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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    It will certainly be interesting to read AW’s analysis of the Mirror/COMRES Poll -if he does one.

    I’m expecting a reminder of one of those basic Caveats for which UKPR is so famous.

    It goes something like:- Free stuff from & higher taxes for other people , are always popular.

  2. @Colin

    I agree completely. I could produce a manifesto saying that I will give everyone £10,000 each and I suspect it would get a very high approval rating. I could even say that it will be funded by a 90% tax on the ‘super rich’ and it would be very popular whilst being completely impractical and unrealistic. A popular policy isn’t necessarily a good policy

  3. There is absolutely nothing new in the public’s reaction to the Labour manifesto. Virtually every poll that has ever been taken shows that the public overwhelmingly favours the renationalisation of public services, particularly the railways, and all the other issues quoted (extra tax on the “rich”, higher minimum wages, banning zero hours contract etc.) are always popular. Labour has always dominated in these areas, and in health and education, and therefore should theoretically have been in power for all of the past fifty years. But it hasn’t and there is absolutely no doubt that the public simply does not vote in accordance with what it says is important to it, and voting appears to be determined simply by a gut feeling as to who is competent.

  4. A popular policy isn’t necessarily a good policy

    Like an immigration cap Julius?

  5. @S THOMAS: “Have people forgotten Beeching and just how bad it got with British Rail?”

    Not sure about the Beeching reference (BR was losing far less money in real terms before his cuts than it receives from the taxpayer today) but most people recognise the advantages of an integrated structure regardless of ownership. BR, despite being starved of investment, was the second most efficient railway in Europe with the greatest proportion of high speed lines. BREL had a world-leading reputation for R&D and developed and built all of BR’s rolling stock in-house.

  6. @Jim Jam

    It depends on the nature of the cap. A inflexible cap of 100 on net migration would be ridiculous although quite popular. Unlimited immigration would also be a bad policy; it just happens to be unpopular as well.

  7. Spot on.

    A few garbled thoughts aside (Royla Mail renationalisation?), it is a decent manifesto – certainly in terms of aspriations though need to prioritise spending.

    However GEs are won on Leadership, National Security, Fewer or Fewest Economic Disbenefits and Immigration.

    Labour are miles behind and will continue to be so

  8. It is perfectly possible that a policy is popular, yet it loses votes. I guess the renationalisation of the railways is an example.

    People may want to have an integrated system, less money for dividends (although the consecutive governments before the 1990s busily took money from Royal Mail rather than spending on investment in the postal services), political responsibility of the services (you can go to a competitor if you get bad service in a restaurant – rather difficult with railways), etc.

    However, as the renationalisation would be carried out in the form of expiry of franchises (rather sensible from a presentation point of view) it means a decade, while the elections are in four weeks. So, by discussing and pushing the policy, it takes away time and attention from policies that interest the public here and now.

  9. Good thing is Julius you can fail to deliver and make the same popular promise 3 GEs in a row :-)

  10. rogerh

    but its sandwiches were rubbish

  11. @Oldnat:

    I did not express myself well.

    I meant that the electorate largely reacts against the governing party, rather than sizing up manifesto offerings of both sides. The opposition is always up against it if the government is doing well.

    Perhaps another way to put it is that the key to democracy is the “throwing the b’stards out” bit, rather than the positive choice of the next government. Governments may be precariously poised where that is concerned (as was the case certainly with Major in 1992), or beyond redemption (as was the case with Major in 1997.)

    Public opinion moves, by and large, very slowly. Four weeks is just not long enough for the pendulum to swing Corbyn’s way. May will have to do something terrible – worse than turning up in Sheffield and starting a rally with, “well, alright!!”

  12. It’s important to bear in mind that there is a vast gulf between “I like this policy” and “I will change my vote to make sure that this policy happens.”

    The latter requires, among other things, that the policy is so important to them as to not be outweighed by other issues, and that they have faith that the party in question is willing and able to keep its promise. That faith seems to be in particularly short supply these days!

  13. @Rudyard

    Your unalloyed enthusiasm is a delight to behold however I strongly recommend having an emergency supply of prozac on hand for the 9th June.

  14. A very good explanation of why people vote the way they do, thank you for that.

  15. Does anyone expect the polls to move this weekend following the early release of the Labour manifesto and the announcement by Corbyn that he is not a pacifist.

    I assume that Corbyn raised the issue of pacifism on the basis that this might deflect an attack by the Tories( a pre emotive strike).

    The danger for Corbyn is this puts this topic on the agenda and I would be amazed if the Tories do not pile in. Will any of this shift the polls?

  16. Oldnat,
    “Trump policy”?????????”

    A case in point no doubt, Trump. Clearly in Trump’s case his competence trumped his policy failings. er,….

    “. In previous elections they were voting for stuff and then got something else”
    While voters in the referendum might have been concentrating more on one particular issue than usual, hardly anything of the realities of Brexit were apparent before the referendum. The usual lack of real knowledge of outcomes applied.

    Are we to assume the same rules of voter backlash against failure will also apply?

    S Thomas,
    ” Have people forgotten Beeching and just how bad it got with British Rail?”

    I dont recall it being bad on British rail. At least no worse than British Leyland. Technology and mindsets have changed. Or not, since we are still engaged in a series of rail strikes about nothing much. The root cause of which seems to have been an ideological requirement by government imposed as a franchise condition requiring the franchisee to eliminate staff.

  17. Anyone know if there is a full Scottish poll in the offing?

    It seems like a while since the last ones and plenty has gone on (incl. Council Elections) since.

  18. “Preemptive strike ” even or perhaps I was right the first time

  19. @ROB C: “However GEs are won on Leadership, National Security, Fewer or Fewest Economic Disbenefits and Immigration.”

    I’d reduce that to just one – perceived economic competence. A reputation the Tories lost after 1992 and which Labour lost before 2010. The mystery is why the Tories are seen as any more competent than Labour at present.

  20. @Andy T

    I had assumed that your choice of ”pre emotive” was both intentional and apt!

  21. Andy T – Corbyn is vulnerable on defence issues due his personal unilateralism but on foreign interventions less so.
    His record on Iraq and Libya is arguably better than the PMs and certainly not a weakness.

    When he is attacked, he can say I am not a pacifist I believe in military action on occasions but only as a last resort. When the PM was voting to follow GWBush in to Iraq I was against and now she is cosying up to Trump, increasing the chance of similar mistakes in the future.

    Journos will ask him for examples of interventions he supported, I think the first Dessert War maybe but not sure.

  22. Morning folks, hope everyone is doing well (including the BBC cameraman and Len McCluskey).

    It was interesting reading about the manifesto and the media reaction to it – the cognitive dissonance of some newspapers is pretty hilarious to watch. As I said a few days ago, part of the problem with the Labour manifesto (and presumably the Conservative manifesto to follow), is that the proposed ideas are being framed in terms of 1970s/1980s rhetoric, even if they don’t belong to that political paradigm any more. For example, the accusation of rail nationalisation bringing “us back to the bad old days of British Rail doesn’t really wash, since nationalised European rail companies like Abellio and Deutsche Bahn are running part of the pseudo-privatised network*. Anyhow, as AW rightfully pointed out, the manifestos themselves probably don’t make any real difference, since (a) no-one reads them and (b) most of the key pledges are “baked” into to voter perception.

    A bit off-topic, I thought I’d mentioned the state election in Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany. It’s not so much of a bellweather state, but it is the largest by population in Germany, and therefore, it’s being keenly watched with an eye towards the federal election in September. The incumbent SPD-Green coalition is defending against the CDU, FDP (Liberals), Linke (Left) and the AfD. The polls, including from YouGov, have been nice and noisy, allowing the parties to get very excited about how they’re doing. At the moment, it looks like the CDU and SPD are very close at around 31-32% each, but the VI for the others have varied a bit. Over the last couple of weeks, the FDP have mostly been in double figures (other than YouGov). In terms of building a coalition, the SPD-Green partnership is highly unlikely, no-one will work with the AfD, a “traffic-light” SPD-FDP-Green has been ruled out by the FDP, and a “Jamaica-Coalition” CDU-FDP-Green has been ruled out by the Greens :) Work that one out!!!

    German state polls have not been too accurate lately. Last year, there was a systematic underestimation of AfD support in the polls, and this year, the CDU have tended to outperform their polls. In the context of the discussion above about leadership, it’s interesting to note that the winners of recent state elections in Baden-Wuerttemburg, Saarland, Rheinland-Pfalz and Schleswig-Holstein last week, have been those with well-regarded and popular leaders. Generally speaking, the incumbent SPD leader in NRW, is well-regarded, but her popularity has declined somewhat in recent polls. Moreover, the national SPD leader, Martin Schulz, has seen sharp falls in his popularity in the last few months (after the Schulz-Effekt).

    It’s unfair to make comparisons to what’s going on in the general election in the UK, but this question of leadership vs policy in determining the outcome of an election is a big issue at play in this state election.

    * Sorry to make a loooonnnggg post even longer – but has there been any discussions about what happens to the ownership of rail/energy franchises after Brexit? There was a lot of talk about financial firms setting up offices in Frankfurt or Dublin, but what about those EU companies that have significant investments in the UK and vice versa?

  23. @Joseph1832

    I was young and totally enthusiastic in 1987, in Scotland it seemed like Labour would definitely win and I was convinced of it.

    I watched the Sheffield rally on TV and had to have a lie down afterwards as I was so depressed. I knew that Kinnock was never going to be elected PM I finally saw what everyone else had seen.

    With Corbyn I sensibly new he would be a disaster and I know he will never be PM. Despite the fact I find nothing wrong with him and a lot to admire but like with Neil Kinnock I am not seeing what others are seeing.

  24. Couper forgive my pedantry Sheffield rally was 1992 but your point is compelling anyhow.

  25. @ EXILEDINYORK – agree your UKIP analysis. Could you offer your thoughts on the below view on turnout/voter motivation.

    Shy/closet Tory and Labour bias expressed as motivation to vote.

    Back in 2015, the 5-6% “error” in polls versus actual might have been largely due to view on leader. Instead of viewing this as a shy/closet Tory or Labour bias I think it might have just been motivation to vote (ie people didn’t lie on VI, they just overstated their likelihood to vote with a non-uniform result)

    Someone with VI for CON was more motivated to vote as they we’re OK with Cameron
    Someone with VI for LAB was slightly less motivated as the view on leadership was low.

    Crudely taking the Matt Singh approach and back-testing then assuming a turnout of 56% I get motivation coeffiecients (at a national level) that create a much larger swing than the current pollsters adjustments.

    Raw poll data, adjusted pollster prediction, motivation coefficient, “my guess” as follows

    CON 46.2%, 47.2%, 0.85, 51.7%
    LAB 30.8%, 28.8%, 0.65, 26.4%

    Basically the adjustment of about 3% swing that the pollsters make could be more like 10%!!

    Those coefficients are based on a “mid” of 0.8 and then taking a roughly +0.01 for every 5% change in leadership approval rating.

    If the 5% poll swing error in 2015 was due to the 18pt difference in leader approval rating then the current 54pt difference in leader approval rating would be more like a 10% poll swing error!!

    Basically someone who says they will vote LAB but has unresolved cognitive dissonance (voting LAB but not wanting to vote Corbyn) means they are far more likely to abstain than the equivalent CON voter.

  26. I can see why some are eager to frame rail renationalisation in terms of British Rail, Beeching, sandwiches etc, but there is a much more recent and apposite comparator. To quote Wikipedia:

    “East Coast was a subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways, formed by the Department for Transport as an operator of last resort when National Express was refused further financial support to its National Express East Coast (NXEC) subsidiary and consequently lost its franchise.[3]
    The franchise was re-nationalised on 14 November 2009, with the intention being that operations would return to a private franchisee by December 2013.[4] In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport announced that this would occur in February 2015 instead.[5]

  27. Having endured Southern Rail for the last fifteen years, I would welcome BR back with open arms…. and so would the vast majority of my fellow travellers, the majority being Tory voters.

    Utterly carp service is not the sole prerogative of nationalised industries – private providers can be just as appalling at delivery, as we have seen.

    Political correctness (in this case of the right) has been preventing a rational debate on the best way to deliver a service.

  28. Scottish Greens – think someone mentioned this earlier but too many posts to find the name.

    They will only post three candidates:
    Glasgow North
    Edinburgh North & Leith

    As discussed with PROFHOWARD this doesn’t have huge impact. It makes it harder for CON to gain Stirling and more likely SNP will take Edinburgh South. Obviously the defend barrier is a little higher in other seats but on it’s own doesn’t move my seat prediction.

    Electoral Calculus has put this info in so assuming no tactical voting at all from non-SNP parties then it should make quite accurate predictions. I’m going with CON 11, LAB 0, LIB 3, SNP 45 unless we see changes in the polls.

  29. Sorry, posted before finished.

    The nationalised East Coast service performed well and was highly regarded by its customers. And, to quote Wikipedia again, “East Coast paid back over £1 billion to the government over the course of its franchise.”

    I think a gradual renationalisation, as franchises expire, looks an excellent idea. Some franchises can remain in private hands. Railways run by the UK state can then compete with those run by the Germans, Dutch etc. It will keep everyone on their toes. I can see this as a real vote-winner if framed in terms of “taking back control” and promoted hard. No wonder parts of the press are trying to derail the idea with references to the 1980s.

  30. Scottish betting markets:

    SNP seats are 46 mid
    Labour to win a seat is quite a wide market with little interest yet but derived probability is 65%

    No real opportunities IMHO

  31. Not in any way related to the topic of this post, but something I’d like to float as a future topic of discussion.

    We all know about what happened in 2015. But the polls in the weeks afterwards – before anything really significant had happened such as the calling of the referendum or any significant legislation going through the Commons and before there was sufficient time to have taken a good long look at methodologies – went from neck-and-neck to Tories up by double figures. The Tory lead in the election itself was six points.

    The result of this election is in my opinion a foregone conclusion, because whether the Tories are ten, fifteen or twenty points ahead doesn’t change the fact that they get a significant majority. But as far as polling interest goes, is there reason to think that there’s an inbuilt overstatement of the Tory lead by a few points, beyond hypothesizing from people who want to believe that they’re not as far ahead as the polls indicate?

  32. Does anyone know when we will know for sure which seats UKIP will contest?

  33. Oh, and before Corbyn emerged as the front-runner in the Labour leadership race, I hasten to add.

  34. @ EXILED VOTER – I heard that talk was going around but can’t find the source. I think the opposite. If the reason for the 2015 prediction error was due to leadership approval rating then the 3% swing adjustment that pollsters are making to current raw data is understating the ‘Shy Tory/Labour Bias” (the polling “error” in 2015 was 5-6%)
    but the difference in leadership approval ratings in much wider now than in 2015 (see post above)

    Of course other factors such as complacency etc should be taken into account but I can’t see where this CON lead being overstated is coming from (other than Tory HQ perhaps!!??!!)

  35. I would like to see Pickford’s Removals renationalised…

  36. @Trevor Warne

    It might be worth betting on SNP 52+ seats or an outside all 59.

    Looking at ComRes internals Scotland remains significantly to the left of UK. There is a chance that an anti-Tory head of steam will get up in Scotland over the next few weeks and those votes will go to the SNP.


    “(I include the DT since it is no longer a serious newspaper)”

    You mean like the Guardian and Independant?

  38. With regard to international trade agreements post Brexit. 3 hrs ago the US and China announced a 10 point trade agreement involving, amongst other things, financial services, rating agencies, liquified gases, beef and chicken exports/ imports.
    The negotiations began, from scratch, less than a month ago, how come we are led to believe it could take 10 years to conclude trading arrangements ?
    It seems to me, that, with a modicum of goodwill, these deals can be accelerated and signed off very quickly indeed, perhaps it takes a , ‘ can do ‘ approach, to overcome the pessimism of camp Remain. ;-)

  39. I found this last night for UKIP stand downs…

    I can’t vouch for how accurate it is.

  40. I’ve only seen one newspaper article pointing out that the BBC camera man’s foot was driven over by a Police man. He was part of the security detail involved in transporting Jeremy Corbyn.

    Doubt that it will surprise that the MSM have chosen to associate Corbyn with the incident. However, it’s always worth highlighting the biases.

  41. I am down in England just now and I have no doubt May and the Tories are going to get a huge majority. 400+ seats.

    Tory/Remainers – “it’s been decided we are leaving the EU, May was a remainer but she now has a very difficult job, I feel sympathy for her. I am definitely voting Tory”

    Labour/Leavers – Brexit means Brexit and May is going to deliver it. I am going to vote Tory

    Ukippers going home.

    Corbyn is not liked, even the remaining Labour supporters say they won’t be able to vote for him.

    There is one Labour guy I have found but even he is uncomfortable with Corbyn’s stance on Trident.

    So anecdotal together with polling data does suggest a Tory landslide.

  42. Ken

    Morning to you, interestiung news, no surprise to either of us I suspect

  43. I missed the fact that if anything people are annoyed with the LibDems ‘making things harder we are leaving we need to get on with it’

    I must say when Scotland does vote for independence I hope the unionists are as fair minded as the English remainers.

  44. @ ANDY T – looking for same info. I thought they had to register by midnight last night?

    Doesn’t look like we’re going to get a national list like the other parties provide. Some isolated places we’ve heard off but Midlands and North is where it matters in terms of seat predictions.

    I think people are still missing the impact of UKIP not standing in some seats. I have 15-30 seats where UKIP not standing will give the seat to CON (where as it wouldn’t otherwise) – which equates to 30-60 extra

    Some random picks of where I see a non UKIP candidate making a crucial difference:
    Ynys Mon
    Coventry North West
    Oldham East
    Southampton Test

  45. @ CMJ – UKIP stand downs – thank you, very useful!! Popping that into s/s now…

  46. @Ken

    Ken, you need to get with the program. Trade deals take a decade minimum. That’s what Uncle Junker keeps telling us.

  47. @couper2802

    “There is a chance that an anti-Tory head of steam will get up in Scotland over the next few weeks and those votes will go to the SNP.”

    This is perfectly possible. Although, up until now I would suggest we have seen the opposite i.e. an anti – SNP head of steam, largely to the benefit of the Conservatives.

    Of course, if things polarise even more than they already have, there is nothing I suppose to stop an anti – Tory head of steam and an anti – SNP head of steam happening simultaneously amongst different but equally motivated parts of the electorate

  48. Danny
    “I dont recall it being bad on British rail. At least no worse than British Leyland.”

    Thank you for giving me my belly-laugh for the day!

  49. @Toh

    I don’t know if there is something I am missing regarding Switzerland but the Swiss seem to have a very bespoke deal. They are not in the Single Market but have access to it, nor are they in the Customs Union so they can do their own trade deals.

    Do you think this is the kind of arrangement May is looking for?

  50. @Catmanjeff

    Thanks for the UKIP stand down list. There are 119 seats listed so far at the moment. Some interesting choices, they are also propping up Labour leavers as well.

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