Pageantry and politics: The Americanisation of the UK general election and what it means for voters

By Emily Hunt | Strategy Consultant

April 30, 2015 | 6 min read

Tonight's Question Time leaders' debate – the last before next week's general election – is just one example of how, since the moment 7 May was confirmed, this election has been different. Really different.

Emily Hunt

Yes, we now have fixed terms, but it goes well beyond that. We have former Obama advisers working for both Labour and for the Conservatives. We have supporters on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We’ve moved beyond our first PM debate in 2010, and now have a series of them with a shifting parade of characters – I mean candidates – filling the airwaves.

We have live blogs and daily updates from all the major news organisations. We have a 24-hour news cycle covering every aspect of the election, including wives’ clothes. And thankfully, we have US Pollster Nate Silver – famous for correctly predicting the outcomes in all 50 states in the 2012 election – on our TVs predicting who is going to win and by how much. (Note, as of Tuesday: Conservatives to win seat-wise, but it is anyone’s guess what the government itself will look like. Betfair’s latest odds put it as a Labour-led coalition.)

This isn’t at all the first election in the UK to be subject to a US-style politics invasion, but it is possibly the first one where the electorate are in on it too. I would venture to say that after experiencing the halo effect of the Obama 'Change' win in 2008 and its sequel in 2012, the UK has been much more open to an American-style campaign, with its American-style entertainment value.

There are good sides and bad sides to this. Undeniably, the same information overload that people experience when trying to buy products and services can be applied to the election and to political parties as well. There are quite a few people who are positively flummoxed on who to vote for and are not engaging with the debates or the commentary going on around them. A glut of information isn’t going to turn an un-engaged non-voter into the first person at the door when the polls open next Thursday. It just isn’t. It also isn’t going to increase overall voter turnout.

That said, there are quite a few people with an appetite to consume what the commentators have on offer. As more people seek edu-tainment or even straight up entertainment from the election happening around us – Milibabes? Really? - more people are stepping up to fill the needs of those who want it.

We have the Americans, like Nate Silver, but then we have those burgeoning local commentators who have clearly been influenced by American campaigns and coverage of the past but are doing things their own way.

If you haven’t yet found the fabulous Polling Matters podcast from Keiran Pedley and his various co-hosts, I encourage you to give it a listen. He and his co-hosts are undeniably British, but I doubt that they would have as wide an audience had we not all been primed to want to listen and to expect this kind of commentary. This election is allowing for more voices than ever to be heard, and that is a pretty beautiful thing to a democracy geek like me.

But what does all this mean? Are we all going to be voting in our own version of the New Hampshire primary or queuing up for our own version of the Iowa caucus soon?

Fundamentally, the commentators cannot change the way that we vote. They cannot replace our parliament with an electoral college system. They cannot ensure a straightforward who-ever-wins-runs-the-government outcome. They can’t put an American democratic structure onto a British electorate. Nor should they.

I’d like to think that we are taking the best of the professional consultants and commentators from the US, and using their experience and drive to help foster and grow our own here. Let’s all remember which one of the three debaters in 2010 didn’t have an American debate prep consultant – Nick Clegg, the widely regarded winner of that debate, had a local team.

But honestly, the full on Americanisation of this election means that when I go to the polls next Thursday to vote in my first ever UK General Election, the lead up and the pageantry of this year’s politics has made the last few months feel like home. I’ll most definitely be tuning in tonight!

Emily Hunt is a London-based strategy consultant, you can find her on Twitter @emilyinpublic.


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