more important, the elites seem to have disconnected with their electorate. “We are trapped in a spiral of political alienation, regrets George Monbiot from The Guardian. Politics isn’t working for us, so we leave it to the politicians”.

With years, the British political life has changed. Parties stopped fervently pitching ideologies to the masses. Instead, politics have focused on adapting to people. “To survive in this new electoral market, where voters act like consumers, parties are acting like businesses, explains Jennifer Lees-Marshment (2001, p.1). Parties use modern technology and marketing techniques to understand what voters want”.

So, it is legitimate to wonder why the electorate is more and more disengaged (83.9% in 1950, 77.7% in 1992, 61.3% in 2005), whilst political leaders seek for speaking on behalf of a community, a city, a nation.

I believe there is a genuine will from citizens, in the UK and elsewhere, to be active in political life. This is all about getting a tailored message across effectively. As an example, the Scottish referendum turned out to be a success with 85% turnout. More recently, 4 million French people gathered to demonstrate in a march against terrorism. Populations from Middle East and North Africa also started an ‘Arab Spring’ (2010-2011) with the hope to instil democracy and more freedom.

4 golden keys

“Credibility is key to persuasion and in politics top attributes include trustworthiness, competence, expertise and likeability” argues Karen Sanders (2009), professor of Journalism. Credibility is a combination of objective and subjective elements, whereas trustworthiness is mostly based on credibility. Expertise is evaluated according to the extensive knowledge of a situation and the ability to implement solutions. Past-records are also good indicators for the public to determine a level of expertise. Successful political leaders all possess strong charisma and dynamism. Jogging like Nicolas Sarkozy, playing basketball like Barack Obama or swimming, riding, fighting and hunting like Vladimir Putin are some of best examples of energy and vigour on display. Ultimately, likeability is a salient feature for successful political communication. For Iyengar (2005:4), describing the United-States, “For the 25 percent of the electorate that lacks a partisan identity, voting is really about ‘likeability quotients’ rather than issue positions”. As I see it, likeability is this little thing that will brighten up and sublimate the rest, the icing on the cake.

Political information is accessible more than ever before: live news, opportunities to attend public meetings, to write to your MP, to organise petitions to the Scottish Parliament… Opportunities are multiple and ready to be seized. Political communication is a real challenge for practitioners, but I am hopeful for its future.

IYENGAR, S., 2005. Speaking of values: The framing of American politics. The Forum, Stanford University, 3:3.

LEES-MARSHMENT, J., 2001. Political marketing and British political parties: The party’s just begun. Manchester University Press.

SANDERS, K., 2009. Communicating politics in the twenty-first century. Palgrave Macmillan.

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