Political messages that stir targeted sets of voters without unsettling others.
“The whole point of a dog whistle is that a dog can hear it, but humans cannot. The whole point of “dog-whistle” issues is that they rouse voters who agree with the party promoting them, while leaving everyone else unmoved.”
- Mary Ann Sieghart, The Times
The idea of a high-pitched dog-whistle issue hit the headlines during the 2005 General Election campaign. Michael Howard’s ‘core vote’ messages on asylum, immigration, gypsies and abortion were supposed to register with target voters – without upsetting others with more delicate political stomachs. DWIs were thought to be the brainchildren of Lynton Crosby - the man who had masterminded John Howard’s Australian victories. Dog-whistle issues in their purest form are untempered by ‘good for my neighbour’ messages.
The Times’ Ms Sieghart was unimpressed:
“Sadly for Michael Howard… the more he gets the dogs slavering, the more the rest of us are repelled… I don’t doubt that his emphasis on [dog-whistle issues] will help to increase turnout among his core voters. But you don’t win elections with 32% of the vote.”
The "repulsion" felt by Ms Sieghart may have been what Labour needed to motivate its own disillusioned supporters. Many of Labour's supporters - angered by the war in Iraq - could overcome their resistance to re-electing Tony Blair because of the Tories' dog whistle policies.
But are there issues that the public are talking about… but which politicians cannot hear, or will not listen to?
There are some issues that never seem to register in the Westminster village. Every opinion poll shows majority support for capital punishment, for example, but the issue is completely off the political agenda. Perhaps Britain is not so close to a consumer-led democracy as some believe.
Another issue that worries the public is media standards. Many parents are struggling to resist the influence of transgressive media on their children. Whether it’s teenage girls’ magazines and their relentless sexual suggestiveness, or the violence of much before-the-watershed TV, parents receive next to no backing from Westminster’s politicians.
Politicians are unwilling to even use their bully pulpit to highlight media excesses. They seem afraid to confront the powerful journalists who might turn on them if they question the gluttonous idea that all media-liberty-is-sacrosanct.