Darren Lilleker and Richard Scullion (eds.), Voters or Consumers. Imagining the Contemporary Electorate.
Commonly known as the fundamental basis for contemporary democracies, elections have the double task of legitimizing the political system and providing representatives to the people. Connected with the latter, voters' preferences and the reasons behind preference formation become relevant to understand a certain outcome. Lilleker and Scullion's volume address the question of electoral choice from the economic perspective of the voter as consumer. Locating their work within the political marketing literature, the two editors investigate if politics is seen by the ordinary citizen as part of a consumption diet. The pursuit of such a goal may shed light on the debated issue of the uniqueness and social implications of voting behavior. If the latter appears to be nothing more than a simple consumerist practice motivated and impeded by market incentives and practices, then the political processes should change and adapt accordingly.
The dilemma of identifying voters with consumers guides this collection of ten chapters (excluding the introduction and conclusion) and allows the structuring of ideas in three main themes, symmetrically structured by chapters. Starting from the ground, the first three chapters conceptualize political consumerism and parallel the relationships between consumers in markets and voters. The following four chapters tackle the political marketization of political parties and the media effect on the consumerist behavior of voters. In doing so, the authors introduce two relevant institutional channels in contemporary societies. Among their multiple functions, political parties and media shape behaviors and help forming various perceptions that lead to attitudes. From this perspective, their roles become increasingly interdependent in supplying information to the electorate, being relevant if they see the latter as consumer or voter. The final three chapters emphasize the electorate's perceptions, participation, and attitudes towards the electoral process (including campaigns).
Despite the wide range of approached topics and analyzed countries, the volume is homogenous due to the basic common structure. Beyond such an easy to follow and clear format, the innovation of this book resides in the identification of new relationships between the public and politics. Political ideas are suppressed to allow image features to play a role in the electorate's decisions with the possibility of overlap between the agenda setting and the image created to reflect the agenda (p. 236). Consequently, politics is presented to citizens by parties and media as brands are advertised to consumers. Voters lose their features of active participants in the political process, behave like consumerists and this enhances consistent approaches from institutional actors involved in elections. Despite its plausibility and parsimony, this logic is restricted solely to behavior in electoral times.
Lilleker and Scullion's book complements existing theories of voting behavior and highlight shaded areas of the broad picture. The evidence revealing the complex nature of relationships between voters and politics indicates that the economic narrow and short-term reasoning, usually at the individual level, is not the only game in town. Voters' perceptions, cognitions, and subsequent behaviors (most of the time at polls) are fueled by the information received. With political parties as main emitters and media quite often as agenda setter, voters pick and choose between two sides of the same coin: citizens (with duties and actively involved in politics) or consumers. The adaptation strategies of political parties account for voters' choices and future political messages reflect the electorate's previous attitudes.
A further asset of the volume is the two-sided approach of the same issues and thus providing the reader with a comprehensive set of analytical tools. To focus solely on the key-argument of what happens with the electorate when media treats it as a consumer, there are two perspectives. On the one hand, Savigny argues for the impossibility of developing political consciousness among the voters when they are subjected to such messages. On the other hand, Scullion without accepting the exclusive dichotomy between consumer and citizen, sees the consumerist messages as a necessary condition to enhance citizenship. The market choice can be often seen as a continuous opportunity for individuals to practice, revise, and perfect their perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors (p. 67). Three other chapters, authored by Lilleker, Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd, and Dean, summarize the latter argument: a close to reality evaluation of an electorate's consumerist or voter features is possible only by understanding its involvement in politics.
The increased role of media, the diversity of chosen communication channels, and the role media plays for the political message and agenda setting comes as no surprise looking at the background of the editors. Nevertheless, as these intermediary voices filter information and display certain attitudes towards citizens, it is relevant to closely look at the effects they may cause and investigate the causes of their behavior. Political parties are put in a similar light, both as initial emitters of messages and as organizations with adaptation potential, sensitive to the electoral environment in campaign and electoral times.
With a homogenous structure, clear writing style, logical and empirical connections between chapters, and with a systematic approach of the triadic relationship of voter-citizen-consumer, this book addresses relevant issues in the literature of voting behavior and challenges existing beliefs. By doing so, it provides a broader picture that makes political science students and scholars further delve into the topic. Although the inclusion of the few case studies used in the book deserves more attention in order to eliminate any suspicion of biased selection, the numerous merits of the volume transform it into a relevant contribution to existing research.
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|Publication:||CEU Political Science Journal|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2010|
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