Fear and loathing….and public policy

The first major debate of the coming election was held tonight between the Chancellor of Exchequer and the opposition spokespersons.

One of the issues is how much the forthcoming election campaigns will play on fear – whether it is of change or of the status quo?

This is not just an issue for politicians. Often in public policy health campaigns may play on fear of ill-health to make a strong point.

However politicians and public health professionals need to think in nuanced ways about this.

Recent research that has just been reported by the British Psychological Society indicates that people’s level of fear may vary.

This again illustrates the need to segment the population through in-depth insight. Often this segmentation is done on the basis of how people have already behaved, which is of course useful. At the same time one can also now segment people through their values and attitudes to look at why they might behave the way they do.

Levels of pessimism as well as varying levels of fear may reflect differing views over fatalism as a result of differing values and outlooks on life.

This is something that politicians as well as public health professionals might therefore wish to look at in more depth, before committing themselves to any course of action.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer of the Campaign Company

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