Spreading Green Party ideas among the Facebook generation


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Slides delivered at the fringe event at Green Party Spring Conference 2014 in Liverpool.

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Spreading Green Party ideas among the Facebook generation

  1. 1. Spreading Green Party ideas among the Facebook generation Glyn Thomas and Chris Henderson Green Party Spring Conference St George’s Hall, Liverpool Monday 3rd March 2014
  2. 2. • Why online campaigning and using social media can be effective for political parties • The psychology of how to do it well • Putting it into practice as the Green Party
  3. 3. Online campaigning • None of the conventional rules apply • Don’t need lots of activists / budget • Bypass traditional media and reach potential voters • Set the agenda ourselves • Engage people where they are • Other UK political parties behind • Raise awareness of Green policies • A credible alternative
  4. 4. Online campaigning Inform: “I didn’t know the Green Party thought that” Engage: Dialogue and discussion – openness Activate: Sign a petition Recruit: Gain email address / contact details Fundraise: People who take action 4x more likely to donate
  5. 5. Trends in political activity ‘Conventional’ forms of political participation have been in long- term decline: • Voting in elections • Signing petitions • Attending political meetings • Writing to politicians BUT less formal kinds of ‘political activity’ have been growing: • Boycotting products… and/or buying ethical/green products • Using social media • Engaging in illegal protests People who engage in informal ‘political activity’ may be among the most disengaged from ‘formal’ politics – e.g. Russell Brand
  6. 6. ‘Doing politics’ – a simple conceptual grid This allows us to think about ‘doing politics’ as a 2-by-2 grid: Issues on the mainstream political agenda Issues not on the mainstream political agenda Doing politics formally • Voting • Party membership • Writing to MP/councillor • Petitioning to get issues taken up • Anti-globalisation protests at G8 summits etc Doing politics informally • Choosing not to vote • Building grass-roots coalitions on issues • Posts opposing Government policy on Facebook/Twitter • Ethical consumerism • Posting ‘politically’ on Facebook/Twitter about issues ignored by Government and main opposition parties Implications for the Green Party • The three big parties differ so little in their policies that the right-hand side of this grid is largely out of play to all of them • They are so immersed in their ‘political bubble’ that they also mostly spend little time thinking about the bottom-left corner • The Green Party is ideally placed to cover all four corners of the grid in our campaigning – as a grass-roots, anti-establishment, radical party
  7. 7. Understanding what we should be trying to do • A good place to start in designing successful new ways of campaigning: an understanding of how the minds of voters actually work! • Overwhelming evidence from psychology: most people's political brains are emotional brains • We do NOT have a 'dispassionate mind‘ weighing evidence and reasoning its way to the most valid conclusions
  8. 8. What evolutionary psychology tells us • Emotions lead us towards or away from things, people or actions associated with positive or negative states • Organisms survived for millions of years without consciousness or reason • Emotion is one of the most potent sources of motivation that drives human behaviour In evolutionary terms, emotional reactions generally 'work': • We feel scared or angry when someone attacks us or our family • We feel admiration when someone shows courage or altruism • We feel guilt when we have wronged another person
  9. 9. What evolutionary psychology tells us (2) Natural selection has incentivised us to develop specific emotional responses: • When parents hear their baby cry, they feel distress - so they care for their baby… meaning the baby stays alive • Favours animals which care for close relatives - 'inclusive fitness'... [Most people will rescue their sibling ahead of their cousin] • Favours animals that practise reciprocal altruism - helping each other out, when the benefits of co-operation are likely to exceed costs over time: • e.g. birds that 'swarm' predators are more likely to survive than solitary species • For humans, being part of a larger community gives advantages in mutual protection, food gathering, culture and mating... • -> Emotions involved in friendship, sympathy, compassion and even justice/injustice (sense of whether others are pulling their weight) are part of our evolutionary heritage.
  10. 10. Understanding motivation Emotions motivate us to behave in ways ultimately in our interest and the interests of those within our sphere of care/concern. They lead us to: • protect ourselves and our family • nurture our children • reward others who are generous or honourable, and • repair relationships we have damaged.
  11. 11. Motivating people to support us! Helpful to give some thought to the way humans have evolved as we craft messages and select images: • Messages about the welfare of our children are likely to be particularly effective Then in descending order of emotional potency come: • our extended family • local community • the nation
  12. 12. How emotion works in the human brain What tends to "drive" people are their wishes, fears and values. Emotion is central to all three: 1. We wish for a desired state of affairs - associated with positive emotion 2. We fear an unpleasant state of affairs - associated with negative emotion, particularly anxiety 3. Values are emotion-laden beliefs about how things should or should not be - morally, inter-personally or aesthetically.
  13. 13. The elements of political persuasion Two key elements in political persuasion: networks and narratives 1. Networks of associations Bundles of thoughts, feelings, images and ideas that have become connected over time. Think about Barack Obama: what comes to mind when you think about him for a few moments? • knowledge about him • images of his face and speeches • recognition of the sound of his voice • feelings towards him - positive and negative • memories (e.g. seeing his inauguration) • Positive associations from the campaign - hope ("yes we can", "change we can believe in") and a triumph for equality • Negative associations from the ways in which he has disappointed us in office?
  14. 14. 1: Networks of mental associations • Much of our behaviour reflects activation of emotion-laden networks of association • Emotional processes can be activated and shaped outside of awareness • Therefore choice of words, images, sounds, music, backdrop, tone of voice etc likely to be as significant to electoral success of a campaign as its content • Must also pay close attention to the positive and negative images and emotions becoming associated with candidates in the minds of voters (whether they are aware of it or not) • Activating one part of a ‘network’ tends to spread activation to other parts of the network
  15. 15. 1: Networks of mental associations (2) Central to political persuasion is creating, solidifying and activating networks which create primarily positive feelings toward your candidate/party, and negative feelings towards the opposition
  16. 16. 2: Compelling narratives • We do not pay attention to arguments unless they engender our interest, enthusiasm, fear, anger or contempt. • We don't bother to debate policies if they don't touch on the emotional implications for ourselves, our families, or things we hold dear We are not moved by politicians with whom we don't feel emotional resonance The more purely 'rational' an appeal, the less likely it is to activate the emotion circuits regulating voting behaviour Instead, we need 'stories' to help establish emotional salience of our message to voters The three Democrats to have been elected US President since 1964 are the ones who offered compelling emotional messages: • Jimmy Carter was elected by promising to restore faith in government after Watergate • Bill Clinton AND Barack Obama were elected by promising to restore hope to the American dream
  17. 17. Selling our message The Green Party does have a consistent platform based on a coherent set of principles… THIS IS A MASSIVE ADVANTAGE OVER THE MAINSTREAM PARTIES, not least in social media campaigning!! The political agenda is set by the people who are seen talking, not by people who are not seen talking:
  18. 18. Getting Green Party ideas into consciousness We have a range of positions clearly distinct from the mainstream parties and likely to be highly popular with our target voters – on: • the economy • housing • welfare • transport • drug law reform • workers' rights • peace and defence... the list goes on! If we can simply spread wider awareness of these positions amongst voters and journalists, this is likely to pull political debate to the left almost automatically… …a counter-balance to the rightward lurch in discourse caused by the impact of UKIP
  19. 19. Putting it together, here and now Political science data is clear: people vote for the party which has elicited the right feelings… …not necessarily the party which presents the best arguments Every appeal is ultimately an emotional appeal to: • voters' interests (what's good for them and their families), or • voters' values (what matters to them morally). Elections are decided by whether appeals are good ones or faulty ones.
  20. 20. Don’t lose the wood for the trees… Even well informed ordinary citizens can't possibly keep up with all the info on which aspects of which party policies are likely to yield results conducive to their values and interests An information-seeking educated voter might know the details on three or four issues in a high-profile race. Knowing more than that would be the full-time job of an elected political representative, not a citizen!
  21. 21. The two most effective campaign goals 1. Define the party and its principles in an emotionally compelling way, telling the story of what its members believe in - and define opposition parties and their values in ways undermining their capacity to resonate emotionally with voters 1. Maximise positive feelings towards the candidate and minimise negative feelings - and encourage the opposite set of feelings toward the opponent. Most important feelings are 'gut level' feelings (e.g. "I like this person" or "She makes me proud to be British").
  22. 22. What to avoid Policy positions should illustrate principles, not the other way round - although important to engage on issues and offer some specific positions The trap to avoid is assuming voting decisions 'trickle up' from voters' rational assessment of specific policies, collectively creating an overall judgment of the ‘expected utility’ of electing one party or another.
  23. 23. Our challenge To absorb the evidence of what has made for winning progressive campaigns… …and take it onto the Internet and specifically onto social media Further reading: • Drew Westen (2007), The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation • Colin Hay (2007), Why We Hate Politics
  24. 24. Social media • Reach lots of people quickly • Cheap / free • Reach people where they are eg on Facebook or Twitter rather than needing them to come to us eg our website • Popular
  25. 25. Facebook & Twitter 24m 10m
  26. 26. Memes “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”
  27. 27. Green Party of Australia 100,000 Facebook followers 12% of the vote 9 seats in the Upper House (out of 76) 3rd biggest party in the Upper House 1 seat in the Lower House Protest votes – but seen as an alternative
  28. 28. West Midlands Green Party
  29. 29. West Midlands Green Party
  30. 30. Technical  Square images  800 x 800 pixels  Target posts  Promoted posts  Two posts per day max  Schedule  Advertising to recruit new followers
  31. 31. Discussion