This year, the US, the EU and the UK will be holding critical political elections at a time when the geopolitical and socioeconomic landscapes in Western democracies are changing fast.

Anxieties about political participation have been commonplace in many democracies for at least 20 years. More political leaders are asking whether ordinary people enjoy politics anymore. Marketing has expanded in politics as politicians try to attract people’s attention by using marketing techniques and presenting their party and its candidates in the elections as well as possible. But are slick political campaigns effectively engaging people in participating in the democratic process?

Today’s voters are more likely to get political information from social media than from traditional printed newspapers or television. The use of social media in politics has accelerated due to the popularity of social media platforms such as Meta, X, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube.

Undoubtedly, the most popular strategy for political marketing is the personal branding of candidates and political leaders. In personal branding, slogans, values, personality, expertise and characteristics are used to create an impression of what people think of a politician.

With the EU parliamentary elections a few days away, the outgoing Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s campaign team wants to transform her image from a tough crisis-manager-in-chief to a more personal and warmer mother and grandmother who wants her family to grow up in a safe Europe. Von der Leyen’s campaign chief, Alexander Vinterstein, argues: “People know her as Commission president. People may know less about who she actually is as a person.”

Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, is moulding a different brand. She wants to be seen as a political crusader who can bash the ‘iniquitous left’ insisting: “We want to create a majority that brings together the centre-right forces and send the left into opposition even in the EU. It is difficult, but it is possible, and we must try.” She urged her supporters to just write ‘Giorgia’ on the ballot paper.

Of course, most political observers know the EU parliamentary elections will likely lead to another coalition between centre-right and centre-left parties to keep the growing populist parties at bay.

While expenditure on political marketing will continue to grow, it is unlikely to tackle the increasing disenchantment of many ordinary people with politics

The UK elections remain shrouded in mystery when they will be held. Following the disappointing results for the Conservative Party in this month’s local elections, one cannot exclude the possibility of another plot by the Tory elite to replace Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

One major mistake that undermines political campaigns is that political parties tend to pay too much attention to what is sometimes called the ‘internal audience’.

Simply put, this is listening too closely to the people who work for you in the campaign teams. Too often, this makes it harder to reach the undecided voters you need to convince to succeed. Campaign team members frequently have little in common with voters, especially those without commitment to any party.

They are very educated, live in comfortable houses, and enjoy the privileges linked to openly supporting a specific party. The issues that matter to them do not necessarily matter much to the average voter, who does not have a university degree, does not live in a lovely house, and has to work hard to earn a living. Politicians who live in echo chambers will only appeal to those who work for them and alienate those they are trying to reach.

While expenditure on political marketing, especially in the few months before an election, will continue to grow, it is unlikely to tackle the increasing disenchantment of many ordinary people with politics. Some critics believe that intense political marketing contributes to many people disliking politics.

Margaret Scammell is a senior lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She argues: “Political marketing, often deservedly, gets a bad press. It hollows the public sphere; it reduces politicians to on-message robots; it turns voters into crunched numbers and amenable targets. It squeezes the mainstream into a grab of votes at the centre, effectively encouraging potentially damaging anti-party extremes to grow at the margins.”

The old top-down command and control marketing model is becoming obsolete in politics. As citizens and consumers, ordinary people are becoming less deferential and demanding, expecting more inclusion and higher ethical standards from politicians.

The high priests of politics will do well to understand that preaching to the choir is a good way to deliver a sermon that no one else wants to hear.


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