For a politician the weeks and months building up to election time is undoubtedly the most important time of their career in the political arena, and it could even be the most important time for the next five years. An Ipsos Mori survey in 2018 ranked politician as the second least trusted profession in the UK, therefore creating a solid reputation for themselves is crucial; particularly in the time before voters make their all-important decision on the ballot. There are numerous ways in which politicians try to promote themselves, and some can prove more helpful than others.
In this article we examine five of the main ways in which politicians use the media to win elections, examining the cost of doing so, and looking at real-life of examples of when they have worked and times when they have exploded like Vesuvius — obliterating any chance of re-election.
When running for election, many politicians will be quick to attack the mainstream media, for acting with bias against them —but this isn’t always the case. When a broadcast journalist meets a politician to conduct an interview, there will be certain barriers enforced by their employer and television regulators, to ensure impartiality is preserved. This type of bipartisanship is demonstrated by the BBC, thanks to their editorial guidelines and governance, and it serves to prevent any unfair treatment of anyone who is standing in the often-vicious political arena. Failing to report the whole story is one qualm that politicians often must deal with following the interview, however doing so is virtually impossible for the reporter — an hour-long account cannot be edited to fit a half hour programme. In most instances, the key details will be extracted and that is what will make the show.
On Facebook, however, you aren’t restricted by time, or filter — to some extent. Politicians, in recent years, have become particularly fond of using live videos, of which they can share to an unrestricted number of followers simultaneously. Undoubtedly a clever marketing strategy, the success of this type of campaign can be enhanced through sharing at a later date. A social media account can also be a good way of developing a character beyond the politician. Often political leaders are masked by their role, however, by establishing a significant social media presence, potential voters can forge an emotional connection with leadership candidates. One prime example of a figure who this has worked for is Queen Rania of Jordan. The Kuwait-born Palestinian, has 8.9 million followers on Twitter and back in 2009 she noted how, “these are powerful networks and I think we are going to be able to use these communities to share resources to bring about important changes.” One drawback of social media, however, is the fact it often requires a preconceived support.
Back in 2010, prior to the general election, the UK hosted its first televised election debate, a momentous occasion for both media and politics. Admittedly, the build-up to the event proved significantly more stimulating than the actual show itself, with poor lighting and a lack of sophisticated audio causing viewers to look on and reminisce ‘80s television. It was, however, a perfect example of how politicians can market themselves beyond the bearpit of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister was thrown into a room with his two biggest rivals and frankly we all began to see a different side to these politicians — Brown went on to secure his position of PM, despite his poor performance in the debate. Present yourself in a calm, collected, and a confident fashion during this type of event, which let’s be realistic, is purely promotional, and you can win the hearts of a nation.
In Northern Ireland, election posters are one of the main methods used for political promotion. Take a drive through the fairly unbeknown nation 50 miles across the Irish Sea and your eyes will quickly be attracted to the host of faces attached to the lampposts — yes, that is correct. In Northern Ireland, 30 days before the elections, political parties use poster printing to design A2 size displays, complete with a headshot of the various politicians that are demanding your votes. In recent years an argument to remove such a promotional ploy has garnered significant support, however, a counter-argument proposes that without such a feature, smaller parties wouldn’t be able to attract well-needed attention. The outdoor displays must be removed within 14 days of the election, legislation suggests.
Perhaps one of the greatest journalists of all time, the late-David Frost, showcased his impeccable talent on countless occasions, but, never more so than when he managed to successfully manipulate an apology from the virtually impeached American President Richard Nixon. Described by the New York Times as, “the most-watched political interviews in history”, the one-on-one between two incredibly fiery characters was a major opportunity for both to excel — however, only one did.
For a politician, this sort of event can prove remarkably fruitful, as news organisations are more likely to give a one-on-one more air, or text time, thanks to its unique nature. To prevent oneself from walking headfirst into a towering inferno, it is crucial that a campaign strategist gets access to a list of questions before the interview, allowing the interviewee enough time to prepare for the inevitable bombardment they are about to receive.
The Berlin Wall protests, the Iraq War protests, and most recently anti-Brexit demonstrations, have all been prime examples of how rallying the troops and congregating a mass audience, can be an effective method of forcing the hand of politicians and those in senior, authoritative positions. It isn’t just activists and dissenters, however, who use political rallies as a way of projecting their political voice — politicians use them, and often do so incredibly successfully. Rallies can attract huge audiences and they aren’t all guaranteed to be supporters of the speaker. Trump was attacked in the media for using Guns N’ Roses and Rihanna songs, during his MAGA (Make America Great Again) demonstrations. Despite the fact the artists were quick to condemn the US President for using their creations, political commentators were noting how songs like Don’t Stop the Music were performing particularly well in terms of riling up the crowd.
There are various methods that politicians can use successfully to promote themselves, however, they often need to consider the potential consequences prior to going employing a DEFCON 1 style strategy. Politicians should put a lot of thought into the way that they present themselves, as voters nowadays are looking for transparency, and a person with well-developed leadership qualities that they can trust.
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