Last night we got a leaked version of the Labour manifesto. Over the next week it will be joined by the manifestos from all the other parties too. Lots of people will write articles about their impact. We will see polls asking about those policies and whether people approve of them. Lots of people will ask what impact they will have on voting intention or the result. The answer is probably not much. Specific policies make very little difference to voting intention.

This is counter-intuitive to many. Surely in an election on who is going to run the country, what they’ll say they’ll do will matter? One might very well well think it is what elections SHOULD be about. The thing is, it’s not really how people work.

First, most people don’t know what the policies are, so they can’t be influenced by them. One of the most difficult things for people who follow politics closely (which probably includes most people reading this) to grasp is how different they are from the vast majority who don’t pay much attention to politics. For example, in the first few weeks of the campaign Theresa May was the subject of mockery from people who follow politics for continually using the soundbite “strong and stable leadership”. While it sounded absurd to those of us who heard it a thousand times, when YouGov asked a representative sample of the public if they could recall any slogans or messages she had said only 15% remembered it. Most policies make no difference because most people have no knowledge of them.

Even if people were more aware of policies, it’s not really the sort of thing they vote upon. There is a huge body of academic research around elections and voter choice, and the general consensus is that the important factors in deciding how people vote are which party they normally identify with, what their perceptions are of the leaders are and which party they think would most competently handle the big issues of the day.

As human beings we don’t tend to be particularly good judges of what leads to our decisions (we all tend to overestimate how thoughtful and rational we are, when in reality our decisions are normally based on a jumble of bias, instinct and rules-of-thumb, which we rationalise afterwards). However, if you ask voters directly we don’t even think that policies are why we vote the way we do – most people say that it’s the broad values and priorities of a party that matter, or how good their leader is, not the specific policies they offer.

Of course that doesn’t mean policies aren’t part of the mix. When it comes to whether the public think that a party is competent, whether or not they have policies that seem sensible and well-thought through is probably a factor. What sort of policies a party puts forward will make a contribution to what people make of a party’s values and principles. They are not irrelevant, but they are only a small part of a much bigger mix. What this all means is that one can’t look at the popularity of individual policies and conclude a party will gain support. Any party can put together a shopping list of superficially attractive sounding policies – it’s whether collectively those policies, the people putting them forward, the values they represent, how competently they come across, how all these things come together to create a party that people identify with and think would offer a competent government.

In short, in the absence of other other big events in the coming week, don’t be surprised if the polls carried out after the manifestos appear are much the same as the polls carried out before they were published.


173 Responses to “Some thoughts on manifestos”

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  1. The perception of any leader probably overrides most other considerations. I can’t think of any election since 1979 where a party winning the election hasn’t had the better leader, and that’s including both Tory and Labour.

    All mainfestos at least have some merit to them, but if the public don’t think you’re competent or capable of delivering them, you’re sunk.

  2. Manifestos… Lots of people will ask what impact they will have on voting intention or the result. The answer is probably not much.

    Which says it all.

    People ought to have to take and pass a basic test before being allowed to vote.

    It is ridiculous that the votes of those who spend some time looking at policies, trying to understand the difference and implications, that those votes count for the same as those who “Vote Labour because Dad did” or “Vote Conservative because I like her dress”.

    Running a country is TOO important for elections to be treated like that.

    And I’ll vote for the party that brings in such a test!

  3. David in France

    “And I’ll vote for the party that brings in such a test!”

    It’ll be fun when you fail the teat, and are never allowed to vote again.

    I’m reminded of the “literacy test” once used in parts of the US Deep South.

    At one polling place, a black would-be voter was given a Russian newspaper, and asked if he could read it.

    “Course I can”, he replied, “It says there’ll be no n****** getting a vote here.”

  4. DAVID IN FRANCE

    “People ought to have to take and pass a basic test before being allowed to vote.”

    This is fundamentally un-democratic and would quickly go down a slippery slope of only letting the “right” people vote. Such poll-tests only bring to mind Jim Crow in the US or Brecht’s “Die Lösung”. People can vote for whomever they choose, and whatever their reason is it is no less valid than your own.

  5. Is that an actual quote Oldnat? one of the best comebacks ever if true.

  6. My mum was advocating only people who passed and exam could vote then we wouldn’t have had brexit. She probably would of failed said test though.

    Everyone has the right to vote, votes are based on opinions and by definition no one opinion is more valid or correct than any other.

  7. Pete B

    Your dead right not a chance!

    OLDNAT

    Different drought illustrations in our edition.

  8. AW

    Many thanks for an interesting summary, much of which I agree with.
    To me the election will be decided by :-

    1. Who the voters think will make best prime minister.
    2. Which arty will do the best job of running the economy.
    3.In this election, who they think will be best at negotiating with the EU.

  9. @ AW

    So basically what you are saying Anthony is even though Labours policies may well be popular, they are still royally f****d :)

  10. If such a test was ever devised, Labour would be in even bigger trouble.

  11. Blue Bob

    Whether real, or apocryphal, I don’t know – but it was widely quoted in the 1960s.

  12. “Everyone has the right to vote, votes are based on opinions and by definition no one opinion is more valid or correct than any other.”

    I would suggest that an opinion derived from or supported by factual evidence is more valid than one that directly contradicts the available evidence.

    “the earth is flat” is not of equal value to “the earth is approximately an oblate spheroid”

  13. Excellent (and timely) article. In regards to view of leader and measure of intention versus actual vote was this something that was reviewed after the 2015 “failure” of polls?

    Given the lead of May over Corbyn on personal measures as leader does this underestimate the “Labour bias” tweak that pollsters currently use to adjust raw data to something they feel is more likely to predict outcome on the day?

    The gap in opinion of leaders was much smaller in 2015. Is it something anyone else has considered?

  14. Anthony’s post is a useful reminder that we polling/political geeks are not “normal people”! -:)

  15. @S Thomas (from previous thread):
    “Liberals
    Great news .Having found a £100 bn money tree in the garden of vince yesterday it has now been discovered that it is an orchard. The second money tree is to finance 50k new Syrian refugees which Lib s promise to import into the uk. to be paid for ,they announce , by future tax receipts from these people when they find work. The future receipts money tree.Its a wonder no one spotted it before.No doubt the children amongst them can immediately be found work as chimney sweeps

    Farron said that if Britain were ravaged by war we would want syria to take us in…. er ….no but perhaps we would appreciate camps closer to home. I think there is only one person being taken in . On the other hand at least YvetteCooper will have someone to fill her spare bedroom.”

    One of the funniest posts I have read here :)

    I’m sure we’ve seen the ‘future receipts money tree’ before. Ah yes – so we have. It was used by the Coalition to finance student loans.

  16. @Oldnat

    “Anthony’s post is a useful reminder that we polling/political geeks are not “normal people”! -:)”

    I’m sure you’ll find that even normal people are no longer normal people…

  17. Jo

    “I would suggest that an opinion derived from or supported by factual evidence is more valid than one that directly contradicts the available evidence.”

    But don’t forget GIGO. Few people have the time or energy to check out all the available evidence on every single topic, and examine it in detail to arrive at a rational conclusion.

    So, when people hear political leaders state outrageous falsehoods as the truth (Trump claimed that he invented the phrase “prime the pump”, and that Ireland didn’t raise taxes after the 2008 crash), are they expected to check out every single statement from every single politician as well?

  18. @Jo

    “”the earth is flat” is not of equal value to “the earth is approximately an oblate spheroid””

    It is in a General Election. Each elector has one vote.

  19. Jo

    “I would suggest that an opinion derived from or supported by factual evidence is more valid than one that directly contradicts the available evidence.”

    But don’t forget GIGO. Few people have the time or energy to check out all the available evidence on every single topic, and examine it in detail to arrive at a rational conclusion.

    So, when people hear political leaders present ridiculous statements as the truth (Trump claimed that he invented the phrase “prime the pump”, and that Ireland didn’t raise taxes after the 2008 crash), are they expected to check out every single statement from every single politician as well?

  20. Some of the time, policies DO matter, it’s just that some policies may triumph over many others and render them marginal.

    Immigration policy being a notable recent example.

    Also, if it seems like a policy IS salient enough to sway peeps, politicians change tack and adopt/reject the policy as appropriate.

    Thus the academic “research” may be simply measuring voter response to policies politicians have already determined are marginal.

  21. Those believing that “the earth is flat” are at least capable of envisioning reality as having more than one dimension.

    That is considerably more sophisticated thinking than that exhibited by those talking of politics as existing only on a single (left/right) dimension.

  22. @Carfrew

    Policies are more likely to matter where they affect voters emotionally. Labour’s manifesto (when finally published) could well do that. Just as Brexit did.

  23. @RAF

    Question is…

    – Will media/rival party attempts to slag off competence outweighs policy?

    – Will some other policy overshadow Labour’s?

    – Will Tories move to co-opt anything especially compelling? Or sabotage it in some way?

    – will peeps get an accurate portrayal of the policy?

    Etc.

  24. The latest from Lord Ashcroft:

    “Tomorrow: the Ashcroft Model looking at election prospects seat by seat. Plus this week’s focus groups & the #AshcroftElectionTour podcast.”

    Looks interesting.

  25. I enjoy going to voter hustings in whichever constituency I’m living in at the time of an election. Good fun (IMO) to see the candidates and hear the different points of view.

    However, I think the vast majority of the audience who goes to local hustings are already aware of the issues and probably already know who they are going to vote for. Often I think they have come along to “support” their candidate rather than listen. Maybe, like on social media, those sort of people are just louder.

    I do think, though, that individual policies matter. Some people will have strong views on a particular subject and the politicians are casting around trying to get that person on side with a single view. That’s why the Labour manifesto has far more things in than they could accomplish in the lifetime of a parliament – some of those issues might be the one to get someone to decide to vote for them.

  26. RAF

    Labours manifesto affects people emotionally both positively and negatively.
    The main emotion is one of great but totally unrealistic.

    A party must have a leader capable of being PM.

    A party must have a sensible way to pay for its policies( that does not just pile debt back onto future generations).

    A party must convince the majority that it will negotiate a fair deal with the EU.

    The polls consistently indicate the lady, who the majority ( even some who will vote Labour on 8/6) think leads the party that meets these criteria.

  27. Leaders approval ratings:

    2015 Cameron -2, Miliband -20 (diff 18)
    current May +19, Corbyn -35 (diff 54)

    Some info from LSE about changes between elections but can’t find any analysis of how the relative leader ratings affect ACTUAL votes versus polled VI just before election.

    2015 VI for LAB overstated the outcome by 3% in the polls and Miliband was a lot closer to Cameron in approval ratings….

    Do people say they’ll vote LAB on VI but then when it comes to they just don’t show up (or actually closet CON)?
    If leader approval ratings has an affect on actual voting (versus VI) surely the current polling (even after adjustments) is understating CON lead??

  28. Whilsi I agree with the essence of Anthony’s comments I am also inclined to the view that radical eyecatching promises in a manifest can switch votes on quite a significant scale. Thatcher’s promise in her 1979 manifesto to give council tenants the right to buy their homes did win many working class voters over to the Tories. Likewise the LibDem 2010 commitment to abolish tuition fees went down very well with certain groups and boosted their support in key seats.

  29. Andy T @ RAF

    And when does your PEB for the Tories go live?

    Putting “the polls” into your last sentence doesn’t make your comment non-partisan!

  30. @Jo

    Surely “the Earth is flat” is equally valid as an opinion to “the Earth is an oblate spheroid”? Where it is less valid is as a fact, isn’t it?

  31. OLDNAT

    The polls consistently state very clearly.

    Who would be the best PM( even some people who say they will vote Labour)
    Who the public think will run the economy best
    Who they trust to make the best Brexit deal for the UK.

    Do you currently( accepting that polls could change) dispute the above.

    Could it change in the next 4 weeks? Of course it could but is it likely probably not.

  32. @ Oldnat

    I presumed he is referring to Caroline Lucas.

  33. This piece explains to me one reason why, when you ask people what they think of specific Labour policies they often meet with widespread approval but then when asked what they think of Corbyn, they often say disapprove. There are other reasons, obviously – like of course everyone wants more spent on the NHS, if they aren’t the ones having to find out how to pay for it – but if, say, policies only account for, say, 10% of people’s voting intention, then the policy v overall intention paradox are presumably explained by the approval or otherwise of policy is presumably just noise, rather than signal.

  34. @ ANDY T – I agree. When asked for VI people might say LAB but will they vote Corbyn on 8June (or end up being a closet Tory or just abstain)?

    Where as May is on a +ve approval rating (rare for a sitting PM in itself) so when asked for VI and people say they’ll vote CON I think that is more likely to be both true and be delivered on.

  35. @Trevor Warne

    Matt Singh of Number Cruncher Politics correctly called the 2015 election outcome in the last few days of the campaign. He looked at the correlations between things like leadership satisfaction and actual outcomes.

    See https://www.ncpolitics.uk/2015/05/shy-tory-factor-2015.html/7/

    His diagnosis was that the polls were wrong showing a neck and neck race, and assert that Cons were probably in the lead by around 7%.

    Plug Corbyn vs May satisfaction numbers into Matt Singh’s model and it predicts a Cons lead of around 20%.

  36. Meanwhile, the business of constructing administrations in Scotland’s councils (in none of them does a single party have a majority) continues – with some interesting situations emerging.

    In South Ayrshire (SCon 12 : SNP 9 : SLab 5 : Ind 2) SNP and SLab have formed a coalition – with the support of the Independents.

    In Fife (SNP 29 : SLab 24 : Con 15 : LD 7), SNP and SLab are reportedly “inching their way” towards a coalition.

    The situations will vary across councils (as they should) but the rise in the Tory vote may well have motivated SLab to see the SNP as more natural allies at council level (where the indy question doesn’t arise).

  37. Does anyone know how many UKIP candidates there will be? I presume there will be a bunch of people (2-3%) who’ll turn up to vote expecting to vote UKIP and find no candidate. Their pencil will then hover over the ballot paper; which box will it mark?

  38. Did Singh know about the concerted targeting campaign by Cons?

  39. BB

    It would have been interesting if Y Cooper had won the Labour leadership contest. Would TM have been so keen to call an election – I think not.

  40. Blue Bob

    I briefly thought he might be referring to Nicola Sturgeon or Leanne Wood, but for the mention of “PM”.

    Unforgivably, I had forgotten that the party that I would vote for (if I lived in the southern polity) also has a female leader.

  41. @David in France

    I’d suggest that it is far more important to test the prospective MPs than the prospective voters. I’d start with testing every prospective MP on the difference between the debt and the deficit. Any MP who fails to explain this should be instantly disqualified.

  42. Jamie

    “who’ll turn up to vote expecting to vote UKIP”

    Last time round, such a person turned up at an Irvine polling station. He then berated the staff because their wasn’t such a creature standing, and demanded to know which constituency he could go to, to vote UKIP.

    As he was gently escorted off the premises by the police, my friend suggested South Thanet.

  43. AW’s illuminating summary of the impact of manifestos or rather lack of impact does rather make a mockery of the somewhat sanctimonious use by politicians of having a “mandate” for this or that policy because it was in the manifesto. One wonders if Disraeli had the right idea when he explained he didn’t have one and that he just trusted the people to choose him to use his?

  44. “I do think, though, that individual policies matter”

    ———–

    Clearly they do. You cannot fairly draw from the evidence that they don’t.

    Policies can matter so much that parties know that in many things they have to do what the electorate want, hence all the parties are in favour of, you know, having an army, police force, roads, pollution controls and much, much more. Policy differences then become moot.

    Thus, in practice, the arguments tend to be over policies that aren’t quite as important to the electorate. Because the main parties universally adopt the deal breakers.

    When politicians occasionally lose sight of the critical policies, it can be utterly disastrous for VI and one’s political prospects.

    If you doubt this, ask Scottish Labour about the wisdom of siding with Tories 2014, ask LDs about 2015 after choosing coalition, and ask Cameron about backing Remain in 2016…

    Less distressingly, you can consider Tories’ flirtation with price caps, Corbyn going easy on Trident, all three main parties adopting QE and much, much more…

  45. @EXILEINYORKS – “Plug Corbyn vs May satisfaction numbers into Matt Singh’s model and it predicts a Cons lead of around 20%.”

    Courtesy of Andrew Myers…

    Week 1 47 / 26 / 11 / 8 / 3 / +21
    Week 2 46 / 29 / 10 / 7 / 3 / +17
    Week 3 47 / 29 / 10 / 7 / 3 / +18
    Con / Lab / LD / UKIP / Grn / Cons Lead

    So that rings pretty true.

    I’m sure others are looking at the polls with rose tinted glasses, but this is truly dire for Labour considering there has been virtually no Tory campaign yet.

  46. The hardest bit of govt is dealing with unexpected events, so it makes sense for voters to give priority to working out which leader would deal with shocks best. For everything else, we have the civil service to grind on regardless.

    For example, in the 2001 election, did anyone anticipate 9/11 and that it might lead to the Iraq war, plus war on terror?

    In the 2005 election did any voter anticipate the Great Financial Crash?

    In the 2010 election, did anyone anticipate there would be a scottish referendum?

    In the 2015 election, people did anticipate an EU ref because they actively voted Conservative to have the ref,

    So just one in four general elections in the last 16 years was about voters actually steering the direction of the country. The other three were for parliaments that were derailed by events.

    In this election, we know that Brexit is coming up, but we don’t know what else is in store, so it makes sense for voters to choose who they think will cope best.

  47. @ Sea Change

    The only crumb of comfort (a very small crumb) for Lab from Singh’s analysis is in one of his other charts which suggests that the incumbent’s VI lead doesn’t usually fully convert in the polling booth.

    That chart suggests that a Cons lead in the polls of 20% would typically deliver around 15% in the polling booth. Coincidently (or perhaps not) that is roughly what TOH predicted a couple of days ago.

  48. CANDY.
    Good Evening to you.
    I agree with your view that for most voters the most compelling driver behind the decision to vote for a particular party to form a Govt is how strong and stable the potential Government is.

    The reason why it applies to most voters, I think, is that party alignment has greatly weakened in recent decades.

  49. Andy T
    “The polls consistently state very clearly.

    Who would be the best PM( even some people who say they will vote Labour)”

    Except that frequently, they dont.

    last one I looked at said something like ‘who would make the best PM’, answer May/Corbyn/dont know.

    Not exactly asking the voter whether they think either candidate would be better than some 50 million fellow citizens. Or the degree of preference of one over the other.

  50. Old Nat

    lol

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