Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The differences between UK and US campaigns: Part VI - Soccer Mum and Nascar Dad, the Targeted Demographic

One particular difference in the way I think the two political campaigns are run on either side of the pond is that American campaigns seem to be more focused on particular demographic groups, more targeted. The two I name in the title are just probably the most well-known. Now, to some degree of course all campaigns everywhere appeal to general demographic groups, but these are generally pretty obvious like women, middle-class, black, and so on. In the USA there seems to be a greater penchant for discerning more specific groups of potential swing voters than there does over here.

After some thought on the matter, particularly where all three kinds of federal elections are concerned, size probably has most to do with this. In the US the larger population blocks mean that such demographic groups are probably both easier to identify and also more likely to have the desired ability to tilt an election. Of course, in principal this should work on a smaller level, but it becomes harder. In the UK the "average" constituency has a population of around 90,000 or so. The "average" House seat in the US, in comparison, has a population of 645,000 or so. In the larger unit you targeted demographic is more likely to occur in the numbers you want. In the smaller unit the targeted demographic is likely not to be as influential in so many seats, either because they become concentrated in just a few areas or because they get split into too small groups to be effective. Hence the lack of such focus in the UK, basically because it would not be worth the time and effort.

Now, personally I must admit that I think some of the talk about nascar dads and so on is just so much hot air. I think that a lot of it are people looking at themselves and congratulating themselves on how clever they are when really all that has happened is that parties and candidates have simply more effectively projected themselves at the more general demographics. Nonetheless, there is this perception, and so I felt I ought to address why I think it occurs in the US and I do not think it occurs in the UK. I could of course be entirely wrong.

That said I think that local politics is often forgotten by national bigwigs. A local MP, or Representative, I think might well know his or her consituency well enough to identify the key groups, and act on that, in a way that would be missed by a national campaign.

NB: to calculate the average UK constituency I took a rough population and divided by the number of MPs. For the US average constituency I went here courtesy of Google.

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