Monday, 11 May 2015

Some thoughts after the election aftermath: prologue

Well, that was unexpected. The 2015 general election turned out to have a more surprising result than even the famed 1992 election, where the Conservatives also won a surprise victory over Labour. I, like many other people, believed the opinion polls even as I wondered why the twin effects of Miliband's low popularity and a recovering economy were not helping the Conservatives.

The mistake was probably understandable. The odds were against the Conservatives winning a majority: no party in power has actually increased its number of seats for nearly a century, so I had more-or-less discounted that option. That was a mistake on my part: unprecedented can easily become precedented.

Also the mood music in the media was against it. Nearly everyone seemed to agree that a coalition would be the end-result; nearly everyone got it very wrong. Group-think prevented too many people from seeing the reality.

So why did the Conservatives win?

There was a difference between the way the two main parties canvassed. Labour went in for a traditional scheme where people canvassed locally, with ministers and celebrities performing high-profile visits to marginals. The Conservatives did some of this, but also had what they called 'Team 2015'; a team of over 40,000 young, enthusiastic supporters who were bussed into target constituencies to canvas. This approach was trialled and honed at the Newark by-election in the last parliament, and seems to have worked wonders. Labour got TV time as Eddie Izzard pranced around the country, whilst the Conservatives got votes.

If 2015 proves anything, it is that celebrities do not sway votes. That must hurt some celebrities who seem to have rather over-developed sense of their own importance.

The 2015 election was also a massive success for the leadership team David Cameron assembled. Both main parties hired advisers who had helped Obama to power. Whilst Labour had David Alxerod who managed to spell Miliband's name incorrectly, the Conservatives had Axelrod's friend, Jim Messina, who seemed to work well with the Conservative's campaign chief Lynton Crosby.

The differing approaches of the two campaigns can be seen online. A glance at Facebook or Twitter in early May would have led you to think that Labour were going to get 125% of the vote. My timeline was half-filled with Labour supporters throwing disdain on the Conservatives, whereas the only posts I received from the Conservatives were from the official campaign.

That was part of the problem: some of the Labour supporters were so strident, so nasty, that it was actually a turn-off. Meanwhile, the Conservatives used Facebook and Twitter in the way customers are supposed to use them: allegedly they spent £100,000 a month on Facebook alone. That did not just go on adverts to push in front of people, it also went on gathering demographic data on individuals.

This data allowed them to target the seats they needed to get a majority whilst Labour supporters talked (and sometimes shouted) amongst themselves. This work allowed Messina and Crosby to confidently state a week before the election that the Conservatives would win, whilst Miliband was polishing his victory speech a few minutes before the devastating election poll was released.

To a large extent it was Facebook and Twitter wot won it, although not in the way Labour supporters expected.

So what about the polling?

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