Comment – Negative Political Campaigning

My local Labour party (@gedlinglabour) have let themselves down with a leaflet that spends the majority of its space being negative and barley saying a word about what they are going to do if they are elected.

I’ll start with the facts and then explain.

The Labour and Conservative parties have both distributed a four page leaflet. Each contains a mixture of text and pictures. The difference is the Labour one uses almost all the space informing the reader how poor the policies of the opposition are, while the Conservative one talks almost exclusively about what they will do if they get re-elected.

  • Labour:
    • total word count of 493;
    • positive words equals 69;
    • negative words equals 424.
  • Conservative:
    • total word count of 1037;
    • positive words equals 951;
    • negative words equals 86.

In percentage terms, that’s Labour with 86% of their time spent on negative propaganda and the Conservatives with only 8%.

I did not go out looking for these figures, I was merely reading both leaflets whilst trying to decide which party to vote for. My primary concern was which party would do the best for the area I live in. After flipping through the pages of the Labour leaflet I was shocked at how little information they offered and how much time they spent saying how bad everyone else was. This led me to do the word count.

The approach Labour have taken could well be the right one as far as they are concerned. I am sure they have researched their market and found it will be more beneficial if they deride the others rather than offer their own solutions. I would rather have seen them telling local constituents all the improvements they would bring to the area, and I always hoped I was not in a minority with that view. Still, it saddens me that every election comes down to this. Whether it is posters implying the other candidates are of dubious character, or headlines that spin the facts in a negative way, there seems to be little room in the current political world to say positive things and plenty of time to pull apart everyone else.


My definitions:

  • word counts exclude address and other miscellaneous text;
  • positive words refers to all those that are part of sentences that talk about what the party has done or will do to help the local community;
  • negative words refer to all those that are part of the sentences that bring up what the opponents (of any party) have done good or bad (there are not actually any good ones, but I was hoping).

I should also add that at the time of writing the Liberal Democrats had not delivered anything to my address. With both leaflets I have counted hyphenated letters as single words and I am happy to admit I might have a few small mistakes. I doubt, however, that any of these will have changed the facts significantly.

Design and layout could also be discussed, but that is a whole other post and not my forte.