View Full Version : Elections and the Focus Group

10-27-2007, 12:38 PM
The Main Parties that use Focus Groups
It's been a growing tendency in most major parties in a democracy to rely on focus groups. In Denmark it's a trend that has gone almost to absurdity, with at least the two major parties (Social Democrats and the Liberal Party) relying heavily on them. In fact about a week or two ago a former party head in the social democrats bemoaned the fact that his influence caused an over-reliance in the party in the use of Focus Groups.

You might be wondering what effect this could have in the way a party promotes itself? Well it becomes quite clear when a party that is staunched in social-democratic tradition (for you uninformed, that's general support of a welfare state and all the left-leaning traditions that go with that) and the other party being the traditional liberals (liberal in the economic adam smithian sense of the term, free market trading, open borders, less state control etc) start saying EXACTLY the same things.

Both parties talk about how they support less taxes AND more welfare (it's an election so they don't actually need a plan, they just need promises). Then they take this further to both parties agreeing that we need better schools and health care. The only difference is the way they handle foreigners. Both parties ignore the issue and let their supporter parties talk about it. In this case the Social Democrats agree with the Radical Left (Denmark's most center party) and the Liberals agree with the New Alliance (A group that left the Radical Left but only because they didn't like the way the Radical Left didn't work with the Liberals...). Fortunately for the liberals they also have support in case the Danish population's village idiots decide to hate foreigners anyways, since the Liberals have support of the Danish People's Party (guess what their attitude and pet cause is).

Parties that SHOULD use Focus Groups
The best is the fringe groups. The Christian Democrats who's pet cause is abortion, they blame abortion for the fact that we don't have enough people working in Denmark in order to maintain our welfare state. They also believe that children are happier when they aren't stressed (that's literally their only advertisement), whatever that means.

Then therer's the Central Democrats (We have a lot of democrats for a monarchy), they are only famous because a pornstar from the interracial fetish industry joined them after she was thrown out of the Danish People's Party for saying she hated black people or something.

Other Fun Parties
The Conservative Party is interesting. Before the rise of the liberals they were the strong arm of the political right. (Most Danes don't realize this, but they are about as centrist as the Social Democrats are.) Most people don't really know what the Conservative party stands for, because the Conservative party has no special issue. They tried to be all about tax cuts, but then they passed an almost insignificant tax cut in parliament and embarrassed everybody by calling it a huge victory. In search for a new issue the Minister of Family and Consumption recommended that people should only drink 1 cola a week. Of course, it was largely ignored. It would be nice if they were more popular than the liberals, but it's kinda hard to see a huge difference between the two.

The Danish People's Party. Ah populism at it's best. They hate foreigners and love old people. The fun thing about this party is that they are the 3rd largest. And it's almost forbidden for most members to speak in public because most members are your local village idiot and it's really embarrassing for the party when they open their mouths. Which is why I can only name 3 members. (although to be fair, I couldn't name 3 members of the Conservative or the Social Democratic Party. I might be able to on the liberals, I'm not sure. Let's see, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Jens P. Rohde. Yeah I could.)

The Red-Green Party. I used to vote for them. I wouldn't call myself a communist or a socialist anymore but they did a good job of pulling a leftist government even more to the left (and I'm still pretty left.) But then as a publicity stunt they put a homophobic, pro-death penalty, head-scarf wearing muslim women as one of their top candidates, and I'm sorry, but I really can't support homophobia or the death penalty so my vote goes to...

The Socialist People's Party. They're exactly like the Red Green Party but only twice as big, oh and they like the EU. And uh... Yeah no crazy muslims on their side, only reasonable ones.

The Radical Left, Denmark's most central party. They consider themselves the true liberal party. They love immigrants, the EU, and free trade. I suppose everything that the Danish People's Party hates.

New Alliance, they are like the Radical Left, only they call themselves Social Conservative. No one's really sure what that means. They want everyone to pay no more than 40% taxes (which means everyone who isn't poor will pay less, as of now I pay 37.8% because I'm poor.) So really, I guess they like rich people. I don't really know though. No one's really sure what they stand for, not even the party itself.

This sort of turned into a rant.

So back to my main conclusion. Spin Doctors (which I haven't been mentioned but are notorious for spinning the truth, often in an untrue manner) and Focus Group politics which have deviated from the ideological backgrounds of the foundation of these parties are the cause for democratic decay in Denmark. I'm well aware that parties need to renew their policies but it should reflect some altruistic political belief and not some callous attempt at reaching more votes. For if it's the latter then we don't truly need democracy but simply a class of full-time bureaucrats (oh wait....)

10-28-2007, 01:20 AM
The 2004 presidential election was one of the most heavily covered media events of the 21st century, and with that, came sharp divisions within the country regarding the election. The issues dividing the country, were well themed and created by political elites, media elites, and separate interest groups in order to create a larger difference between the candidates than existed in the first place. The polarizing effect of this campaign was created with the use of false advertising, buzz words, and ended up capitalizing upon the ignorance of voters within the United States. Political and media elites, along with interest groups, created images of the candidates that stuck upon the voters, despite these issues typically being regarded as unimportant.
The media created images of candidates that helped determine the outcome of the primaries before the main election. Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, once an insurmountable frontrunner early in the campaign, lost much of his momentum due to negative media portrayal. While gaining popularity early on as the left of center, maverick democrat, his campaign soon lost momentum after a media portrayal at a rally. At this rally with his followers, Howard Dean began a screaming tirade regarding the future of his campaign that soon ended his chances of becoming president. While no voters would claim image is the most important thing regarding a candidate, the media�s incessant playing of this video soon spelled the death of his campaign. It was purported the media played the video of his screams 663 in the four days after the event. (Trent) The control the media had to create what is considered important, and the power they possessed in destroying a frontrunner presidential candidate exemplifies the power they held over the election. One commentator wrote, �But the press corps' decision that the scream was serious is a bit more disturbing. (Meyer)� The disturbing effect of the emphasis of the video is well noted, but not nearly as disturbing as the effect that the media could have on the minds of American voters. Negative media coverage along with this video created a negative image of him, that reduced his popularity despite the fact he gained it from being against an unpopular war. Voters, who would claim to have not been swayed by image, flocked to more conservative democratic candidates with better media portrayal. Even democrats began abandoning him, �Many democrats, including key figures in congress and the DNC, began attacking Dean because they believed him to be too�.unelectable. (Denton 21)� This was the same candidate who had received important endorsements from key politicians such as former Vice President Al Gore, and Iowa governor Tom Vilsack weeks before. Once the media ruined his campaign, elected politicians began switching their endorsements to other candidates, in order to appear not to look bad. Despite flocking to a candidate for being anti-war a few months earlier, the public support he had was completely abandoned due to negative media portrayal. The Howard Dean episode is proof that image created by media elites outweighed the actual issues that voters proclaimed to be important in the campaign.
The effect of the media played a large role in the primary, and it also played a large role in creating an image of John Kerry that had a lasting effect on voters in the main campaign. One of the biggest impacts the media created for Kerry�s image of a non issue related campaign idea was the presence of the ads for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which surfaced as the biggest �non-reported influence in modern political history. (Sabato 183)� On the new media channels and on shows such as Bill O�Reilly, this news story appeared daily for weeks, tarnishing Kerry�s image as a war veteran. The campaign used Vietnam Veterans to insult John Kerry�s presence in Vietnam and his actions afterward. This action had little to nothing to do with John Kerry�s policy making regarding issues voters claim to be important, however many say that it potentially cost him the campaign, �In nearly every post-election recap, the Swift Boaters come up as one of the deciding factors of the election,� this is despite the fact, �Many, if not most, continue to cast doubt about the authenticity of their claims. (Sabato 184)� As a presidential candidate in this day and age, �You are at the mercy of current events and news as framed by the media. (Kenski 304)� Even if no apparent media biase is present, the way events and quotes are presented can have a huge impact on a populace with no real issue knowledge.
One of the questions that has to be answered in regard to the 2004 presidential election in the United States is about why citizens voted the way they did. One author states, �American elections have always been image oriented or issue involved. (Kenski 303)� However, it is obvious that voters do not fully understand the issues that the candidates presented, making a campaign based entirely on image and an image created about the issue. The ideas that voters vote based on images created of the candidates and of political parties must be assumed when one recalls the 1994 election, Shea writes, �Despite massive coverage in every newspaper in the country, and on every news program, the vast majority had never heard of the Contract with America. (Shea)� Therefore, it is hard to believe that issues were the basis for citizen voting in the 1994 midterm elections, considering the importance and advertising of those issues in the mainstream media prior to voting day. It must be assumed that voters vote based on either previous partisan records, or the images of the politicians they voted for, which are carefully crafted and manipulated by multiple sources. Shea goes on to say that �Awareness of just how uninformed voters are should lead us to take polls with a grain of salt�at this early point, the opinions on which these are based are close to meaningless. (Shea)� He further states that these polls can affect the way people vote. Polls, that are not standardized and have values of differentiation between them, can sometimes affect how people vote, when in theory it should be the other way around. Polls reported by the media, can cause an uninformed voter to go with trends and vote for a popular candidate because of poll data.
Lippman states, �public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today. (Lippman 32)� The power the media has in creating an image of the voter that can effect the way voter�s choose is not representative of what electoral politics in its truest form is supposed to represent. Even without intention by these media elites, the message the media sends out can create a false sense of knowledge and political satisfaction with citizens. To the average person watching the media, the information they receive will be, �in the individual person the limited messages from outside, formed into a pattern of stereotypes, are identified with his own interests as he feels and conceives them. (Lippman 30)�
When people in 2004 were asked what issues were important in the election, �health care and jobs come out very high on the list. (Dowd 94)� Many voters assume on their own that they have made their political decisions because of issues related to these, despite the fact �On a typical election day, 56 percent of Americans can�t name a single candidate in their own district. (Shea)� With data proving ignorance such as that appearing, it would be foolish to expect a citizen to name a candidate�s planned course of action regarding the actual creation of jobs, and the events that purportedly led to poor, or even improved job and economic performance.
Interest groups and political elites can manipulate the way a voter assumes a candidate behaves, even when factually inaccurate. In an effort to dissuade voters for voting for John Kerry in 2004, the Republican National Committee mailed out flyers to religious voters portraying Kerry as a candidate who wants to ban the bible and promote gay marriage and adoption. (Franken 116) Neither of these accusations were true, and represented a radical misrepresentation of a candidate in order to polarize these voters who potentially would have been a swing vote, by playing to culturally sensitive terms and ideals that play to voters that lack knowledge on real issues that are deemed to be important. By using key terms such as the banning of the bible, which can play to the masses not involved in analyzing issues and their effects, �the Bush campaign was attracting new conservative voters, especially getting evangelicals to the polls. (Freeman 155)� Creating this polarization between George W. Bush and John Kerry is actually what the politicians, and interest groups wish to portray, despite the fact that �George Bush and John Kerry were actually fairly even throughout this campaign. (Dowd 97)� Difference must be exacerbated when similarities abound in policies between the two political parties to conform to typical American political norms. In order to make a dent and gain support of certain groups which can propel you to winning the campaign, politicians do anything in their power to gain political support from these groups.

10-28-2007, 01:20 AM
Another important strategy in creating images, was the portrayal to �paint John Kerry as a flip-flopper,� not as a man who says what he believes, but as a man who says what he believes people want to hear. (Kenski 303)� This use of sound bites and buzz words had an important effect on affecting the way people voted. In a society in which voters know little about true issue content and vote on ideas such as party identification and carefully crafted images, their own interpretations of what is actually occurring create a voting trend that has little to do with issue content. One of Bush�s media advisors stated, �We wanted to articulate the idea that, even if you didn�t like this guy you knew where he stood, you knew what he believed, you knew where he was headed. (McKinnon 40)� Even the advertising for the candidates didn�t care if a voter supported the president�s ideologies, as long as the voter distrusted the other candidate by appealing to emotions of strength and stability which the president�s campaign presented for himself, and destroyed of his opponent. However, one of the interest facets of this campaigning and advertising, is that even some of the important people behind ads don�t understand the impacts behind their actions. Dowd states, �Voters are smart. They�re not dumb. They can�t be spun. (Dowd 26)� This is despite the fact that he was one of the campaign managers for the Bush re-election, and campaigns and advertising are consistently all about spinning the truth to portray images for certain candidates. Advertising in campaigns is all about the stupidity and ignorance of voters. If issues were at the forefront of all election campaigns, campaigns wouldn�t focus on imagery such as the photographing of their candidates with children and disabled people for good photo opportunities.