Ideology and campaigns

NB: This post was first published on another blog and imported into this one. Please forgive any formatting issues.

The idiosyncratic (and always thought-provoking) musings of Zizek aside, ideology has a hugely important but often misunderstood role in the current era of campaigns. It is also one of the four primary criteria in the disruption model of politics.

It is crucial to draw a distinction between ideology and policies in this context. Quoting from a previous post:

ideology refers to a broad set of principles and policy refers to the specific rules and activities that achieve these. Tougher immigration is an ideology and building a border wall is a policy…

And from the same post:

When cynicism about politicians is at record highs, a strong ideology has more weight than policy nuance. Expressing ideologically strong positions can convince voters that you will act on issues out of conviction; particularly to those who have seen successive generations of politicians promise to enact specific policies to fix their issues, only to let them down.

This distinction can be seen in the Clinton campaign of 2016, which was heavy on policy positions but, as the left-wing critique of it pointed out, ideologically weak.

More than perhaps any waged before, the Clinton campaign invested an inexhaustible faith (not to mention considerable financial resources) in the wisdom and effectiveness of experts, its upper echelons dominated by a generation of Democratic insiders steeped in Third Way thinking and analysis.

In word and affect, it spoke the language of white-collar professionals in New Democratic coastal heartlands and showed open disdain for some of the party’s traditional, less affluent constituencies and their aspirations. It eschewed the rhetoric of populist contestation in favor of bipartisan détente with factions in the Republican old guard and gleefully chased the votes of suburban conservatives. It publicly courted both Wall Street and Silicon Valley and proudly touted the support of their leading viceroys. It emphasized personality and qualification, judgment and temperament, over ideology.

Ideology > Policy

For campaigns (and especially disruptive ones), creating and propagating a strong ideology is vital. As “Democracy for Realists” pointed out,

Instead of folk democracy’s rational voter, most voters base their political decisions on who they are rather than what they think. Political behaviour reflects our membership of a particular group, an expression of our social identity. Voters choose parties which represent their culture and community, and stay with their political tribe long after they have ceased to serve their interests.

With this in mind, these are the crucial factors for campaigns to understand to be seen as part of the zeitgeist and attract voters:

  • People vote for what policies say about the party and the values they convey.
  • This can be best communicated through a strong ideology, that focuses on shared values and beliefs, not policy specifics.

One thought on “Ideology and campaigns

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.