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. Looking at the sheer scale of this stand down by UKIP and the fact Farage has stopped attacking May in the last few weeks, I wonder if this has not been stitched together via informal back channels

  2. Catmanjeff and TW

    UKIP stand downs could it seems really help the Tories to archive a huge majority.

    TM will also want to drive some Labour voters across and make advances in North, midlands as well as Scotland and Wales.

    The action by UKIP seems likely to have the biggest effect on the actual result( it will be interesting to see how the polls reflect this in next few days.

  3. @Jim Jam

    Corbyn was vociferously opposed to the Gulf War. He authored several early day motions condemning the aggressive stance toward Iraq, the UN resolution authorising intervention and the intervention itself.

    Maybe he can argue that he is not a pacifist because he supported Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait?

  4. Sea C.

    I also expect attacks on Corbyn to come from Nuttall and Farage as we come to the business end of campaigning.

  5. @Roll A Hard Six

    Exactly and if that happens because it is a FPTP election the SNP may clean up.

  6. @IMPERIUM3 “Maybe he can argue that he is not a pacifist because he supported Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait?”

    Chortle! Corbyn has been a fan of the IRA so that rules him out of pacifism too.

  7. No real sign in yesterday’s two local by elections of a UKIP decline favouring the Tories disproportionately.

  8. @TrevorWarne and others.

    I’m not quite sure where the numbers of 10 Scotland seats for the Conservatives is coming from to be honest (or 46 SNP seats). Sure, there’s a few seats in which the Conservatives are well-placed, given their increased VI. But even with that, they need some serious tactical “pro-Union” voting to win 10 seats. Berwickshire, Dumfries & Galloway and West Aberdeenshire* are possibilities, but the next most vulnerable is Moray, with a 9k majority for the SNP. Is David Mundell even safe?

    * I know these are not the official names of the constituencies, but the real names are too long :(

  9. @Andy T

    I ran through my regional analysis by applying a change to the UKIP vote implied by YG by regional datasets (implying UKIP stand in all seats), and then by eliminating them from where they don’t stand, adding 2/3rds to Tories and assuming 1/3rd don’t vote.

    It made virtually no difference. It led to:

    Con 377
    Lab 188
    SNP 47
    LD 14
    PC 4
    Grn 1

    Majority 104

  10. @ ANDY T – indeed it will!! Doubt the polls will pick it up (although I do expect the CON+ UKIP- to go a little further).

    We will see it in specific seats, overall seats, majority though and % of vote (my personal favourite). With no UKIP box to put a X in where is that vote going to go? Some might abstain for sure but…

    Say they stay at 5% in the polls but have only posted candidates in 10-20% of seats. Even if adjust for them posting in their best seats that 5% drops to 2% and the 3% either goes direct to CON (as switch) or nudges everyone up (as abstain)

    I think they’ll also pull out of Richmond Park and Twickenham but haven’t heard confirmation yet. Norwich South one I’m looking at as well!

  11. Graham

    Did the UKIP vote go down? Maybe they just stayed at home as it was not GE.

    Also was it clear which councillors supported Brexit as UKIP voters will focus at GE on supporting electing an MP that is not a strong remainer.

    Likely some UKIP voters will not vote Tory until GE when they know its about Brexit and supporting TM( supporting as in keeping up pressure to Deliver Brexit)

  12. @Louiswalshvotesgreen

    These the seat changes I think:

    Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk – SNP to Con
    Dunbartonshire East – SNP to Lib Dem
    Edinburgh West – SNP to Lib Dem
    Renfrewshire East – SNP to Con
    Dumfries & Galloway – SNP to Con
    Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine – SNP to Con
    Aberdeen South – SNP to Con
    Perth & Perthshire North – SNP to Con
    Moray – SNP to Con

  13. new thread

  14. Over the next few days we politicos will be suffering from Manifestoitis. A nasty complaint, but never an epidemic, as curiously 95% of the population are completely immune! When peeps on here report it was the hot topic in their office I guess they must be surrounded by others of the 5% vulnerable to the manifesto virus. The cure might be to get out more? As AW writes the manifestos will collectively have just about zero impact. If Labour seriously want to close the gap they must promote JC as calm and measured as opposed to TM who is confrontational and sanctimonious- there might be mileage in that provided they can counterbalance the stridency of most of the press. If I were a Labour strategist I would bombard those who control the news media via the airwaves (TV and Radioo) with this theme as a constant issue.

  15. Couper2802: “I don’t know if there is something I am missing regarding Switzerland but the Swiss seem to have a very bespoke deal.”

    From memory, the Swiss deal involves over 200 separate agreements, acceptance of free movement of workers, Schengen and EFTA membership, application of most EU laws, substantial payments and acceptance of ECJ rulings.

    So maybe not the sort of bespoke deal TM has in mind.

    Incidentally, those 200 trade deals are analagous to the single US-China trade deal signed yesterday. It’s quick and easy to do a bilateral deal dropping tariffs on a few trade items where both sides see benefit. What takes much longer is a comprehensive free trade deal – see TPP, TTIP etc.

  16. @ Trevor Warne

    The conclusion of the industry investigation into the polling errors was that it was a sampling problem (i.e. those responding to the VI question were atypical for their demographic). Its a while since I read the report but as I recall none of the other factors like differential turnout had much impact on the polling error.

    Matt Singh’s work postulates an association (note association not causation) between leadership ratings and election outcomes. His analysis is reasonably persuasive, but is based on a very small data set, so needs to be treated with caution. My opinion is that using leadership satisfaction as an indicator of VI is a useful working hypothesis (until events prove otherwise).

    This leads to an obvious question – if the 2015 samples were unrepresentative of the population for VI, why were they more representative on the leadership satisfaction question, as after all it is the same people answering different questions. I would suggest that in the VI question “brand loyalty” plays a signficant part and the over sampling of politically engaged exaggerates the effect. When it comes to leadership satisfaction people are a little more objective e.g. a considerable number of SNP supporters would endorse a statement like this “Ruth Davidsoon is doing a good job for Cons, but I wouldn’t vote for her”.

    This is pure conjecture, but I think you are on the wrong angle with voter motivation. It was all about sample representativeness, and counter-intuitively the samples were probably ok on the secondary questions, but poor on the headline issue.

  17. @Catmanjeff – Cheers. That’s from Electoral Calculus? What VI is used to determine that distribution? I’m looking at the seats in order of what it would take to change hands. As an example, Renfrewshire East requires a 9% swing to the Conservatives from the SNP, the SNP had a lead over the Conservatives of 10500 or so (it’s Jim Murphy’s old seat?). I’d be a bit sceptical of some of those changes for now – but hey, there’s still 4 weeks to go!!!!

  18. @Ken

    Has DT shown a massive concern for the environment, pollution and so on? Like with the coal thing when he took power? You can sign off on trade deals real quick if you don’t care about that sorta thing!!

  19. @Ken

    Like. They also like chlorinated chickens and stuff, and they wanted that in the EU trade deal.

  20. @louiswalshvotesgreen.

    It’s an update on my won analysis.

    Too long to explain here, try this:

    The data set has since been updated.

  21. @Catmanjeff – That’s terrific work. I think the key difference between your numbers and my own is that I have Labour holding up better in London and Scotland (relatively), but doing much worse in the Midlands and Wales. I don’t have such a strong SNP-Con swing, so that’s why I’m a bit softer on Tory gains in Scotland – however, the overall seat numbers nationally aren’t far off.

  22. I’m not a labour supporter but the manifesto contains some pretty good aspects

    It’s a shame that people generally just listen to the lies in the media, the spin, rather than caring about actual policies.

  23. 70’s vs 80’s, another great discussion. Personally I loved the 70’s (I was a small kid, so things like power shortages and having to use candles was great). 80’s not so hot – that’s when my dad lost his job, along with millions of others. I doubt many of those families thought the 80’s were a breath of fresh air!

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