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‘Searching for something to believe in’: Voter uncertainty in a post-truth environment

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As other authors in this collection have stated, post-truth came into common parlance as commentators analysed and reflected on election campaigns and their results: the suggestion being that emotions and beliefs had become more powerful than reasoned, fact-based argumentation. Given that most campaigns present their own redacted perspective of reality into an environment containing multiple, contested alternative interpretations, the association between the most contested variant of a campaign, a political contest and post-truth is unsurprising. All campaigns contain elements of post-truth, appeals to emotions that build bridges between that which is sold and the identity of the consumer. Campaigns may encourage people to think but also to feel, and as such campaign strategies chime with understandings of human engagement and the levels of cognitive attention given, with many decisions being gut responses rather than being carefully considered. Our research focuses on two UK contests: the 2016 referendum on membership of the EU and the subsequent 2017 snap general election. Interviews among older voters who voted to leave the EU and younger voters who supported Corbyn-led Labour provide insights into how what might be seen as peripheral aspects influenced voting decisions. The data we suggest highlight challenges for democratic institutions as populist voices present themselves as change agents to win support from voters dissatisfied with consensus politics. Mainstream politicians meanwhile are mistrusted while the arguments of outsiders who appear authentic are given credence. Such observations go to the heart of issues facing democracy and place debates surrounding post-truth as core to those challenges. This article offers insights into how voter choices reveal cognitive processes that explain the link between campaign communication, belief formation and voter choice-making, all of which combine to threaten democracy.
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Keywords: UK politics; elaboration likelihood model; elections; perception politics; peripheral cues; schema

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bournemouth University

Publication date: September 1, 2018

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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