The UK is and always has been fanatical about the U.S. election and this year has been no different. The primary debates have been obsessed over and the candidates reviewed as if they were our own. The media has daily drawn parallels between the rise of populism in the UK in Jeremy Corbyn, and the rise of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in their respective party primaries. The lessons for populist politics are however extremely stark and should be drawn through for all to see.
Edelman UK’s own Trust Barometer 2016 set out in January that not only do poorer Britons have far less trust in government than richer ones, but also that the electorate wanted more straight-talking political leaders. The Leave camp focused on both phenomena, convincingly engaging with disillusioned aspects of the electorate and utilizing direct messaging from easy communicators in Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
Clear messaging and the replaying of simple slogans were also key to the success of the Leave camp. Whilst the Remain team focused on a slogan aiming to make Britain “stronger, safer and better” – arguably three words with little substance behind what they meant – the Leave campaign focused on the simple message of “take back control.” During the campaign Leave activists repeatedly used every opportunity in print, broadcast and social media to replay their simple, one-phrase message. Meanwhile, Remain campaigners however struggled to find one simple phrase that demonstrated to the electorate either the risks of leaving the EU or the benefits of staying.
Trust in the Prime Minister, as well as establishment, were also constantly brought into question. The Leave campaign aggressively built out distrust in the Prime Minister and those around him. Despite being surrounded by expert voices spanning the breadth of British society, the Remain camp failed to connect with key aspects of the electorate. Additionally, the peer to peer strategy of the Remain campaign, often felt clunky – churning out huge amounts of content without really understanding how best to ensure it was relevant to key sub groups of importance.
The UK lesson for campaigns could not be simpler: a simple message combined with a focused communications strategy can have a remarkable impact.
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Gurpreet Brar, managing director, Public Affairs, Edelman UK.