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Behavioural Design Digest
March 22nd, 2019

Predictable Populism

For those of you who missed it: we had an election night last night in The Netherlands. The far-right populist rookie Thierry Baudet came from out of nowhere to become the biggest party in the Dutch Senate. Pretty impressive. 

He ran on a predictable platform of anti-immigration, anti-EU and most of all: anti-establishment. The irony is that Baudet - a young urban intellectual dandy - is as establishment as can be, who runs his own party  - ironically called Forum for Democracy - like an autocrat. People didn't seem to mind the lack of congruence between his words and his deeds. 

I can't look inside the heads of those who voted for him. He obviously did a great job in hijacking people's attention and in connecting with their fears. He was able to turn their deepest frustrations against the ruling political class. These are pretty straight-forward text-book tactics, used and perfected by populists around the globe. The signature of Steve Bannon is all over Baudet's campaign. 

Playing the mental availability game

What's more interesting to me is the way he succeeded in owning the media during the campaign. And as we know since Byron Sharp's book "How Brands Grow", there's a direct link between more mental availability and growth in market share. Thierry Baudet perfectly understands that media rewards those with spectacular stories, outrageous views and provocative acts. Whereas the other parties decided to stop campaigning right before election day in the aftermath of the tragic event - a man killed 3 people in the city of Utrecht - Baudet refused to stick to this gentlemen's agreement.

The effect: He owned national media for the last two days before the election. Not only because the media debated endlessly about his stunt, but also because the other parties simply were baited into talking about him. A classic "Don't Think of an Elephant"-moment. It was impossible not to think about Baudet.

Given the fact that 50% of Dutch voters were still undecided one week before the election, this "mental availability"-moment probably tipped his market share from second place in the polls to become market leader on election night. 

Political Campaigning is about asking simpler questions

As I argued before in this newsletter: people answer a different question in the voting booth. They answer questions like: Who will fight for me? Who will punish those who betrayed me? Who will protect me against the forces that are threatening me? Whom do I love to listen to? Who will be good fun and spectacle? Who will take revenge in the name of the little man against the powerful? These are the questions that our System 1 (our unconsciousness) are answering. 

Baudet was providing the public with these questions for months, but he won the mental availability game right before the election. Voters don't want to think too hard. So they went with the last thing that came to mind and the easiest question to answer. 

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That's all for this week, we hope to catch you next week!

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