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. A 15% Tory lead would imply a swing from Lab to Con of 4.2% since 2015 . If that happened universally Labour would lose 35 seats to the Tories – but might pick up a few from the SNP. Labour would end up close to 200 seats.

  2. Parties and press tend to target competence because it tends to trump policy.

    You might have appealing policies, butt if peeps think you can’t deliver, or will let other things screw up, what’s the point?

    Hence we are treated to so many political ad Homs. It’s a handy alternative if you can’t compete on policy…

  3. I guess the next set of polls will show whether or not the Labour manifesto has traction. Anyone know when we can expect a new poll with fieldwork carried out since last night?

  4. Carfrew

    “Trump policy”?????????

  5. It’s worth bearing in mind, that if one is going by avowed policies in manifestos, then quite often parties talk a load of old cobblers. It wasn’t in the LD manifesto to capitulate. It was rejected in the next GE by the electorate indirectly, but it wasn’t in any manifesto. It wasn’t in the Labour manifesto to preside over a banking crash, or to use QE in response, nor was QE in the Tory manifesto. Not aware the EFFECTS of policies in manifestos. Thatch didn’t say she was gonna deregulate banking to leave us more open to a familiar Crash down the line. When we joined the EU peeps didn’t tell us about free movement…

    Often policies are delivered by stealth, making it hard to evaluate their impact on VI…

  6. It’s worth bearing in mind, that if one is going by avowed policies in manifestos, then quite often parties talk a load of old cobblers. It wasn’t in the LD manifesto to capitulate. It was rejected in the next GE by the electorate indirectly, but it wasn’t in any manifesto. It wasn’t in the Labour manifesto to preside over a banking crash, or to use QE in response, nor was QE in the Tory manifesto.

    Not aware the EFFECTS of policies in manifestos. Thatch didn’t say she was gonna deregulate banking to leave us more open to a famil1ar Crash down the line. When we joined the EU peeps didn’t tell us about free movement…

    Often some of the most radical policies are delivered by stealth, making it hard to evaluate their impact on VI…

  7. @oldnat

    Lol, let’s not go there!!…

  8. @Candy

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

    Actually only 0.8% more people “actively voted Conservative” in 2015 than in 2010…. And the referendum/EU was near the bottom of the list of salient issues throughout the campaign

  9. I like the section of the Labour manifesto on nuclear weapons (according to the BBC)

    “stating that any prime minister should be “extremely cautious” about ever using weapons of “mass destruction””

    Wise words.

  10. @Andrew111

    True. But the Con vote (36.8%) + UKIP vote (12.7%) represented 49.5% of voters who wanted an EU ref (which was in the manifestos of both Con and UKIP).

    And of course 52% actually voted Leave in the ref.

    So in 2015, the voters really did steer the direction of the country. In previous elections they were voting for stuff and then got something else – for example, who anticipated in 2001 that Blair would be such a warmonger?

  11. @ Graham

    Whatever the national swing turns out to be, I am of the opinion that Lab will be hit harder on seats than the universal swing would suggest due to the redistribution of the UKIP vote to Cons.

    My favourite example is Hartlepool (mainly because it isn’t very far from where I live). The 2015 GE result was Lab 39%, Cons 23%, UKIP 30%, so Cons need an 8% swing to win which sounds like a big ask.

    Polls and Local Election results suggest about half the UKIP vote has gone over to Cons which (with no other changes) puts Lab and Con neck and neck in Hartlepool. It then only needs a little bit of direct transfer from Lab to Cons to get Cons over the line.

    In brief the polls are flattering Cons a bit because they won’t fully convert, but this is offset by UNS flattering Lab because of the UKIP effect. I suspect that the two effect will roughly cancel, and putting the polling VI into seat models will give roughly the right seat count – as AW likes to say, time will tell.

  12. It is as many have said, people vote for their own reasons on wide range of reasons, often simply for a change, no one can critique someone who votes but doesn’t know the policies on which they vote, the House of Commons for decades has shown that! Everyone’s vote is important. I maybe just as frustrated that people don’t understand but then the result of freedom is the free expression of vote. However I agree completely that people should understand debt and deficit in particular dam MPs who appear oblivious to the differences.

  13. P.S. The LibDems promised an EU ref in the 2010 election. Here is their leaflet saying “it’s time for a real referendum on europe”:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/sites/default/files/images/Clegg-referendum-page-001-353×500.jpg

    It explains why some LibDems then moved to both Con and UKIP in 2015, when they found out that the LibDems didn’t really mean it.

  14. @ JAMIE

    I wondered the same on a recent thread. If their candidate numbers are as low as some people have predicted, it could easily be hundreds of thousands of voters having to make a fresh decision in the polling booth. I imagine we’ll have totals pretty soon tho of how many seats they are actually standing in…

    @OLDNAT

    Great story :-)

  15. I’ve plugged the latest You Gov poll into my regional model and this is what it looks like:

    Con 377
    Lab 188
    SNP 47
    Lib Dem 14
    PC 4
    Grn 1

    Con Majority 104

  16. @Candy

    If I recall correctly, that flier actually dates to 2008, when Brown signed the Lisbon Treaty without even having a Parliamentary debate.

    The 2010 manifesto employed the carefully worded caveat of “next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.

    Of course, the voters probably didn’t read the manifesto.

    I think an additional factor in the behaviour you mention is that a number of Lib Dem votes were just protest votes against the two big parties. So when the Lib Dems went into coalition, the protest vote moved to another party – and I doubt protest voters are particularly choosy about which party they’re backing, so to them there’s no contradiction in picking Lib Dems one time and UKIP the next.

  17. Experts!

    if you had asked me on the day the election was called where the parties would be now my predictions would have been:

    a. Tories well ahead but off their highest;

    b. Doing badly but better than many feared.In this i underestimated Corbyn but not as badly as others. he is a good street campaigner and has a redblooded message which will appeal. I did expect them to be under pressure from UKIP and the liberals;

    c.Liberals- i bought into the remainer argument and thought that at this stage we would be taking about the liberal surge boosted by the locals.How wrong i was.This is a truly inept campaign. clegg on the radio saying Brexit was the cause of petrol price rises on the day the supermarkets started a price war at the pumps! Today bantamweight Farron announces that it is Liberal Policy to invite 50k syrians to Britain.They will be dancing in the streets of wolverhampton at that!
    I thought that they would be eating into labour but the reverse is true.

    d. I thought uKIP would be attacking labour. To my surprise they are heading for total annihilation.

    what a difference 3 weeks makes

  18. There are some tweets that one shouldn’t really laugh at – but do.

    Bad news for the BBC cameraman run over by #Corbyn – in the interests of impartiality he now must be run over by all candidates.

  19. @Imperium3

    I agree that protest voters tend to go for whoever seems likeliest to shock the establishment the most, in order to actually get their protest registered.

    But LibDem behaviour is part of the reason that voters roll their eyes when it comes to manifestos. Instead they’re now making decisions based on gut: do they have a sense of the character of the leader, do they have a sense of what the parties represent.

    Both Lab and Con tend to have a “character” built up over many decades, so voters know roughly what to expect even if they haven’t read the details of the manifestos (which is why Blair took so many by surprise with Iraq, he deviated from the Lab character there, they were expecting a version of Harold Wilson’s behaviour with Vietnam). The SNP and UKIP also have a USP, and people know what they’re going to get with them. The LibDems are the most slippery and the public is not quite sure what to make of them.

  20. Electoral Calculus saying SGP to stand in only 3 Scottish seats. On basis of Scottish polls in April suggesting SNP 50 : SCon 7 : SLD 2

    https://t.co/8xACsminsU

  21. Candy

    “Both Lab and Con tend to have a “character” built up over many decades, so voters know roughly what to expect”

    Last century (or even the first decade of this one) I’d have agreed with you about these parties in Scotland.

    Back then, SCon would have been sticking with whatever the party line was from London – but “re-interpreting” it for Scottish conditions. SLab would have been the ones projecting themselves as protecting Scotland against the Tories.

    Neither “characterisation” is appropriate now, and it’ll take some time for voters to adjust to broadly what these parties stand for in this polity now.

    SCon have taken a stridently differentiated stance – which will have a lot of appeal to Brit Nats.

    SLab still seem to flounder on the constitutional issue, and the Lab Manifesto with its vague promise of a UK-wide Constitutional Convention on devolution aspects doesn’t help them.

    Now, if that had been a real commitment by Lab in the 1970s, things might have been different.

  22. On mandates, the obvious thing is that the electorate works far more by holding parties accountable for failure than for the merits of what is promised.

    We can see this in immigration. Labour in 2010 was very much held to account for an immigration policy that most people believed had been disastrous.

    Yet it had been very much the party of looser immigration controls in 1997, 2001 and 2005. In 2001 and 2005, the issue was very much to the fore of Conservative campaigning, but a fat lot of good it did them. Yet changes in policy at these stages could have made a big difference.

    There is nothing that has happened that was not very predictable. And the public is sufficiently upset that it played a big role in the Leave vote. Yet in 2001 and 2005, the same public voted back the Labour party. Labour was able to calculate that it need not worry about public opinion on immigration, because the apparently strong opposition did not really affect voting decisions.

    By 2010 all changed. But by 2010 Labour was promising (we may argue over sincerity) to tighten up on the issue – but now it was a vote loser for Labour, even though its policy was not that far from Cameron’s.

    What do we learn:

    1. Promising to do something unpopular does not necessarily affect voting choices.

    2. Being responsible for the results of doing that same thing will affect voting choices, even if you promise not to do it again.

    The electorate is largely reactive. It is also largely reactive with respect to the governing party. So it is hard to see how the pendulum can swing massively in the campaign towards Labour.

  23. Lots of debate recently about “shy tories” metamorphosing into “shy labour”. I wonder if this manifesto from Labour will be “popular” but because of Team Corbyn people won’t vote for it. Thus, shy Tories return – somewhat sympathetic to the manifesto but totally against Corbyn so they keep quiet in the meantime and mark “X” in the blue boxes on June 8th.

  24. joseph1832

    “The electorate is largely reactive. It is also largely reactive with respect to the governing party.”

    I’d agree with that. Though it’s a bit more complex outwith England, where you have only one government.

    “So it is hard to see how the pendulum can swing massively in the campaign towards Labour.”

    That seems a total non-sequitor.

    If voters are reactive to the party in power (I agree), that can either be positive or negative,

    If the reaction is positive, then the governing party has aligned itself with popular opinion. if negative, then the governing party is likely to lose support.

    Current polling suggests that the Tories have tuned into a Eng/Brit Nat meme which will build their support among those who favour such an attitude.

  25. I think what this article is missing is an analysis of how radical the policies are.

    Yes, no one cares if you are promising ‘x’ billion more for ‘y’

    But they do care about radical changes of direction. This Labour manifesto is radical, it was the talking point of the office today. Brexit is no longer the issue, it is radical Labour.

    A dead cat has been thrown on the table. The conversation has changed. It worked for Trump. If Labour can keep this up, it will work for them.

  26. Interesting quote the BBC are carrying from “a Welsh Labour spokesman” in reaction to the leaked Labour manifesto;

    “Reports of leaked manifestos relate to an old, draft version of a UK document. It is not Welsh Labour’s manifesto and contains many England-only proposals. Welsh Labour will be publishing its own distinct manifesto.”

    Whilst I appreciate that almost no-one will notice this difference in itself, it’s interesting that they’re making the point so strongly. It strengthens the suggestions that Welsh Labour intend to run the GE campaign as separately from Corbyn as they can, which could potentially make things slightly harder to predict in terms of swing and seat outcomes?

  27. Edge of reason

    Why are you surprised by the Llafur comment?

    “UK Labour” manifestoes are primarily concerned with ideas for the English polity, and have little to do with the policies proposed for, or currently in place in, the devolved administrations.

    Richard says “This Labour manifesto is radical” – but a lot of the English domestic policy stuff just seems to be what is already implemented in Scotland.

    An actual “UK” manifesto would limit itself to those aspects for which the Westminster Parliament has responsibility for all of the UK.

    You could then have a separate English manifesto for those matters for which the UK Parliament governs England.

    Bloody stupid arrangement to conflate England and the UK, but there’s no accounting for the latent or explicit English nationalism that the UK parties seem so keen to continue with.

  28. My wife saw a headline in one of the papers today on a newsstand outside a corner shop. She came home all enthusiastic about Labour’s leaked manifesto as quote “It will take us back to the 1970s”. My wife had a wonderful time in the 1970s (before she met me) and concluded the Labour manifesto must be good stuff!
    As far as the effect the paper wanted by such a headline I can only guess that in some cases, like my wife, it is a spectacular “own goal” for all those who were teenagers in the 1970s and remember it as a happy time!!!

  29. Another comment on the article, it seems to be saying that VI is based purely on 3 things backed up by research, suggesting that nothing else matters.

    An observation – during the 2015 election the polls DID NOT MOVE during the campaign. I remember us all commenting on it. Yet activist after activist was coming on here telling us how the fear of an SNP coalition was cutting through on the doorstep.

    Quoting from political marketing and the 2015 general election by Mark Pack and Darren Lilleker

    “one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table…and that is that everyone will be talking about the dead cat. That dead cat was the fear of a possible Labour- SNP coalition.

    They also talk about the campaign, targeted letters to specific voters, teams dispatched to a single house on a street to deliver a specific message, and about the success of that highly targeted strategy, showing a swing in target seats of 3.82 vs .7 nationally.

    But the polls showed none of this?

    That shows there is a lot more to changing voting intention than just those 3 things mentioned in the article for swing voters, the voters who decide elections.

    Perhaps that is why polls keep failing now – they just measure the 95%, but it is the 5% who decide elections, and political campaigning has now become so sophisticated that they can target those 5% with specific messages to target their individual hot button issues.

    Polls have no hope of capturing that with their small sample sizes of a much larger population, and is probably why the researches wrongly conclude that things make no difference.

    If a party can correctly message specific messages to a particular target demographic, it does change voting intention where it matters. But polls are at too high a level to detect that.

  30. Snap poll on Labour manifesto

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/poll-shows-people-love-labours-10404216

    So it looks like the public overwhelmingly like the ‘back to the 1970’s’ policies, but still don’t like Jeremy. (even the Tory voters for some of them!)

    So now we get to see if it moves VI as the activists publicise the manifesto over the coming weeks…

  31. I’ve modelled the impact of UKIP votes going to the Tories, where UKIP are not standing, compared to applying the change of vote for each party within each region.

    The results are very similar to each other.

  32. Re: targeted letters

    My two daughters who both have postal votes, have received a personalised joint letter from Mrs May, printed on very strong and stable paper, contained with an expensive envelope. They live in a Tory/LD marginal.

    The letter does not name the local Conservative PPC but does specifically mention the name of the constituency. My question is whether that is sufficient to bring the cost of the letter into local campaign spending?

  33. @OLDNAT

    As a Welshman I’m not at all surprised by their reaction in itself, but I am surprised that they have publicly distanced themselves from Corbyn so strongly right now.

    Until fairly recently Welsh Labour has been content to coast along as an outpost of UK Labour – benefiting electorally when times are good for Labour nationally, and being the natural focal point for opposition when the Tories are in charge in London. And they suffered the same drastic hit in the previous decade when Labour nationally lost support over the Iraq war, and the LibDems overtook them in many of the urban centres as the natural Opposition. And benefited from the same recovery as that effect faded.

    This isn’t Scotland, in other words, and such a deliberate display of independence a few weeks before a general election where the polls are predicting a catastrophe seems very significant indeed to me.

  34. @Richard

    I have been banging on about micro-targeting and it’s likely effects for some time and I completely agree with the points you raise. This is also a technology that the Tories will very likely have better access to for this election.

    And on the snap poll you posted:

    The Labour Manifesto has generally been well initially received by this snap poll – I suspect deep down many might think it is pie-in-the-sky from a fiscal perspective so we must wait to find out how Labour intends to pay for it. I’m personally looking forward to Mcdonnell explaining that one.

    That will surely be how the Tories tackle it along with all out attacks on the Leader leadership from a mass advertisement perspective.

    Interestingly the final part of the snap poll gives this:

    “Asked which party is running the best election campaign 42% said the Tories, 20% Labour, 5% Lib Dems and 2% UKIP.”

    Suggesting that even though the policies might get a positive hearing Labour themselves are considered inept compared with a campaign that is still yet to really launch.

  35. @S Thomas “Liberals- i bought into the remainer argument and thought that at this stage we would be taking about the liberal surge boosted by the locals.How wrong i was.This is a truly inept campaign. clegg on the radio saying Brexit was the cause of petrol price rises on the day the supermarkets started a price war at the pumps! Today bantamweight Farron announces that it is Liberal Policy to invite 50k syrians to Britain.They will be dancing in the streets of wolverhampton at that! I thought that they would be eating into labour but the reverse is true.”

    I can’t quite believe how poor the LibDems have been. Inviting 50K more refugees to this country can’t possibly be a vote winner outside of the touchy-feely leafy suburbs of London. 70%-80% consistently say immigration needs to be brought down and controlled.

    Does this signal that the Lib Dems are concentrating on London and giving up elsewhere? This announcement will be kryptonite in the leave voting SW.

  36. @ EXILEINYORKS – thank you for that excellent link! Great to see others thinking along same lines as myself. Do you know if Matt Singh has done some predictions on this GE and using the huge difference in leader ratings as a predictor/polling adjustment?

  37. Saw my 19 year old son last night who does not share my interest in politics but who will vote.

    He said I am voting Tory in order to go back to the 1970s and bring back Fox Hinting and Grammar Schools.

    It seems that is a meme for the young uns on Social Media

    Just wonder whether enough Young Un will bother voting to counter to grey and nationalist wave; doubt it but maybe the gap will close a a %age or 2, you never know?

  38. Bantam weight, I like that.
    Corby a light weight perhaps and May who is really only a middle weight seems like a heavyweight or cruiserweight in comparison.
    It would liven up the campaign is they adopted David Haye style pre-vote rhetoric!

    On June 08th I am going to destroy you until you are begging for mercy.

  39. For Fox sake.

    This is turning into a retro election. On the tory side there are Grammar Schools , Fox Hunting and the “common market” while Marty McCorbyn is trying to sell British Rail sandwiches to the nation. Have people forgotten Beeching and just how bad it got with British Rail? Labour are like the Bourbons.As for the liberals ,they have decided to return to being a joke. All we need now is Farron to unveil a monument to Rinka the dog.Perhaps in a monument to the former coalition Rinka could be chasing a fox.!

  40. Foxhunting grammar schools a vicars daughter.Can we all sing together The rich man in his castle.The poor man at his gate.He made them ,highly or lowly.And ordered their estate.

  41. @ Trevor Warne

    I don’t think Matt Singh has made a prediction yet – he posted on 20th April that his model wasn’t up an running. I suspect he will wait until a bit further into the campaign before showing his hand.

  42. @Tony Dean

    These are also the same newspapers who have shrieked incessantly that anyone who doesn’t want our foreign policy to go back to the 70s is an enemy of the people.

    The blatant double standards would be amusing if it weren’t for the dead-eyed contempt these hacks show for their own readers.

    Also notable that the PM and the right-wing tabs (I include the DT since it is no longer a serious newspaper) have parroted exactly the same line. It appears that the political Establishment must change utterly – as long as the same cosy cabal are still in charge selling the same lines they always have.

    In a way, you have to admire the chutzpah.

  43. United Ireland

    There has been a lot of talk about brexit forcing the unification of Ireland. However i do not see it myself. Eire is surely too proud to rejoin the UK. Whilst it is true that upon Brexit their industry especially agriculture will be hard hit, that they will be politically isolated without the UK and will have difficulties with new Free Trade agreements between UK and USA and others i think they will stay independent ..at least for a little while.

  44. S Thomas,

    The Irish governments have to say they want a United Ireland but they would be scared stuff if it was an imminent possibility.

  45. Somerjohn

    I have answered your request for explamation on the last thread.

  46. Good Morning UK Polling.

    A great reaction from the overnight polling to the Labour Manifesto. Hugely popular plans that seem to resonate with vast swathes of the British people.

    Jeremy is an excellent stump campaigner and I am sure he will spread his message with great vigour over the next month as he visits the people in their towns, villages and hamlets up and down the land.

    I think the real battle for hearts and minds is now beginning.

    Still all to play for – and let’s see the weekend polls.

  47. @ EXILEINYORKS – thanks. As I’m sure you noticed yourself the gap in leadership ratings is “off the chart”! I don’t view it as a “shy Tory” or “Labour bias” but as a motivation to vote.

    We tend to see polls record 85-90% people state a VI just before elections even though turnout is say 64%. So you have to ask who didn’t do what they said they would do?
    I don’t think it is so much a “shy Tory” issue as a motivated to vote issue.

    To go from 85% saying they will vote to 64% who do vote then on average only 75% of people do as they say.

    Likelihood to vote is a bad measure as its a primed question.

    Unfortunately you then slip into some subjectivity, hence my desire to try and get some historic facts.

    You can go from 85% to 64% in “non-average” ways (eg CON are “above average” to actually vote, and LAB are “below average”likley to vote).

    Leadership ratings a useful input to this.

  48. Not sure I get all this nationalised rail/energy nonsense, there already greatly nationalised by foreign governments.

  49. @ ST:

    70-80% is an exaggeration, unless you are conflating England with Scotland.

    I paste the comparison from polling on immigration in 2015:

    “”Some 27% of Scots said immigration was good for the country compared to 22% across Britain.

    The poll suggested that 64% of people in Scotland wanted immigration reduced or stopped completely. The figure for Britain as a whole was 70%.””

  50. Rudyard

    I can reveal …..drum roll….you are Jeremy Corbyn. We are flattered you have time to post on our site

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