OPINION

A question of style and substance

a-question-of-style-and-substance

Greece’s opposition parties – New Democracy foremost, but also Movement for Change (KINAL) – have to assess the facts and choose what kind of opposition style they are going to adopt in the final days leading up to the European elections, as well as during the protracted (or perhaps very short) period ahead of the general elections.

If their objective is to rally their existing supporters, perhaps they are right to adopt a more aggressive tone that plays well with these audiences. That same tone, however, is often off-putting to middle-ground voters, citizens who might not be happy with the government, but have yet to pick a side, people who are worried but still undecided.

If we accept the traditional rationale that governments are elected by the middle ground – which usually consists of 10-15 percent of voters who are not blinded by party loyalty and are more open-minded to a different point of view and therefore shift between parties – then maybe the opposition’s tough-guy posturing is not the best approach.

Politicians can shout and even insult, but could end up as losers for the simple reason that their high-handed tone has repelled that critical mass of undecided voters.

Neither the hard core nor fervent supporters are enough to win an election. Parties need the additional voters on the outside, the people who are willing to listen and even to be convinced of the opposition’s narrative. This instrumental category of voter demands serious positions from a political, economic and, indeed, even moral standpoint.

Different officials from the same party who share the same ideology can say the same thing in a different way – and in the process get a different result. A moderate politician can exercise scathing criticism of government policy, but will do so in a language that is welcome to the undecided voters, thus increasing the likelihood of earning broader support and, ultimately, winning.

A typical example of this are New Democracy’s two vice presidents: both serve the same narrative, more or less, and both have served at major ministries. The purpose of this column is not to discuss the skills or weaknesses of each, but to highlight their differences in delivery. These two officials will always have their own style and approach, and perhaps there is room for both in the party’s strategy. But at the end of the day, the issue is how harsh or moderate a message the party wants to send. It is a strategic choice and an important one at that.

The style adopted by the opposition parties in the final stretch to the polls may prove as pivotal in the present circumstances as the substance of their criticism against the government and the policy proposals they present to the people.