Several FT readers have asked me to provide the methodology Vote Leave employed to win this referendum. I did some investigation into this tragedy when an American name popped up in the news.
The Guardian’s Emily Bell described it as follows: A political system which abandons facts and a media ecosystem which does not filter for truth asks too much of people
I have written up the methods because the method employed is one climate campaigners already know about and it might be time well invested to learn from in the future.
Firstly Vote Leave did not design the campaign. Washington DC base political referendum consultants Goddard Gunster were employed by Aaron Banks to come up with the method, the messages, and the program management. Gerry Gunster then worked with data mining company Cambridge Analytica and a 300,000 strong grassroots membership to understand how to direct different messages to different worldviews that existed in a large representative sample of the 17 million people who voted. Gunster said ““Numbers do not lie, quantifiable data will direct the message and the messengers. I’m going to follow the data”.”
These were the question we looked into last week.
1. Who came up with all the incendiary lines used in the Vote Leave campaign?
2. Who recommended to Aaron Banks to NOT put Nigel Farrage forward as a principal in the campaigns?
3. Who came up with the line ‘decent people’ when describing the fight on their hands and the victory to Pro Leave?
4. Who claims to “…have mastered the art of intersecting client interests with the self-interests of voters?” using the language and expression the voters themselves use?
5. Who came up with the approach that “different messages chime with different people, whether they are from different parties, or no party at all. But the result is always the same. As people engage with the issue, as they begin to understand it, they appreciate the United Kingdom can do so much better outside the European Union.”
6. Who designed the 5-element campaign for Vote Leave?:
This is described in the 5 elements set out
“Building a successful coalition allows us to position our clients as part of a larger group comprised of prominent citizens, (James Dyson, JCB’s owner Sir Anthony Bamford), business groups (Telegraph 200 small firms list), academicians (Professor Patrick Minford), experts (Ruth Lea*, Roger Bootle), and elected officials (Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsome, Michael Gove, Gisela Stuart). We then leverage the support or endorsements of these groups or their individual representatives in a variety of campaign communications.” (This effect depends on the echo chamber of broadcasting policy demanding listeners hear both sides of a viewpoint, and the Leave campaign cherry picking specific and well known people supporting their viewpoint for the broadcasters always to turn to. By concentrating on the well known individuals, the mass of alternative evidence from equally credible but far more numerous alternative viewpoints rarely got aired and never got remembered.)
7. Who came up with the idea of using Vote Leave’s suddenly materialised 300,000 registrants as a grassroots ‘peoples campaign’ army of the ‘decent people and fleeced donations out of them as well as being funded for millions by Mr Banks? (The use of the 300,000 were as a polling pool was for Cambridge Analytica to understand the different worldviews that existed in the pool for message development. This business worldview dislikes EU beaucracy. We believe they will respond to the message ‘Burn the legislation. Take back Control.’ The Cambridge Analytica data shows there’s a lot of these. We’ll put James Dyson up for this. Another worldview Cambridge Analytica would have found is large and hostile to immigration. They seek security. We believe they’ll come out for ‘Immigrants raise house prices. Stop them coming here and create affordable housing. Take back control.’ Nigel Farrage should lead on this. He can be as outrageous as possible. The result was that voices were put up to explain the benefits of immigration, but this was totally drowned out. The message was a dream for the Sun, Mail, and Express.)
8. Who suggested that if you wanted to hear about Border Control problems then people wouldn’t want to hear from Westminster, they would prefer to listen to an ex-Border Control Officer?
9. Who works for the junk food and drinks industries, and right wing politicians, and fights recyclers?
10. Who was hired by Vote Leave and Ukip, and funded by Aaron Banks to fool a mostly lower income lower educated but substantial part of the UK Population to vote for the UK to leave the EU?
11. Who claims to win 9 out of 10 Referendum fights whenever they get involved?
The entire campaign to get 17 million people to vote agains the EU was masterminded by Gerry Gunster of Goddard Gunster, Political Consultants, based in Washington and London. The website shows the methods at: http://goddardgunster.com/capabilities/
Benjamin Franklyn said: “when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.”
Gerry Gunster told The Washingtonian the following “My role with Leave.EU was to provide strategic advice on the mechanics of running a referendum campaign. I brought them the methodology and the science behind how best to win, based on my experience of running many ballot measure campaigns here in the U.S.”
The method outlined by Gerry Gunster and Vote Leave to win the EU vote is on the YouTube video here:
and clearly outlined in earlier campaigns, ‘Stop Forced Deposits’, when the bottling industry fought campaigners trying to increase bottle recycling:
and New Yorkers for Beverage Choices’, where the junk food industry fought off attempts by mayor Bill de Blasio to downsize huge takeaway drinks and meals:
Note very carefully the use of the absence of facts in both these clips, and the identical ways used to make people ‘feel they were in control’.
To perfect the messaging Gunster used a data analytics company called Cambridge Analytica who looked to see what lines people would respond to most, then changed the messaging to suit. So if you had a racist voter you would say “Stop immigration. Vote Leave and take back control”. It looks like they fell on this quite late in the campaign. The YouTube video explains Cambridge Analytica’s method.
None of this was secret, though similar methods have been developing in the UK over the last few years, but nothing as strong as this. The Remain campaigners just did not join up the dots and never saw this coming. All remainers saw was half the population rising to support a fact free proposition that never existed. The message lines that Goddard Gunster agreed with Vote EU (NHS, Immigration) were removed from their website on the day of the result, and the removal noted by The Guardian, but few else.
The Guardian reported: “This week Banks revealed that a central plank of the leave campaign’s successful strategy emerged from advice taken from the US election strategists Goddard Gunster that “facts don’t work”.”
What then emerged on 1st July was that Aaron Banks had sought hypnotist Paul McKenna’s help with the Goddard Gunster devised videos. McKenna appears to have helped out but is declining to say what he actually did.
How to fight this next time
The University of Queensland has developed a series of techniques designed to fight this kind of disinformation war against climate deniers, and these methods are transferrable to political disinformation. It’s a 1 year course called Denial 101X. I have created a campaign handbook using their techniques, and using it in a campaign to protect a pub against developers in Camden Town. The campaign is working very well though we haven’t won it yet.
The steps (very broadly) are:
i) Inoculate – tell people how these fact-free campaigns operate, the tactics used to roll over opinion, and give examples. The campaigns only work when people don’t know what is happening.
ii) Fact – state your BIG INCONTROVERTIBLE POINT. For example, The EU has brought us peace and prosperity since 1945.
iii) Myth – state Some campaigners will argue the EU is no longer functioning and we should leave. They will bring on fake experts with unrepresentative opinions and cherry picked evidence to support their case. They’ll use broadcasting impartiality rules to ensure only these few experts are available for interview.
iv) Fallacy – It is true that the EU is not perfect, but it has given the longest European peacetime dividend ever. However Vote Leave’s Mrs X, or Mr Y said the opposite of what they said this time (evidence) and their professional peers think this of them. Then disclose their links to parties who seek to benefit out of the EU leaving (though in this case it is somewhat hard to see if anyone benefits at the moment.)
If you would like a copy of the handbook, which I do need to update to include the Goddard Gunster methods, just email email@example.com and ask.
EU referendum: Controversial Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks on why he’s happy to put noses out of joint
Gerry Gunster, the Border Control Officer idea
EU referendum: 200 small firm bosses and entrepreneurs tell Britons to vote for Brexit
Look into my eyes: Leave.EU campaign consulted TV hypnotist
Five Questions for Gerry Gunster, the DC Strategist Who Ran the “Leave” Campaign
The truth about Brexit didn’t stand a chance in the online bubble – Emily Bell
With kind regards
*Ruth Lea has just said on Radio 4 Broadcasting House today that the markets are calming, the UK currency is 5% lower against other currencies and there is great demand for gilts. The only reason that gilts are higher is because of uncertainty, not because of confidence. And of course devaluing a nation’s currency is hardly the best way to provide true competitive advantage in exporting – 3rd July 2016