In last week’s post, we discussed some of the social media content of the various groups contesting the EU referendum. While social media is an important part of the campaigning, it is not the only part, so this week our focus shifts to the wider set of materials that the groups produce.
Our sample is drawn from the websites of the assorted national groups that we have identified as working primarily on the referendum issue. That ranges from the big three (Vote Leave, Leave.EU and StrongerIn) to more focused and specific groups. You’ll see that since last week that list has grown with the launching of Remain and Leave groups around the Conservative party and we will be continuing to add in any others that we find.
More specifically, we are looking at the news items that are posted on the websites plus other documents that we uploaded, such as reports or briefings.
We expect that these items will overlap with the social media monitoring that we do, but will offer a group the opportunity to elaborate on their ideas. Without the same pressure to refine and abbreviate the content, groups have the opportunity here to spell out the full logic behind their ideas and positions. This is of interest not simply as an academic exercise, but also as a part of the public debate around the referendum, because by understanding that logic better, we might develop a better insight into what the outcome of the vote (either way) might actually mean.
As much as all the groups here are interested principly in winning the vote, they also represent different schools of thoughts about what the UK’s relationship should be with the European Union. The referendum itself will not determine what the relationship should look like in any detail, only whether the UK should be in or out of the organisation. As readers will have noticed, that leaves a wide range of options (something that StrongerIn have drawn on when attacking Leavers).
While some of that discussion necessarily has to wait until after the vote, that has not stopped groups suggesting different options and different logics for why those options should be taken. It’s also part of making a strong pitch to voters: the more that a group can speak to a vision of how things might be, and tap into the more emotional side of the debate – making Britain great again, building a more secure society – the more opportunity they have to sidestep the generally low level of public engagement so far. You might not know much about the detail of what’s being discussed, but you can buy into how a group makes you feel more generally.
Part of that affective strategy is also how you position yourself in relation to other groups. Do you simply ignore them and press on with your own message(s), or do you try to point out the errors and inconsistencies of your opponents? Do you talk about how your ideas are good or about how the other lot’s are bad? Each has its strengths, but equally each has drawbacks, not least the reputation impact. Certainly, as we saw last week, going negative leaves you open to the charge of being negative, which in turn allows the accuser to try and claim some of the moral high ground.
What’s being said?
With all of this in mind, what do the groups talk about?
Below we present word clouds for all of the groups. We visited each of the group’s websites and looked for news, article or blog features from which we pulled the posts from the 4th to 10th February. There are a couple of things to note here: 1) Conservatives for Reform in Europe does not have a news, blog or article section on their website; and 2) Scientists 4 EU, Labour Leave and Grassroots Out had produced no such items in the last week.
Looking within this, we can note that, as last week, the Remain and Leave camps seem to have very similar focuses, with much discussion of leaving. In part this might be explained by the volume of items from StrongerIn being much smaller than that of the Leave groups: five pieces against 21 this week. This means that the absolute number of references to leaving is still quite small. However, this imbalance in production of items is, in of itself, of interest, suggesting that the Remain campaign is not generating nearly as much potential material for media channels to report on, which in turn reduces its ability to shape the agenda of public debate. A good example of this is Scientists for EU, who have not produced any news items since November of last year.
Aside from this, the groups are making efforts to use video, pictures and other types of material in their postings. For example, Conservatives for Britain focuses on Parliamentary debates and the opinions of MPs to make their case, so the news items feature a number of extracts and clips of debates in Parliament. We will be looking at how we can bring summaries of this in the coming weeks.