Monday May 25, 2020

Colette Sexton: Irish politicians should pay heed to US election

In the same way they were blindsided over Brexit, the media and political classes have a lot to learn

8th November, 2016
Give them what they want? Pic: Getty

As we wait with baited breath for the US presidential election results, this week's blog shares some media advice for Irish politicians (God knows some of them badly need it).

Well, it is finally here. After talking about it, for what seems like an eternity, the votes will be cast and we will finally get an answer to the Trump versus Clinton question.

In the Sunday Business Post last weekend, I examined the media and marketing side of the US presidential elections. While researching that article, I was struck by something Terry Prone from the Communications Clinic said.

“People don't vote for candidates because they admire the candidate's hair or bearing. If they did, John Kerry would have become US President. People vote because of how candidates make the voters feel about themselves.”

In that way, according to Prone, Trump’s great appeal was that he made threatened older disenfranchised voters feel important about themselves by giving them people to hate and a series of fist-in-the-air actions to believe in.

Educated liberal commentators have been baffled by this, she said, they don't understand how anyone could like Trump. But just like Brexit, the media and political classes have a lot to learn.

So what does Prone, who has famously media trained a lot of them, think Irish politicians should learn?

“Irish people buy their politicians the same way they buy their cars. They have a whole load of carefully thought out virtues they like to think they demand of political candidates, and a visceral set of reactions that have damn all to do with those virtues. (Same as we all say we buy cars for safety reasons. Yeah, right.),” she said.

Irish voters hate being lectured to, like when a TD says "let us not get complacent about X”.

They hate being bored: "the infrastructural implication of this policy direction…” They hate moaners. They hate being embarrassed for a politician who's not able for TV or radio.

They love people they understand, who say vivid passionate stuff in clear visualisable terms. They love energy and humour and competence and cool. They love politicians who are easy to mimic and “who don't get their knickers in a twist about being mimicked”, she said.

The interests of the broadcaster and the interests of the programme guest are not identical, but they are parallel, according to Prone. The broadcaster wants an exciting and memorable ten or 20 minutes. So does the programme guest.

“It's not an oral exam. It's a chance to offer thought provoking stuff that justifies the viewer's time,” she said.

Advice that everyone in the media should pay heed to, not just the politicians.

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