Home > Election > Relativity and Clegg’s post debate momentum

Relativity and Clegg’s post debate momentum

After the first debate, it seems that Nick Clegg has the momentum. But I’m not sure I get all the hype in the media. Even if he did do well, was it really that good? Enough to make him a contender for PM?

A single event can have a big impact on politics these days. Think back to David Cameron’s unscripted speech at the Conservative Party conference, which seemed to transform his fortunes. Maybe Nick Clegg is having a similar moment.

There might be lots of other explanations. For example, that it was the first time Nick Clegg had exposure as an equal to the other party leaders. The media may also be hyping the momentum because it makes a good story.

It also led to me think about the effects of what Dan Ariely calls ‘relativity.’ Ariely explains that when making choices, ‘people tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable – and avoid comparing things that cannot be compared easily.’ (see Predictably Irrational p.8) Ariely refers to a study in which people were given photographs of three faces (A, B and C). A and B look similar, but B is slightly better looking than the other. C looks different from the other two.  When asked which of the three is the better looking, more chose B. Ariely puts this down to the fact that people have a clear basis for comparison between A and B, which shows B to look better and this guides their choice.

Could this be going on in the leaders’ debates? Both Clegg and Cameron are similar in presentation. Both are polished, young and relaxed people. Both are going for the message of change. Brown is in a separate category, in terms of presentation. He is tense, serious and a master of detail. So people have a clearer basis to compare Cameron and Clegg. Assuming that Clegg did perform better in the debate, then his success is exaggerated by the more obvious comparison with Cameron. This may have guided people’s answers when pollsters asked who ‘won’ the debate.

Of course, this is very speculative and a tad half-baked on my part. It is only one of several possible explanations. It is also based on presentation, rather than comparisons of the policy positions. It assumes that Clegg did outperform Cameron. But it is a theory which maybe explains how a competent performance seemed to generate a ‘win’ in the post-debate polls.

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