How is public perception influenced?

The site is one of a handful of sites that is being credited with influencing public opinion toward the UK Conservative party. But is this credible? If so, what can we learn from it for non-party political campaigns?
How is public perception influenced?
One of many spoof posters from is a site that is collecting and publishing photo-shopped versions of David Cameron. What is interesting about it (besides the fact is has gone 'viral') is that it is being credited with reducing the opinion poll prospects of David Cameron/Conservatives. What I am interested in is if this is a credible claim: can an online campaign with a few hundred thousands visitors affect the outcome of an election?

Background for non-UK readers

Here in the UK, an election is looming (we're not exactly sure yet - but by June 2010 at the latest). For the last few years, many people assumed the current governing party (Labour - led by Gordon Brown) would be replaced by the official opposition (Conservatives - led by David Cameron). In the last few weeks the poll numbers for the Conservatives have gone down while the poll numbers for Labour have gone up (note: there are other parties - Lib Dems, Regional parties in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, smaller parties - but the media focus primarily on Labour and Conservatives)

My perspective (a non party-political analysis)

I think does a great job at capitalising on one section of the population's distrust of the Conservative party and their suspicion that David Cameron has put a 'gloss' on the Conservative party that can be easily scraped away. The site also ignores the widespread dissatisfaction with the Labour party and simply aims to undermine David Cameron's/the Conservative party image.

There seems to be a claim (heard from someone else in a chat today) that the site - by itself - has had a real measurable direct cause-and-effect impact on the decline in favourable viewing of the Conservatives. Yet I find hard to believe because the site has only 250,000 unique visitors as of writing (which is great for such a specialised site) and yet there are 46+ million eligible voters. 

Update 12 March 2010Where the first 250,000 visitors came from on

What I think could be happening is that:

  1. Tweeters, Bloggers and Facebookers spread it around
  2. Because the site is overtly party-political, party-political types (including party PR people) are interested in it and spread the word
  3. Because party-political types are interested in it, journalists pick it up and write a story about it to fulfil their day's 'quota' of news on stuff other's haven't written about before.
  4. Other media picks it up (known as the echo-chamber in the media) and before long most media channels cover it for a day-or two which both sets of another cycle of twitter, Facebook and blog coverage
  5. Conservatives/David Cameron gets scared and start reacting - defending their plans rather than staying focused on their positive-toned message
  6. This subtle 'panic' from the conservatives and the media coverage that seed 'fear, uncertainty, doubt' (long claimed as Microsoft's strategy to undermine rivals) is picked up by the electorate and when asked for an opinion, it erodes their faith in the conservatives

So in the end, it is the media and an overreaction that does the influencing and the campaign itself influences the politicos who influence journalists (perpetually looking for their next exciting story) who influence the wider media.

Even a month of occasional but growing online and offline media coverage is unlikely to be even noticed by most of the population. So can the site really influence opinion polls of a party considering that a random sample of 1,000 people would consist of only 5 people on the elecion role (assuming everyone visiting the site was on the UK election role which is likely untrue) and more likely that no people of 1,000 would even know about the site.

What I am getting at is not to diminish as I think it is funny and provoking. Rather it is an attempt to use it as a case for understanding the deeper sequence of events that any public campaign needs to achieve to have a hope of a wider impact than just number of actions or visitors. Then, in understanding that, to find ways we can repeat it for non party-political campaigning.

The blog has a post about the lessons from the site to date yet what I am trying to get do is explore the ripple effects that took off from a good idea (as there are lots out there) to shape public political perceptions (since that is ultimately my work and likely yours!).

So, my questions:

  1. What impact do you think the site has had
  2. How do you think that impact unfolded?
  3. What are the lessons we can learn for non party-political campaigning
  4. What makes this type of success repeatable?
by Duane Raymond published Mar 03, 2010,

Too early to say I think. But if 250k views worth remembering only 800k[?] swing voters decide elections in UK

  • Mar 08, 2010 06:30 pm

But some of the MDC posters have appeared in the mainstream media, haven't they? So surely that would have a wider effect?

Either that, or the public have noticed that the tories are slipperier than a bucket full of eels.

  • Mar 04, 2010 06:01 am

Yes - I suppose they have (I personally haven't seen any but my media consumption is skewed to 95% online). My suspicion is that even if they were, they were small examples on the inside pages - so anyone who reads the paper backwards (sports fans) or is otherwise not interested in politics will likely have not seen them.

What have you/others seen of it in the mass media (TV/print)?

  • Mar 04, 2010 06:05 am

Here are just two examples from the Daily Wail...

  • Mar 04, 2010 05:02 pm

1. What impact do you think the site has had?
Many people, including Tories, thought the initial poster campaign was a mistake. The difference with mydavidcameron was they made it easy to create mock-ups and it didn't rely on being a designer. It became an easy game for all to play - threads on music forums, etc.
Also it's a quick visual gag about the superficial nature of politicians, and reinforces the image that many people have of the avowed salesman Cameron (again whether or not they support him)
In regards to press, it also made the NY Times, so the impact has been to knock him in the US as well.
2. How do you think that impact unfolded?
3. What are the lessons we can learn for non party-political campaigning?
That people react better to funny things they can participate in
4. What makes this type of success repeatable?
Nothing. Trying to repeat a joke means you don't get why it was funny in the first place. Be original

  • Mar 04, 2010 08:17 am

On #2 (virally), spomething being 'viral' is a catch-all phrase that both confuses people not working with online promotion, but is a disposable phrase for saying "I don't know - it got popular". I think we can do better than that: we can try to understand how the process unfolds and this may differ per viral success. That what I try and explore in this article

#4 While like plays a big part in something going viral, there is always something to learn from it - so saying 'nothing' is lazy. I don't mean that it should be copied, just that there may be some principles - two of which you have stated: funny and original.

  • Mar 07, 2010 11:33 am

unfortunately I cannot answer your question whether a/ the campaign can affect the outcome of an election (I'd be interested as well).

I would like to draw your attention to a similar "campaign" in August/ September 2009 in Germany: One of the most important and influential blogs in Germany asked people to remix election campaign posters of the conservative party CDU.
- The photographer of the official pictures complained and tried to stop the call.
- The remix campaign was covered by some other media (TV).
- Almost 1,000 remixes were sent in, mainly the poster with the then minister of the interior Wolfgang Schaeuble who was heavily criticised for the plans to control/ censor websites and to store data of users. There was a massive online campaign against these plans.

In the end the conservative party CDU won the elections in September, Angela Merkel is still chancellor but the Federal Constitutional Court recently judged that the bill for storing online data is against the German constitution. So, was there an influence by the remix campaign?

Some links:

200 poster remixes on Flickr:
Blog post with call to remix (almost 1,000 comments on that):
Best remixes of posters:
TV report about the campaign and on the photographer's complaint:

Sorry, if you cannot read the German blog posts...

  • Mar 07, 2010 11:46 am

Good point on the fact less than 0.5% of the voting population will actually see the site. But how many will see the images that have been republished in the national newspapers?
My david cameron have said they wont be satirising the next tory poster, knowing its had its day. Still, this hasnt the tories from making their own p-poor fake poster sites. What will be next? The posters have already been turned into a 3d game ( and other copy sites are springing up.

  • Mar 14, 2010 04:58 am