An election in the run-up to Christmas was always going to have something seductive about it. Add to that a sense that the outcome is set to determine the fate of a nation (or several) for decades to come, and it’s little wonder that even the most jaded amongst us are paying more attention than usual as we weigh up how best to use our vote.
For PRs, elections are always fascinating, as parties campaign against the clock to win hearts and minds, seeking to bring back lapsed voters and attract new ones, in what at the moment feels more akin to a call to arms than a call to action. And in our ever connected world, finding the right language, portraying the right image, being heard above the noise matters more than ever. So, as we prepare to go to the polls, how are the parties faring?
A failure of authenticity (read: lies and more lies)
With Boris Johnson in pole position as campaigning got underway, the election was quickly billed as his to throw away and, in spite of his PR team’s best efforts to minimise his time in front of the cameras, Boris Johnson has perhaps inevitably spent a fair amount of time demonstrating to the public that he really isn’t that ‘relatable’ to them.
His belated visit to flooded South Yorkshire, his dubious performance in the floor mopping department, his flustered response to Munchetty’s questioning of his ‘relatability’ (“what does that word even mean?”) on BBC Breakfast and then his seeming indifference to the plight of a four-year old sleeping on a hospital floor have all played into the hands of opponents.
On the other hand, Corbyn seemed to struggle to get out of the starting blocks, spending the early part of the campaign mired in fresh criticism surrounding his failure to deal with anti-semitism.
And just as things finally seemed to be moving on, he spectacularly shot himself in the foot with claims that he likes to listen to the Queen’s speech on Christmas morning; his anti-establishment tendencies providing the perfect foil to Boris’ nationalist rhetoric around taking back control. (Corbyn, next time, please take a leaf out of our how to guide on authenticity…)
The Lib Dems’ promised renaissance failed to materialise as Swinson attracted criticism for fielding too many candidates and fragmenting the Remain vote, while her party’s calling out of ‘fake news’ rang hollow when its head of media had to be suspended for faking emails.
Against this backdrop of difficult TV interviews, however, Jo Swinson was deemed to have fared better than most in her grilling with Andrew Neil and, away from the cameras, both the main parties have delivered almost textbook adherence to their central campaign messages on ‘getting Brexit done’ and ‘saving the NHS’ respectively.
So what, if anything, does all this tell us about voter intentions? Can we call out the winners and the losers from their performances on TV?
There are at least two things making this challenging. One is that the assessments of their performance varies wildly according to the bias of the media reporting on it. You only need to look at the headlines to see that in action.
The second is the more chilling thought that the real action is happening elsewhere, with more sinister bias, untruths and manipulation at play.
Earlier this year, Carole Cadwalladr’s powerful TED talk called out Facebook’s role in the 2016 EU referendum campaign, with the exploitation of fear and hate unfettered in the unregulated world of social media advertising.
The influence of Facebook advertising has been seen perhaps more positively this time in figures released by the Electoral Commission, highlighting the platform’s role in driving more than 300,000 new voter registrations in the last five days before registration closed.
What we can't see, though, is what else is happening in people’s feeds and how this might affect where they place their cross on Thursday. It is perhaps this element of the unknown that has caught out seasoned political commentators in recent elections on both sides of the pond.
We go to the polls with a sense that the real power and influence remains in the hands of the media, but which media has the upper hand, and who has used it most effectively, will only be known when we wake up on Friday morning.