Hansard survey, activism and target groups — not the Alienated

Longrider’s fine and wonderfully concise post on voter dissatisfaction, prompted by the publication of the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement 8: The 2011 Report, expressed the sentiments of OoL contributors and readers perfectly.

However, I wonder — although we are mentioned in the report — if this document is addressed to us or about us.

After skimming through it this afternoon, it seems that Hansard’s primary thrust is to nudge more people into engaging with local volunteer groups and going to the polls. It is aimed at increasing the nudge success rate, not in engaging with OoL voters.

What is ‘nudge’?

Nudge is the name of a book by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler published in 2008, six months before President Obama was elected to office. Richard Thaler is an economist at the University of Chicago, not far from where Obama used to live. Cass Sunstein is in charge of the Obama administration’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Note the book’s cover. A bit whimsical and ‘cute’ maybe with the mummy elephant nudging her little one along with a helpful trunk on the bottom. Considering the semiotics for a moment, we see the Nanny State giving us a poke in the bum to ‘do something’.

Don’t be fooled by the term libertarian paternalism here. Any true libertarian would call it an oxymoron. The two authors define the ‘paternalism’ half as (emphasis mine):

the claim that it is legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behavior in order to make their lives longer, healthier, and better.

Nudge is at the heart of David Cameron’s Big Society, led by Lord Wei, age 35 (also see blog). Cameron claims it came from his father. More than likely, it came from a combination of Nudge, Direct Democracy and behavioural economics with a nod to B F Skinner’s operant conditioning.

Keeping that in mind, the Hansard study has a Big Society focus. It identifies which people can be nudged into some sort of volunteer group or political engagement. These are the poor, the 18-24s and BMEs (minority) groups (p. 90 — PDF page number).  The poor have the time, it says; the young would like to have the example of friends and family first and the BMEs are interested in non-faith based activities.

What about dissatisfied voters, you ask, the ones we could identify with in the BBC article?

The study describes them on page 64, categorising them as the Alienated.

The Alienated comprise 12% of the UK adult population. Interestingly, 11.9% of UK voters cast their ballots for small political parties (p. 34).  One wonders if the Alienated and this 11.9% are the same group.

The Alienated:

– view politics and Parliament the most negatively of those surveyed (78%)

– tend not to volunteer (only 10% have)

– vote (63%)

– use the Internet (67%)

– are mostly in the lower half of the social strata, although 34% are ABC1s

Although it would have been more convenient to cut and paste Hansard’s exact words, one needs prior permission. Suffice it to say that the authors — among them Dr Fox — make the Alienated sound lost, if not pariah-like. Not only are the Alienated apathetic, they also have ‘strong’ and ‘negative’ opinions. Only 4% read a ‘quality newspaper’. ‘Only’ 67% use the Internet! ‘Only’ 34% are ABC1s! Thirty-three per cent feel ‘hard-pressed’ (struggling to make ends meet, married or single).

How many reading this belong in the Alienated category?

Hansard isn’t talking to the Alienated with their ‘strong’ and ‘negative’ opinions, only about them. They’re not as wonderful as the Willing Localists who comprise 14% of the population (p. 62), the acknowledged target market for the Big Society.

I see this report as a boon for Labour and other leftists:

Agitating the Labour base. Now that the Coalition is in government, Labour — and some Liberal Democrat — supporters are less happy (pp. 32-33). When Labour were in, Conservatives were less happy. (No surprise there.) Therefore, these words of Dr Fox (who worked for a Labour MP) to the BBC (which likes Labour) seem to overstate the case somewhat:

The public seem to be disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged. Thus far, coalition politics does not appear to have been good for public engagement.

Worryingly, only a quarter of the population are satisfied with our system of government, which must raise questions about the long-term capacity of that system to command public support and confidence in the future.

Reading the report — which is detailed and nuanced — does not give the indication that a high proportion are consistently angry or always disengaged, only in some circumstances and in certain groups. Older people are happier with the Coalition; just a few years ago younger people were happier with Labour. That does not seem too far off with what one would expect in a Western nation (or any other, for that matter).  The numbers aren’t great, but seem par for the course.  Was there ever a time when everyone felt involved with politics or liked their government?

Creating more activists and community organisers (how Obama got his start in politics) — especially around election time. (Alienated? Stay at home.)

Looking at ways to open up direct democracy as part of localism (p. 40). Why do Stony Stratford and Tower Hamlets come to mind here?

Visible opposition. I predict we will see a surge in more young, lower-middle class and minority people galvanised into socio-political involvement. That in and of itself is no bad thing, but what happened in the US in 2008 during Obama’s campaign and in last year’s Occupy protests will give many a strident voice whilst further alienating others.

For the Left, there are no crises — only opportunities. So, for Dr Fox to say public sentiment about politics had

hardened into something more serious

sounds like a dogwhistle to the Left to spring into action.

Just my thoughts, but as Obama’s former Chief of Staff — now Mayor of Chicago — Rahm Emanuel said in 2008:

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before. This is an opportunity! And this crisis provides the opportunity for us, as I would say, the opportunity to do things that you could not do before.Rahm Emanuel

6 comments for “Hansard survey, activism and target groups — not the Alienated

  1. April 26, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Then we get into the area of “pre-crime” where the crisis is created or more accurately, “failed to be stopped through some bungling”.

    You leave a kitchen knife on a kitchen table. Could be carelessness, could be. Toddler comes in and reaches for knife. Rush to hospital, Daily Mail at the ready. Government brings in new laws that all knives over a certain size and with a certain sharpness are now banned, for the sake of the cheeldren.

    • April 26, 2012 at 9:51 am


      It would also no doubt apply to fringe political parties. Recalling my Terra Nova post, only certain ones would exist. Others will be banned, based on activists’ and TPTB’s finely-tuned sensibilities.

  2. Watchman
    April 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I can see a problem in one suggestion here:

    The Alienated comprise 12% of the UK adult population. Interestingly, 11.9% of UK voters cast their ballots for small political parties (p. 34). One wonders if the Alienated and this 11.9% are the same group.

    Every Green voter I have met tends to be particularly engaged in volunteering (not for the good of the community though, but I doubt the tenor of this report would recognise a quantative difference…), which is a fair chunk of that 12% accounted for. My guess is the alienated are alienated from sites like this as well – no-one speaks for them because they do not appear to tell anyone what they want.

    • April 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      Hmm. I’m not so sure. I think the Alienated know what they want.

      Maybe there isn’t a clear match (who knows?) as the Greens would definitely be in the Willing Volunteers group.

      I find this report somewhat disingenuous for reasons mentioned above.

  3. April 27, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Choice architects?!? My blood pressure just went up 20 ticks on that one. Who does this Cass Sunstein think he is? Will the 60’s please just shrivel up and blow away, I’m completely fed up with social activism. It really wasn’t fun then, and it’s even less fun now. I have no desire whatsoever to fit in to Obameron’s heavily researched, leftist blueprint of happiness, longevity and above all, health. Healthy what? Healthy smokefree, fatfree, saltfree, sugarfree, carbonfree, joyfree left wing thoughts perhaps? No thanks. I want an activist-free life is what I want. The notion of behavioral control makes my skin crawl.

    Hopefully we are going to nudge Obama and his never-worked-a-real-day-in-their-lives Harvard whiz kids out of the executive branch come November. It will be a nudge, as in a close contest, but Cass Sunstein will have to fold up his societal drawing board and go back to playschool. It’s a place he’s never left.

    • April 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Hello, smokervoter — thanks for stopping by!

      Yes, these guys are all about making us into whited sepulchres. A by-product of this is how nasty people have become since the smoking ban and other health drives.

      I hope you are right about Obama being a one-termer. I fear also for the possibility of a Mormon in the White House. What will that bring?

      More on the choice architects here:


      Sunstein wants animals to be considered like people (also mentioned in the Wikipedia link about him), and John Holdren wants the state to remove babies from women who refuse to have abortions (my link two lines above). We live in scary times.

      In France, meanwhile, this week’s media talking points have included ‘moral voting’. So, imagine we vote for a fringe party and are told that we are selfish and have not voted for a ‘moral’ (read left-wing, communitarian) party.

      All this has terrible, far-reaching consequences. Agree with you about 60s activism being a nightmare. It seems have resurfaced since 2008. 1968 – 2008: 40-year anniversary. Go figure.

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