Rise of single-issues

There has been an increase in campaigning around single issues as people express their values and political identities in new ways (see engagement in formal politics).  Non-electoral participation is increasing or stable (e.g. signing petitions and taking part in demonstrations). New technologies and the democratisation of the media have contributed to the rise.

What are the implications?

  • Increasing similarity between political parties as they compete for the centre ground and seek to be relevant to a range of single issues
  • Growth in identity politics around claims to rights, which are based on personal identity
  • Growing power of the media in influencing policy as it generates or reports single issue campaigns
  • An increasing need for a strategic overview and for bridging and mediation between groups and competing needs

Moving forward

The rise of single issues makes it easier to raise the profile of an issue either through mobilising your supporters or through the media.

  • Do you provide opportunities for your supporters to become actively involved in your campaigns, in a way that suits them?
  • Do you make the best possible use of the media to promote your campaigns? What new knowledge or skills might you need to do this?

Single issue campaigns are increasingly led by coalitions of organisations. 

  • Who are you currently working with, and are there other organisations who you could collaborate with to further raise the profile of your campaign?

The public’s growing engagement in single issues could be converted into a range of support (both financial and campaigning).

  • How do you promote your organisation (and campaigns) to potential new supporters?
  • Can you convert your current volunteers/supporters into donors and vice versa?

Want to know more?

Manufacturing dissent: Single-issue protest, the public and the press

Published by: Demos, a left of centre think tank

Date: 2005

Format: PDF

What is it? This report examines the rise of single issue politics, focusing on popular protest and the role of the media in shaping and sometimes creating dissent.

How useful is this? A good overview including statistics and discussion on disengagement from formal politics as well as an in-depth analysis of single issue politics.  It looks at a range of protest activities and includes a large number of case studies throughout.  It looks critically at the role of the media in creating and reporting protest and discusses both the benefits and drawbacks.

For the Common Good

Published by: Carnegie UK Trust a Foundation with a new Democracy and Civil Society Programme

Date: 2006

Format: PDF (1.74MB)

What is it? This report examines the role of civil society in tackling concerns about the democratic deficit.

How useful is this? The report is not explicitly on single issue politics but contains several references and links to it.  Chapter 7 in particular looks at non institutional civil society.  It considers newer forms of civil participation such as anti globalisation and environmental movements.  The Chapter explores possible reasons for this activity and looks at the role of ICT and the media.  It also considers possible negative aspects for exclusionary groups and a potential ‘shadow side’.

Other comments:

Mock election results reveal single issues high on the agenda for young voters

Published by: The Electoral Commission – an independent body set up by Parliament to ensure public confidence in the democratic system.

Date: 2004

Format: Web

What is it? An article on mock elections for students. It demonstrates different voting patterns to adult counterparts, including a preference for single issue parties.

How useful is this? A short article including statistics.

Other comments:

Last updated at 16:10 Wed 06/Feb/08.

Recent discussion

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Author Comment
Véronique's picture


Third Sector Foresight

“The Bono-isation of protest, particularly in the UK, has reduced discussion to a much safer terrain,” according to Naomi Klein the author of No Logo and more recently of The Shock Doctrine. In a recent article in the Times she is more than skeptical about the impact of celebrities engaging in campaigning. She’s also not keen on campaigning through blogs: “It’s safer to mouth off in a blog than to put your body on the line. The internet is an amazing organising tool but it also acts as a release, with the ability to rant and get instant catharsis . . . it’s taken that urgency away”.

This is very interesting. Crusaid is a single issue organisation (HIV and AIDS) and yet over the past five years we have seen many other organisations add HIV to their range of issues to campaign with and in the UK HIV services are being dilluted into general sexual health and other areas. We don’t see a rise of the single issue from where we stand, we see the demise of it. The dissolution of issues and causes into larger broadbrush approaches that are aimed at the 30-second attention span and become just noise can become a real threat to niche players like ourselves.

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