Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Campaign for the unpopular position?

The UK's third party, the Liberal Democrats, have been junior partners in the government for four years. As they prepare for the election in 2015, they are trying to distinguish themselves from the coalition's boss, the Conservative Party.

Is campaigning for an unpopular position the way to go? Do voters respond to sincerity more than policy positions?

An in-trepid move: Liberal Democrats think they can win votes by being pro-European
STANDING for election as a pro-European is broadly considered career suicide in Britain. Polls bear out this hunch: a poll conducted by Eurobarometer in November 2013 showed that only 19% of Britons trust the European Union… It is also part of the reason why the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) may win more votes in the European elections due to be held in May than any other British party. But the Liberal Democrats, who are as earnestly pro-European as UKIP is raucously Eurosceptic, are boldly challenging the conventional wisdom by extolling the merits of the unloved EU.

Nick Clegg
In an election broadcast on February 5th Nick Clegg, the party’s leader, listed the advantages of Britain’s EU membership and declared the Lib Dems the only unabashed “party of in”…

What is Mr Clegg playing at? The first explanation is straightforward. Governing in coalition with the Conservatives has forced painful compromises and roughly halved the Lib Dems’ support… In recent weeks ministers have picked fights with their Tory colleagues over education reform and the environment. Since the EU similarly divides the two parties, Mr Clegg’s pro-European gambit is another stage in the process of differentiation.

The move is also part of the Lib Dems’ defensive stance for the next election. Party strategists know it is unlikely to win new seats, so they will concentrate on shoring up support in ones they already hold… Internal polling… has shown that such folk are unusually pro-European. Rules applying to the British electorate as a whole thus do not apply to them…

Mr Clegg may be on to something. Voters rarely engage with the details of parties’ policies… Instead, they vote for politicians who look sincere and seem to know their own minds. Being proudly anti-EU has helped UKIP create that impression. Being unambiguously pro-EU might do the same for the Lib Dems…

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