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Polling, Politicians And Public Perceptions

3 August 2005

Polling, Politicians And Public Perceptions

Polling expert says good public affairs practice critical to healthy democracy

Are elections and politicians in sharp decline because of negative advertising effects and perceptions of public service, or can citizens be switched on by good public affairs practice?

These will be the leading questions at an open lecture given today by political affairs veteran and head of the University of Otago’s Marketing Department, Professor Phil Harris.

The seminar, ‘Marketing Democracy’, will review the growth of political marketing, the rise of branding in politics and how political and social messages are conveyed to the public.

“There has been huge growth in the area of public affairs. It is now a recognised discipline of study. This has developed from increasing public awareness of techniques used by lobby groups and politicians,” says Professor Harris, a former vice-chairman of the Liberal Party in the UK who has also been a parliamentary candidate and a campaign adviser in the last four UK elections. . “It’s a question of being able to sell messages to the public – how we make the system work. The way democracy succeeds or fails is dictated by good public affairs practice.”

The open lecture is part of a series of events being held by Professor Harris and research team members from the Otago Polling Research Centre and Political Communication Research Cluster.

The Otago Polling Research Centre, comprising researchers from the Departments of Communications, Political Studies, Marketing and Information Science, is about to embark on an election project looking at voter engagement - in particular the problem of how to get more people into the political decision-making process.

The group will combine the results of betting sites, polls in the media, Delphi (focus groups of key decision makers in an area), and econometric polls.

“When assessed altogether, we should be able to predict the election outcome. We’ll also be studying the constituencies and core groups and examine electronic voting methods, results forecasting, and lobbying,” says Professor Harris.

The group will also conduct three polls for the Otago Daily Times. There will be three surveys, by post, telephone or email; one before the election period and two during it.

This will be followed by media analyses and observations of the election from an academic perspective.

Following the general election, the Polling Communications Cluster, comprising researchers from the Departments of Communications, Political Studies, Geography and Marketing, will host a forum in Dunedin to assess what techniques the political parties used, including spin doctoring and media coverage.

Marketing Democracy – Professor Phil Harris, Head of Department of Marketing Archway 2, University of Otago, Union Place East Wednesday 3 August, 5.10pm


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