Last week Iain Dale, an influential journalist and commentator, lamented that the “good plain old-fashioned party poster” stuck in the window of a supporter’s home has been “driven out of politics by thuggery and fear.”
He points to the regularity with which angry trolls abuse people on social media for their political views and extrapolates out that activists must see this unpleasant online behaviour and decide not to highlight their political views to their neighbours in real life.
I would agree with his observation: it’s certainly more difficult to persuade voters to display their political affiliations in their window and as this is the case, it is rare that one sees a poster on show in this way.
But his diagnosis of the underlying cause of the problem – “aggression shown on social media” – isn’t quite right.
The root cause of supporters not wanting to display posters in their windows is that the old societal cleavages that bound people together and made them likely to vote in a certain way have decayed (more on this here).
In the past, you could be fairly confident about the way in which the majority of people in your immediate locality would vote; particular streets with particular sorts of houses typically contained particular types of voters.
It was this confidence that meant that people felt comfortable in displaying their affection for a candidate or party in the form of a window poster.
Supporters would subconsciously make the calculation that most people who would see the poster would broadly share their political view; fear of reprisal – physical or social – was therefore minimal.
In addition, because the old cleavages like class and income have weakened, people generally feel less connected to the political parties who were founded to cater for those divisions in society.
So, not only are supporters less willing to broadcast their views in the form of a window poster, there are fewer people who would consider themselves a supporter even in the broadest sense.