Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Politics, Parties, Leaders and Image

There is much to be gleaned from psychology in understanding politics. I'm just not sure that the lecture some of us went to this evening did much of the gleaning. The phrase of the evening from the very pleasant and engaging Dr. Tereza Capelos was "We need more information". She also noted that, on the whole, political scientists aren't there to provide answers, they're there to ask questions. So on the whole, her initial comment that "we would go into the minds of the voters" may have been a little ambitious - especially when you consider that most voters don't venture much into their own minds. Any visitor is likely to find....well, something of a sparsely populated desert I suppose.

Nevertheless, in amongst some of the stuff we probably already guessed at (most voters vote according to feelings rather than on specific issues; politics is emotional etc) and the occasional piece of academic jargon on the impressively large overhead screens (try "Parameter estimates are unstandardised regression coefficients" as an example of one of the bright little explanatory notes) there were some interesting comments and experiments. We grammar school types - well, ok, four grammar school and one smug fee paying type - rather liked the Huxleyan division of the voters into two classes - the sophisticates (er, us, obviously) and the unsophisticates (Sun and Express readers anyone?). And there was a great experiment conducted in the Netherlands where Dr. Capelos and her colleagues asked people to indicate approval or disapproval of policy statements they said belonged to either Nelson Mandela (generally liked and respected) or George W. Bush (generally not). Mandela's policies received far greater approval than Bush's. No surprise there. The catch, though, was that the canny academics had actually switched some of the policies round, telling their unsuspecting subjects that policy statements which actually originated with Bush belonged to Mandela and vice versa. So there you have it. Actual policy matters less than who's delivering it. Unless you're Nick Clegg.

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