This paper is motivated by the growing interest in the strategies that political actors and parties adopt to be successful in the electoral market. This work focuses on the election campaigns of the Conservative party in the United Kingdom's general elections 2015 and 2017. In particular, it tries to identify which strategic orientation the Conservatives applied in their approach towards the electoral market. The degree of strategic orientation of a party with regard to political marketing management can be operationalized by the deployment of the Strategic Political Posture concept. After the Strategic Political Postures of the Conservative's 2015 and 2017 election campaign are derived, both postures are compared, in order to make suggestions on possible reasons for a change in strategic orientation.
In 2016, the British people decided on the referendum on the membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union which showed that most of the voters favoured to leave the EU. Although the Conservative party, currently the strongest party in Britain, endorsed to stay in the EU, the people decided differently. As a result, the Prime Minister and current leader of the Conservatives, Theresa May, made a call for a snap election in 2017 in order to increase the Conservative's share of seats in the House of Commons and therefore have a stronger position and support of the House of Commons in the upcoming negotiations on the withdrawal from the EU. Given that the Conservatives won more seats in the House of Commons elections in 2015 than most experts had expected, it is surprising that the decision of the constituency in the referendum differed from the propositions of the Conservatives. It is therefore interesting to examine, whether there was a change in strategy, particularly in the Strategic Political Posture of the Conservative party between the 2015 and 2017 general elections.
Course of action
The paper is organised as follows. First of all, the topic is introduced by giving a theoretical overview of the Strategic Political Posture concept and its different specifications. After the theoretical fundament is set, the Strategic Political Postures of the Conservative's party in the United Kingdom general elections 2015 and 2017 are derived and analyzed. In order to discover a possible change in postures, the Strategic Political Postures of 2015 and 2017 are compared in an attempt to find possible reasons for a change.
Strategic Political Postures
To understand the way in which parties and candidates exchange value propositions in the electoral market, it is useful to apply theoretical concepts. Additionally, political actors need to have an overall strategy plan that can be seen as a guideline the party complies with. This helps gaining success in an election campaign through the efficient alignment of its communication instruments (Henneberg, 2006). An appropriate concept to measure the basic orientation of a party or candidate towards the electoral market concerning Political Marketing Management, are the Strategic Political Postures (SPP) (Ormrod & Henneberg, 2006). Henneberg (2006) distinguishes two main dimensions that constitute the different
Strategie Political Postures from which parties or political actors can choose when deciding on a competitive position in the political sphere:
- Leading: When a party tries to lead, they know, that their political offering is substantially right. This mostly involves trying to actively convince other of the beneficial nature of offering of the party. As a result, Political Marketing Management is only a tactical tool to pursue a certain mission (Ormrod et ah, 2013).
- Following: When a party decides to follow, they anticipate or analyze the wishes of their target voters and create an offering that best represents the wishes of the largest possible number of individuals (Ormrod et al., 2013). Following implicates that Political Marketing is not a tool only a tool to execute the parties strategy but is also needed to develop the political offering and therefore the strategic orientation (Henneberg, 2006). Parties, that follow the market, also have to react to “events such as public opinion changes by developing adaptive offerings that fulfill stakeholder's needs and wants” (Ormrod & Henneberg, 2011, s. 7).
Although these dimensions seem to be contradictory, both can be applied at the same time. The degree to which these two dimensions are used simultaneously leads to four specific strategic postures that are illustrated and described in the following section (Ormrod et ah, 2013):
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The Convinced Ideologist has a high emphasis on the leading dimension, while following is not aspired. The common characteristic of the Convinced Ideologist is the existence of a focal point, which drives the policy-making, for example a certain ideology or religion. Shifts in public opinions do not have an impact on the policy-making, while the voters should be convinced of the beneficial aspects of the party's policies. Therefore, political marketing management instruments are mainly used to bring ideologically-driven issues to the fore (Ormrod et ah, 2013).
The conceptual antagonist of the Convinced Ideoligist is the Tactical Populist. Tactical Populists take a strong position in following while leading capabilities are not developed. The aim of this strategic orientation is to adapt the political offering to changes in public opinion. Therefore the Tactical Populist has to be flexible in his core offerings (Ormrod et al., 2013). Parties which pursue high leading and high following dimensions are called Relationship Builders. Parties characterized with this posture focus on long-term relationships rather than transactions. The aim of this strategy is to lock voters into a commitment-trust relationship. The development of the party's offering is affected by the use of political marketing concepts while simultaneously constituting ideological roots and the long term political beliefs of the party (Ormrod et ak, 2013)
The fourth and remaining posture, the Political Lightweight, can be neglected. Low dimensions of both leading and following can be regarded as non-strategy. Therefore, this posture is not taken into account in the further discussion (Ormrod et ah, 2013).
Strategic Political Posture of the Conservatives in the 2015 United Kingdom Election
In order to derive the Strategic Political Posture of the Conservative Party, there needs to be measured to which extent the party adopts leading and following dimensions. The best proxy for this dimensions are the manifestos of the Conservative party. The 2015 election campaign's manifesto title states: “Strong Leadership. A clear economic plan. A brighter, more secure.” (Conservative party manifesto, 2015). The title already gives an indication on a stronger leading dimension.
Henneberg (2006) proposes some further indicators, which could lead to a better determination of the following dimension. These indications relate to the party approach in policy making or proposition development, the use of political marketing concepts and instruments and the activities, for which political marketing is applied.