Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2010: The Year Politics Became Sexy

2010: The Year Politics Became Sexy

Who is your celebrity crush? Brad Pitt? David Beckham? It may (or may not) surprise you that 10,000 women placed David Cameron as the 92nd sexiest man in the world following a poll by New Woman magazine, putting him ahead of internationally renowned hotties including Russell Crowe and James Blunt. This sex appeal is all too evident in the official advertisement released by the Tories in 2010 as part of Cameron’s (successful) electoral campaign. A clean-cut, airbrushed Cameron is certainly the focal point of this image. But why did this advert really help Cameron win the election? It can’t just be down to those 10,000 women who saw it and thought it would be ‘fun’ to have some eye candy back in number 10... Taking into account the writings of Pratkanis (2007) and Cialdini (2001), one reason to explain Cameron’s campaign success appears in the form of Social Proof.  Cameron created a social relationship between himself and the electorate, enabling him to influence their vote. He did this by using these adverts to make himself appear as a credible source who knew what he was talking about, and could be trusted (whether this remains to be true now is irrelevant). This means that all voters out there, (naturally) wanting to be correct in their decision, could place their trust in this man and assume his view, especially if they had no idea what they were voting for, politically. He appeared to know what he was talking about, and this was enough for us. This led to compliance; thus, more votes for gorgeous, trustworthy Cameron.

But any political leader could do this, so what sets him apart? “We can’t go on like this” highlights the mistakes made by the current party in power, and therefore discredits his opposition as sources, placing Cameron on an even higher pedestal of prestige. Now everyone admires him, some even want to be him so, given this preferential treatment, his power of persuasion increases. He has achieved avoidant miscasting; Cameron has set himself apart from the negative opinions of fellow politicians and paints himself in a positive light, similarly shown in a study by Cooper & Jones (1969), where people changed their beliefs to prevent appearing like an obnoxious confederate.

He proved he knows his stuff and outplayed his opponents in the process. But more needed to be done. Cameron therefore set about increasing his “Plain Folk” image. In a time of financial turmoil, many may turn their nose up at a Public School educated leader with no belief in the state system. Thus in November 2012, he announced that he intended to send his offspring to state schools. We are more likely to be influenced by those we consider similar to ourselves (Brock, 1965; Berscheid, 1966), so by appearing to be just like ‘us’, Cameron has secured another area of persuasion. Thus, a focus on saving the NHS, a system designed for the electorate, plays on this idea of him being like us; what is important to us, is important to him. Perhaps he even uses the NHS. 

Cameron has worked hard to persuade us to vote for him. But regardless of this, it can’t be taken for granted how much easier it is to watch Prime Minister’s Question when it involves the 92nd sexiest man in the world. 

By Louise Lee

Berscheid, E. (1966). Opinion change and communicator-communicatee similarity and dissimilarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 670-680

Brock, T. C. (1965). Communicator-recipient similarity and decision change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 650-654

Caildini, R. B. (2001). Influence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Cooper. J., & Jones, E. E. (1969). Opinion divergence as a strategy to avoid being miscast. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 23-30

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The Science of Social Influence. NY & East Sussex: Psychology Press

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, im not sure about the social proof thing as that would require us to follow the behavior of other people, but his authority definitely would have had an impact.


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