"The election battle will be succeeded by the battle of the election books..."Philip Cowley has asked us what we would call the last election? I think we should name it the Don’t Know Election.
Ipsos MORI have just produced an overview of the election. One of the most staggering findings is the extent to which prior to the campaign people did not know which party had the best policies. Some of this is understandable: generally people were more likely to not have an opinion if they thought an issue unimportant.
Even so, giving the rankings of importance in brackets, it is still striking how little people knew about the parties’ policies: 58 per cent on climate change (12th); 46 per cent on immigration (4th) as well as defence (16th); 40 per cent on benefits (8th); 37 per cent on crime (7th) as well as unemployment (6th); 36 per cent on the economy (1st); and 34 per cent on health (2nd).
Of course some of the blame should be attached to the parties – they were obviously not communicating well (and on immigration that might have been deliberate) but I suspect a lot of people were not listening.
Widespread ignorance of the issues is nothing new. In that by-gone and probably mythical age when people were said to vote on class grounds they did not decide which party to support on policy grounds but out of inbred loyalty. This meant that sometimes solid Labour voters were unknowing Conservatives and vice versa.
Now the short cut people use is their assessment of the party leader – which is why the leaders’ debates was such a significant innovation, and played such a crucial role in the campaign. It is personality as much as policy that now influences people – another finding from the Ipsos MORI overview – if only because it’s easier to make those kind of judgements.
However, that’s just one view. Others will emerge over the coming months as academics come to terms with the campaign, its very peculiar course and idiosyncratic outcome. The election battle will be succeeded by the battle of the election books.
Philip Cowley is associated with one, the so-called Nuffield study (even if neither of the authors is now based at Nuffield). I am associated with another, a bit of a latecomer into the field, as while Nuffield is a series that goes back to 1945 the Geddes and Tonge series started in 1997 (although that now does seem a long way away).
Those contributing to this book – to be published in Parliamentary Affairs in October and by Oxford University Press as a book soon after - will be gathering to discuss the election at a workshop hosted by the Centre for British Politics at Nottingham on June 4th. Some of the leading experts in the field will be there. If you would like to attend more details are available.
Like voting, it’s free.
Professor Steven Fielding