I can think of one very good reason for the SNP’s voting strategy recommendation – simplicity. The electorate is stupid. Every individual voter might be a genius, but the electorate would still be stupid. Or to be more precise, political campaigns have to assume that the electorate is stupid. Because their message has to be tailored to the stupidest of the voters. Individuals may be clever. Mobs are dumb. Mobs behave in ways that every individual making up the mob would consider stupid. The electorate is a mob.
What defines a mob is not numbers. Although you can hardly have a mob of only two or three individuals. What really defines a mob is the lack of inhibition. Take away all the higher cognitive functions and you’re left with the ‘lizard-brain’ that is part of our evolutionary inheritance. The ‘lizard-brain’ has no conscience. A mob lacks the connections required for organised functioning.
A mob has no self-awareness. It has no impulse control. It can react in only a limited range of ways to only the most basic of stimuli. This means that the mob can be made to behave in a way that appears organised, but is merely obedient. Its actions can look purposeful, but it has no purpose of its own. It serves the purpose of whoever or whatever it obeys.
Every individual voter might understand STV as well as John Curtice does. The electorate can’t even spell STV. Throwing complex messages at the electorate is like reading Das Kapital to a bucket of fishing bait. Worse, in fact. At least you can be sure the maggots won’t misunderstand the message. The maggots, by not responding at all to the stimulus of the message, respond in a totally predictable way. There is no reliable way to predict how a mob will respond to a complex message.
A political campaign is a project intended to get the electorate to act in a particular and predictable way. That campaign’s message therefore must be formulated to elicit a particular and predictable response from the electorate. The political campaigner has no interest in how individual voters behave. Don’t be confused by the candidate’s efforts to appear to be interested in people as individuals. The campaign must engage with the electorate as a mob. It follows that the campaign must eschew complex messages. It must strip its message of all complexity. There must be no scope for interpretation as this will surely lead to misinterpretation.
The ideal campaign message achieves a total absence of complexity by being devoid of meaning. Its purpose is not to inform or educate or advise. The sole purpose of the perfect campaign message is to elicit a predicted response across the entire electorate. I’m not aware that this has ever been achieved. Nonetheless, it is what the campaign must aim for.
There is no point in expecting complex behaviour from the electorate. It has no sophistication. The anticipated behaviour must therefore be as unsophisticated as possible. Bear in mind that a large proportion – on occasion a large majority – of the electorate can’t even manage to pencil a cross in a box on a piece of paper. Asking the electorate to vote in two ballots on the same day is pushing the envelope of the mob’s capacities. Asking that they rank candidates – generally without knowing anything about them other than their party – is like giving a Mensa challenge to a mollusc. Present the mob with a complex campaign message and the only winner will be the daytime TV viewing figures on polling day.
The SNP, like all political parties, wants the votes of the electorate. The most unsophisticated behaviour that can be asked of the mob is that it votes SNP. A message which calls on the electorate to do anything more sophisticated than that is flirting with potentially disastrous confusion. You may protest that you don’t find the message at all confusing. But you are an individual, not a mob. The message isn’t for you. It’s for the mob. As long as that message doesn’t make you behave otherwise than the campaign wants you to behave, the campaign doesn’t care how well or poorly any individual understands the message.
The party’s message can hardly get less sophisticated than “Vote for us!”. So the default choice must be to say that and nothing more. You may think this underestimates the intelligence of the electorate. I would ask how it might be possible to underestimate the intelligence of something that has none?
The SNP’s message in the local elections is simple. As a bonus, it is almost identical to the message the party sent to the electorate in last year’s Holyrood election. It’s the message the party uses all the time. If there is one thing that a campaign message needs as much as simplicity it is repetition. Both improve penetration.
That simple ‘1&2’ message is what has won a remarkable number of campaigns for the SNP. Alba Party has yet to find a message that is as effective. All Alba can do is complain about the SNP having an effective message.
And there’s no use protesting that it’s not about parties and candidates it’s about independence because it’s an election and elections are about parties and candidates by definition. It is shockingly naive for any party to run a campaign that relies on the aid and cooperation of a different party. DON’T say both parties are fighting for the same thing because the only thing either party is fighting for is votes. IT’S AN ELECTION!
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