Focus groups and political marketing: Science and democracy as axiomatic?

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    Abstract

    Focus groups are an established and influential way of generating public opinion data. They have been extensively used by the British Labour Party and are more broadly associated with marketing. Focus groups, as referred to within much of the political marketing literature and used in political practice, are underpinned by two central but largely implicit claims: first, that the use of focus groups is scientific; second, this claim to science is conflated with the normative assertion that focus groups enhance the democratic process. This article renders explicit and disentangles these underlying assumptions that inform the theory and practice of focus groups. These theoretical concerns are illustrated by reference to the Labour Party, in particular its modernisation process during the build-up to the 1997 election. By separating and interrogating these basic premises two salient issues subsequently emerge. First, it is contended that the use of focus groups, in the political marketing literature and in political practice violates ‘scientific’ principles. Second, it is argued that over-reliance on focus groups challenges normative claims to democracy, by confining the potential for democratic debate to the few, rather than the many.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)122-137
    Number of pages16
    JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
    Volume9
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007

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