It’s a common claim from Conservatives and political commentators that David Cameron’s personal ratings will deliver them victory in a year’s time. However a Survation poll for the Mail on Sunday at the weekend questions this assumption. The pollsters asked voters to explain which factors were most important to them in determining how they vote. They found that the individual leader was not the most important factor for most people.
When asked to rank the following factors in order of how much they affect which party people choose, the most important were:
- The policies set out in the party’s manifesto 37%
- The quality of the party’s leader 17%
- The broader ethos of the party 17%
- The quality of my local MP 13%
- Preventing another party getting into power 10%
- The quality of the party’s potential ministers 7%
Far from the assumption that we’re in a quasi-Presidential age, voters say the ‘broader ethos’ of the party matters as much as the individual leader. ‘Undecided voters’ in the poll also found that the policies were most important to them with the quality of the local MP marginally more important than the quality of the party leader:
- The policies set out in the party’s manifesto 33%
- The quality of my local MP 21%
- The quality of the party’s leader 20%
- The broader ethos of the party 12%
- Preventing another party getting into power 8%
- The quality of the party’s potential ministers 6%
The findings of this poll should provide a reassurance and a challenge to the Labour Party. While the press pack may pontificate about different strengths and weaknesses of the party leaders (including how well one eats a bacon sandwich in front of a camera) – the voters are looking for something else. A clear campaign with identifiable and memorable policies, consistent with a party’s ethos will likely give the party best chance of appealing to a broad range of voters. Wrapping up these policies with a party’s values and ethos won’t put off voters but would in fact likely to help broaden its appeal.
The poll also suggests that for those campaigning against a sitting Coalition MP, the record of the MP should be put under sustained scrutiny to win over undecided voters. This is all within Labour’s grasp. If the strength of a party’s policies will determine the next election then it only increases the importance of its policy development process. However these policies are going to need to be memorable to the public and consistent with the party’s ethos to give it best chance of winning most votes in 2015.
Neil Foster is the head of Progressive Polling. Full data tables from Survation can be found here (table14).