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.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

2017 General Election: How Labour Turned it Around

In 2017 Theresa May called a UK General Election and everyone presumed the Conservatives would win by a landslide and further solidify their position in power. However, Corbyn’s Labour Party increased their seats and ran arguably a far better election campaign in the process. While both parties used many of the same techniques, I will focus here on Labour’s use of them and how this successfully influenced their result.

Competition Template

Labour consistently compared their policies with those of their rivals. Their slogan, ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ is a reference to their view on the Conservatives’ policies and aims to demonstrate Labour’s superiority in this. They produced and displayed many posters that were directly referencing the Conservatives and focused on their perceived negative points such as ‘The Tories have held Britain back long enough’. This is one of many advertising templates which have been found to, when utilised well, greatly improve the effectiveness of adverts (Goldenberg, Mazursky, & Solomon, 1999).

Use of both the Central and Peripheral Route

A good campaign needs to appeal to people who are engaged with the content (politics in this case), but also with those who aren’t very engaged. To do this, a campaign must employ both the central and peripheral route to persuasion as outlined in the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Labour’s 2017 election campaign did this. Lots of their campaign was policy focused, such as the content of interviews and the TV debates, so politically engaged people were able to make their decisions based on this. However, they also had a very memorable slogan (‘For the Many, Not the Few’) which was displayed on billboards/posters and on social media, so less engaged people had something easily accessible to remember.

 Direct Targeting of Young People

This was a very vital aspect of Labour’s success in this campaign. As Carnegie states in his book (1936), making someone feel valued is a key way to win their allegiance. By focusing so heavily on young people, Labour made them feel important and this may well have had an impact on how young people voted. They also heavily utilised social media (e.g. twitter) during the campaign. Research has stated that one of the hardest things about involving young people in politics is being able to contact them, and that social media is a far more successful means of doing this than traditional media (Leppӓniemi, Karialuoto, Lehto, & Goman, 2010). Everyday political talk on social media also leads to higher political engagement according to Vromen, Xenos, and Loader (2015). As the Labour party was the most active on social media, this would not only increase general political engagement, but would make young people think specifically about the relevant party. The availability heuristic would suggest that more available information is more easily retrieved (Schwartz et al, 1991), so if the Labour party is the more available one, people may be more inclined to favour it.

Emotional Appeals

This campaign also tried to use emotion to influence voters. By using the competition template heavily, Labour tried to scare voters as to what the consequences of a rival government could be. This is seen in a poster concerning UKIP – ‘What is UKIP Leader Paul Nuttall’s Plan for our NHS?’. Research has shown that anxiety created by fear appeals can change political choice (Marcus, Neuman, & MacKuen, 2000). However, much of Labour’s campaigning was enthusiastic, focusing on the positive ideas Labour had going forward. Increased enthusiasm is linked to more public interest in a campaign, including willingness to vote (Brader, 2005).

The good use of these techniques, along with many others, may well have been a key factor in Labour’s surprise result in the 2017 election which destabilised an apparently ‘Strong and Stable’ government. 


Brader, T. (2005). Striking a responsive chord: How political ads motivate and persuade voters by appealing to emotions. American Journal of Political Science49(2), 388-405.
Carnegie, Dale (1936), How to Win Friends and Influence People, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Goldenberg, J., Mazursky, D., & Solomon, S. (1999). The fundamental templates of quality ads. Marketing science18(3), 333-351.
Leppäniemi, M., Karjaluoto, H., Lehto, H., & Goman, A. (2010). Targeting young voters in a political campaign: Empirical insights into an interactive digital marketing campaign in the 2007 Finnish general election. Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing22(1), 14-37.
Marcus, G. E., Neuman, W. R., & MacKuen, M. (2000). Affective intelligence and political judgment. University of Chicago Press.
Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.Schwarz, N., Bless, H., Strack, F.,
Klumpp, G., Rittenauer-Schatka, H., & Simons, A. (1991). Ease of retrieval as information: Another look at the availability heuristic. Journal of Personality and Social psychology61(2), 195.
Vromen, A., Xenos, M. A., & Loader, B. (2015). Young people, social media and connective action: From organisational maintenance to everyday political talk. Journal of Youth Studies18(1), 80-100.

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