Sunday, 18 April 2010

Behavioural politics, day 12 of 30

Is it just me, or has the whole election campaign shut down?

What started out as quite a hyperactive campaign - understandably, because events get attention and attention attracts votes - has atrophied in the aftermath of Thursday's debate. The Liberal Democrats are being allowed to entirely control the agenda with an unqualified positive story - a suicidal strategic choice by their opponents.

Labour and the Tories - I'm hesitant to call them "the two main parties" any more - are toying with attacks on the Lib Dems as a way of blunting their progress. The problem with this tactic is that it legitimises the Lib Dems as a serious competitor. And as we've mentioned before, one of the key barriers for the third party in winning votes is the perception that they can't win. If the other parties are running scared, that proves that they can.

There is a more effective technique than warning of the risks of a hung parliament (Cameron's strategy) or trying to make a complex economic argument even more impenetrable by attacking the Liberal Democrats' tax proposals (Brown's). This is to avoid the meta-debate about "stepping up the attacks" and simply point out some of the Lib Dems' highly unpopulist, salient policies.

Take Europe, for example. I'm personally a fan of the Lib Dems' highly pro-European policy, but you can bet that most UK voters are not. It only needs a few "European superstate" or "losing the pound" headlines - the kind that successfully killed Labour's pro-European ideas a few years ago - to seriously hurt the Lib Dems. It would be tricky for the Tories particularly to play that card, and Labour wouldn't be fully comfortable - but the Conservatives at least have plenty of pet newspapers who'd happily do it for them.

Brown has tried to do this a little, pointing out that the Lib Dems would abolish child trust funds and tax credits. This may resonate with voters who benefit from those policies, but neither are emotive issues. The abolition of Trident, highlighted by Bob Ainsworth, may be a more effective attack for some voters.

Ratings: Liberal Democrats 8/10, Labour 6/10, Conservatives 5/10.

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