Shopping For Votes

Susan Delacourt’s Shopping For Votes is an enjoyable read. Lots of nice detail helps illustrate some interesting events in Canadian politics.

I, of course, have a couple of quibbles. 1) Firstly I feel that her main thesis wasn’t well developed or supported. She has clearly become familar with the political marketing literature (great) but somewhat abandons this knowledge at the end. She says “Political marketing, if not held in check, veers dangerously close to the view of consumers as morons.” (Delacourt, 2013, page 327). I would argue strongly that it doesn’t. Her statement only makes sense if you think political marketing is all about misleading voters. I don’t think that, and I don’t think the experts she cites on political marketing such as Jennifer Lees-Marshment, think that.

My second quibble is more personal. She discusses at length Essex Man and, understandably, compares this archetype to Reagan Democrats. Unfortunately she makes some pretty basic errors when discussing British politics. For instance, Neil Kinnock didn’t lead the Labour Party into an election in 1994 (page 164). The election she is referring to is 1992, and Kinnock resigned immediately following this defeat. Furthermore, as a man from Essex, if not necessarily an Essex Man, I must note that Basildon is not the capital of “Essex County” (page 164).

That said, it is unsurprising that a non-academic, non-Essex person would make these mistakes. That the overarching argument is flawed does not invalidate the fact that the book is readable and interesting. As such I cautiously recommend it.

Indeed I enjoyed her clear distinction, early in the book, between marketing as trickery (Barnum style) and marketing as a source of information (Powers style). “Where Barnum sought to provoke or even shock his audiences, the earnest Powers sought to inform.” (page 36)

Many marketers could benefit from pondering; do they see themselves more as Barnum or Powers? The theory we teach suggests that seeing consumers totally as Barnum did simply isn’t correct. Consumers and voters aren’t morons. While all voters make mistakes, describing voters as just plain stupid won’t get you many marks on a marketing exam. Hopefully all marketers think there is at least a role for a bit of Powers in their thinking.

Read: Susan Delacourt (2013) Shopping For Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them, Douglas and McIntyre.