Monday, 01 December 2014
Two nations divided by a common language. So goes the quip about the differences between the two sides of the Atlantic. So too, when it comes to elections, are there striking similarities and differences in the US and in Great Britain. Former New York Mayor Mario Cuomo once said that ‘you campaign in poetry and govern in prose’, and, equally, British political operatives tended to divide the art of campaigning from the science of governing. But US political campaigning has undergone an almost-Copernican revolution of exacting campaigning to the scientific method. The dark arts have been opened to peer review and campaigns are reaching new levels of sophistication. Those who don’t keep up with the changes will certainly fall behind. British campaigners not plugged in to the changes in the US might well become the equivalent of doctors treating patients with leeches and offering snake oil, rather than those who can truly claim to be operating in the best interests of those who depend on them. While statistics can’t replace compelling messages (although they can test them) or a convincing candidate (although they can test whether they are convincing anyone), they can and do yield insights into who your voters are, how to narrow the universe of which ones to target, and yield insight into the type of messages that might persuade them to vote, or change their partisan choice, or both. In May, after the inevitable drubbing of the General Election, the Lib Dems will need to borrow liberally from the lessons easily discernible from the US, if liberalism has any hope of a brighter future than a slow and steady extinction.