The Lees-Marshment model: Debating voter input into political decision making

At the beginning of mycareer I devised a theoretical model which suggested that parties might become market-oriented and respond to voter opinion in developing their political product in the 1st edition of Political marketing and British political parties (Manchester University Press). This model attracted significant debate and contention and a 2004 review of the political marketing field stated that 'Lees-Marshment is the leading UK theoretician on political marketing and offers the fullest theory so far of British political marketing' <http://www.psa.ac.uk/journals/pdf/5/2004/Moloney.pdf>.

The model
Adapting the core concepts of orientation from business marketing, I developed a model of three party orientations: the product, sales and market-orientation. POPs (Product oriented parties) were more traditional, arguing for what they believed in; whereas SOPs (Sales-oriented parties) utilized marketing to understand voter reaction to then change their communication to be more effective and help persuade voters to support them. However MOPs (Market-Oriented Parties) utilized marketing in the same way as businesses; to inform the design of the political product.

The full framework, together with its relationship to previous work in the field, and its complex nuances, was published in Political marketing and British political parties (2001). I updated this in 2008 in the 2nd edition. A succinct overview, explaining its relevance to political science, was published in Political Studies in 2001. The concept of MOPs argued that parties do not simply follow fashion and they take into account other factors such the reaction from the internal market, segmentation of the market, making sure proposals were achievable and the competition.

However the suggestion that parties consider the market first in how they decided to behave had two main affects: it demonstrated that political marketing was not confined to selling politics; and it raised debate about the democratic implications of involving voters in political decision making.

Citation and application to other countries
The model was picked up by authors studying parties in other countries, and the presentation of papers on New Zealand, Ireland and the US at the 2002 Political marketing conference in Aberdeen as well as other initiatives led to a book using the framework to study a range of countries, Political marketing in comparative perspective. It was also used for the comparative analysis in Global political marketing. The model was also used in an article published in the Canadian Journal of Communication (2007 33(1) called 'Political Marketing Canadian Style? The Conservative Party and the 2006 Federal Election' by Daniel J Paré and Flavia Berger (see http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/1928). It was also used for an in-house journal analysis on political marketing in Japan: see 'Perspectives of Political Marketing in Japanese Political Arena', Modern Society and Culture Studies (Gendai shakai bunka kenkyuu), No. 39, July 2007, pp. 125-141, by Alexey Apasheev <http://dspace.lib.niigata-u.ac.jp:8080/dspace/bitstream/10191/6408/1/01_0062.pdf>.

It has also been discussed by practitioners such as in  Marketing the ALP by Dave Peebles, advisor to Federal Opposition <http://www.bobmcmullan.com/node/41> and in ‘Leading from the top’, by Roy Langmaid co-founder at consultancy Promise, who advised the UK Labour government on reconnecting in the lead up to the 2005 election. He wrote that: ‘The brand model - It was not just Blair who needed work as a brand. It appeared to us that New Labour also needed analysis. It was built on an existing brand - Labour - that had, broadly speaking, become irrelevant to the public. The history of the brand revealed that it had moved from a 'product-oriented party' to a 'sales-oriented party' then a 'market-oriented party'. Jennifer Lees-Marshment wrote in Political Marketing and British Political Parties (2001) that a product-oriented party… A sales-orientated party… A market-oriented party: "… designs its behaviour to provide voter satisfaction. It uses market intelligence to identify voter demands and then designs its product it suit them." But in 2005, the New Labour brand - personified to voters by Tony Blair - had stopped listening. It had become too reliant on its figurehead - despite his failings.’ (Brand Strategy, 01 April 2006). <http://www.mad.co.uk/Main/News/Disciplines/Marketing/Articles/e57452e34386487ab7b4a93019da965c/Leading-from-the-top.html>.

Debate about the Lees-Marshment Model
The model has been subject to debate and critique - even controversy - within political science. The aforementioned 2004 review by Kevin Moloney reviewed the model. It became the subject of a debate in the widely-read UK PSA journal Politics. (see Ormrod/Lees-Marshment Politics, 2006, May 26/2). It was also critiqued alongside two other models by O'Cass and Ormrod in an article in the Journal of Political Marketing (2007, volume 6 no 2-3, pp 69-90). I delivered a paper to the PSA in 2006 called '‘The Trial of the Market-Oriented Party Model: comparing UK and New Zealand political marketing’ <see http://www.psa.ac.uk/journals/pdf/5/2006/Lees-Marshment.pdf>.

Additionally the model has been debated from a democratic point of view. One example is a 2007 review of Political marketing in comparative perspective by Professor Stephen Coleman which focuses more on the potential meaning and implications for democracy. For example Coleman notes that:

‘she seems to be suggesting that voters’ views and preferences are sufficiently consistent to be suited to strategic reasoning. Most of the empirical evidence suggests that voters are promiscuous and rationally irresponsible in the range of inconsistent views they hold at any one time, and rarely think about long-term policy consequences in ways that politicians and their advisors are required to do’ and 'a culture of mutual trust between parties and citizens is not achievable (and certainly not sustainable) by simply repeating to voters what they already think' and ‘surely an even more effective (and equally dangerous) way of permanently reflecting public opinion would be to introduce plebisitary direct democracy.’

The review becomes more of a highly interesting debate about balancing public input and leadership decisions. Other reviews also point to the more generic implications: ''the book points to substantial questions: the nature of the relationships between voter, party member, party leadership and the government in the sense of responsiveness, effectiveness and the unfolding of politics and policy through time.' A review of The Political Marketing Revolution debated the merits or otherwise of consulting the public, arguing in some cases it was not beneficial but in cases such as the Iraq war it would be: ‘a bit less “leadership” and a bit more marketing sensitivity might have led to better political judgments here.’ Even a book on electoral law by Dr Bob Watt, Reader in Law at the University of Essex in a 2006 book called UK Election law: a critical examination debates the model for several pages 19-23, commenting that:

'Treating democratic elections as if they were akin to purchases, the culmination of a marketing exercise, mistakes the function and purpose of elections. Elections are designed to provide the country with a government to represent the public will for a period of up to five years. Not many commercial transactions are designed to last for that length of time in the face of changing circumstances and it may well be that a government which starts out with one set of political priorities is obliged to change them in the face of ensuing events….The government may well have to adopt unpopular and painful policies to deal with these problems. Lees-Marshment's model seems to be more applicable to a spot contract model of government in which successive governments leap from one set of popular policies to another. Finally it should be observed that Lees-Marshment is providing, under cover of political neutrality, a recipe for governments that cater for the majority's desires rather than for the common good.'

There are two ways in which research is responding to this debate, and a third which I hope to pursue in future.

1. Modeling a Market-orientation in politics from a marketing perspective

Ormrod has provided alternative models of market-orientation (see his chapter in the book Current Issues in Political Marketing for example); as did O’Cass (1996) There is undoubtedly further literature in marketing which can be utilized in this discussion. Other authors draw on other aspects of marketing literature such as Henneberg on leading and following postures.

2. Critiquing the use of marketing in politics from a political science perspective

Savigny, amongst others, has criticized the use of marketing in politics - rather than any specific model - from a political science perspective (see for example her book The problem of political marketing), noting the implications of marketing language and the concepts of the market, moderator bias in focus groups, and the consequence of segmentation that mean whole swathes of the electorate are ignored in elections. Political marketing: principles and applications devotes a whole chapter to political marketing and democracy. In Global political marketing we included two chapters, one from an academic and one from a practitioner, which debate both the model and the democratic implications of political marketing. This is an area which should develop further in the future. Temple's chapter notes how political marketing needs to consider the media's influence. The media can frame and shape the very demands market-oriented parties are supposed to respond to. Given that parties and governments manage the media they therefore influence the media who influence the voter and thus they control voter demands anyway. In this case, it is harder to argue that market-oriented party-strategies elevate the voter in the political process.

3. The real debate: should voters have input into political decision making?
As Temple observed, 'the main impact and importance of Lees-Marshment’s work may well be the debate it has engendered about the role of political marketing in modern democracies.' Similarly Mortimore and Gill argued that the problems often cited with political marketing are not due to marketing or academic models, but democracy itself: 'an MOP is no more than the most efficient expression of the democratic will. If there is a danger here, it does not rest in the possibility that parties might become market-oriented but that the will of the voters might cause market orientation to lead to wrong choices.' Consideration of the democratic implications of political marketing, raises questions about the nature of democracy itself in the 21st century, an issue of global concern to parties all around the world - and something way beyond the model.

That is not to reject or dismiss criticisms of the Lees-Marshment model; far from it, it is to give them the respect they deserve by taking them further in their application to the real debate: should voters have input in political decision making. This question is discussed in many different sub fields of political science such as consultation, governance, participation and engagement and political marketing can provide an additional perspective on it.

The obvious benefit of political marketing is that it encourages politicians to listen to voter demands and helps them understand the market more effectively. It can be misused; or it can be used in a more balanced way. Voter input can be utilised by elites alongside a range of other views and considerations. The market-oriented party, or any other model or political marketing framework, should not be caricatured as being about doing what voters want without consideration of leadership and ideology, in practice public opinion is utilised as one of many different sources of ideas. However achieving a more balanced, adjusted product requires careful interpretation and exercise of judgment and is therefore a complex activity.

Having got over the previous bias in understanding where political marketing was viewed as a manipulative selling process to one where it is known that it also concerns the political product and how they respond to public opinion, we now need to move understanding of market-oriented politics as one where responsiveness is caricatured as just following public whims to one where elites practice a more balanced integration of a range of ideas and views.

Political marketing can therefore be reconsidered in the light of the overall democratic context, and what happens in government, not just to win elections. Mortimore and Gill make a profound point that there remains the possibility that market-oriented political marketing can become more of a 'two-way communication between politicians and voters' if developed into a formal consultative mechanism. In this respect therefore it can be good democratic practice to consider market intelligence, and the practitioners comment that 'we believe that it is right for politicians to take public opinion into account, not only in their own interests of maximizing their chances of electoral success, but also in the interests of good government.' Political marketing isn’t just about winning elections. The use of marketing impacts on the nature of the representative relationship in democracy in the 21st century.

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