Does fear of leftist bullies skew polls, social media?

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As they did in Israel in March, the pollsters misread the sentiments of the British electorate leading to last Thursday's general election. What was supposed to be a dead heat between the Conservative and Labour Parties, with a likely hung parliament and a possible constitutional crisis, turned out to be a clear majority for the Tories. The consensus is that British voters -- specifically English voters -- did not want Labour leader and staunch socialist Ed Miliband as prime minister, and they turned out to vote Conservative to prevent that eventuality.

But why were the polls so far off? Janet Daley, writing in The Telegraph, thinks the "Shy Tory" phenomenon is a reaction to leftist bullies.

Somehow we have arrived at a point where the conscientiously held beliefs and values of the majority of the population have become a matter for secret shame. The desire to do as well as you can in life, to develop your potential and expect to be rewarded for it, to provide your family with the greatest possible opportunity for self-improvement and to do that on your own without being dependent on the state - these are the assumptions that seem to have become so unacceptable that identifying with them is beyond the pale, or at least so socially outrageous that it is not worth the ignominy of admitting to them.

The Left has so dominated the conversation and so noisily traduced the "petit bourgeois" values that guide the lives of what used to be called the "respectable working class" that, ironically, it is only the most socially confident who can openly embrace them. The very people whom Labour needs to attract (and which it did attract when it had re-invented itself as New Labour) are once again being bullied into hiding their true attitudes and opinions.

So they prevaricate and evade when asked how they will vote because they are intimidated by the condemnation of the Left-wing mob, or else they just are not self-assured enough to make the moral case (even in their own minds) for their choice. But when they reach the sacred solitude of the voting booth, they do what they know must be done for the sake of their own futures, and that of their families, and even of those the Left insists are being disadvantaged - because they genuinely believe that dependency is a bad thing and that self-determination is a social good.

In the end, what does the Left (and its army of media friends) accomplish by all this activist pressure on public opinion? In a circle of mutually congratulatory agreement, the liberal establishment may demonise the social attitudes of the majority until they are blue in the face. They may succeed - as indeed they obviously have - in making ordinary people afraid to utter their real views. But there is a dreadful price to be paid: if you browbeat people into withdrawing from the debate, then you will never know how robust their convictions are - until it is too late and you have catastrophically lost an election, or staked your professional credibility on unsound predictions.

This is the danger of the activist trap. As I said last week, if you are surrounded by a crowd of people whose opinions are identical to yours then together you can make a great deal of noise. But what you don't hear is the silence of those outside the crowd. If parties of the Left are ever to become electable again, they will have to stop shouting and listen.

Young Conservative Lewis Barber wondered why, given the economic success of the Conservative-led government elected in 2010, the party's supporters were shy about voicing support on social media:

So, why is there such hesitancy among Conservative voters to support this record? The simple answer is that for many, particularly students like myself, it is still seen as taboo to support the Conservative Party. F**k Tories signs dotted across university, student unions dominated by the far left - who worry more about solidarity with Peruvian revolutionaries than they do about issues for students on campus - and being called a murderer for expressing right wing opinions - all combine to make it feel as if the Left has a monopoly on university life.

Nonetheless, nowhere is being a shy Tory more encouraged than on social media, specifically Facebook, where any movement away from the "progressive line" is treated as treason. Tories are seen as inherently bad. Those who support fiscal sensibility are painted as devious or tricksters who have pulled the wool over an electorate made out to be naturally left wing. On an event created to "Stop the Tory Coup" one user claimed the election was "a fix" - and started to organise a protest against the democratic outcome.

After the election such self-righteousness continued. One Facebook user claimed that someone was simply "wrong" when a friend posted he thought Britain had made the right decision. Another Facebook user claimed the electorate were "simply not ready for someone who knew what they were doing" in reference to the poor showing by Miliband's party.

John Leisk, from Colchester, a seat that swung to Conservatives against polling, gave what he thought was the reason for him being a shy Tory: " Supporters of Labour and other left wing parties are convinced they have the moral high ground and that any disagreement is inhumane, as a result any confession of Tory support is shouted down and abused." Is it worth the effort? Not really.

I think Janet Daley is a bit too sanguine about the activist trap. The Left benefits when they succeed in shouting people down. If the silent majority remains silent, the next generation gets the impression that those views are invalid. If no one dares defend an idea, it must be indefensible. If no one else expresses an opinion I hold, am I crazy to hold it?

That's why the Left is so insistent on driving conservatives out of positions of cultural influence. Rush Limbaugh and the conservative talk radio revolution he led have been crucial to the morale of ordinary conservatives. A conservative college professor can be a lifeline to a wavering student from a conservative background. A sharp-tongued essayist like Matt Walsh may not make many converts, but he provides reassurance and encouragement to social conservatives by articulating the rationale undergirding our convictions.

The challenge for conservative organizations, activists, and citizens is to find ways to get their messages of encouragement to their fellow conservatives and to defend conservative values in the hearing of persuadable friends, while denying the lefties a venue for their demoralizing efforts. There are technologies available for those who know where to look.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 10, 2015 11:26 PM.

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