The Election Diaries: Mood of the nation is 'divided, angry and broken'

PRWeek has partnered strategy and insight consultancy BritainThinks to take the temperature of the nation and its response to politicians' attempts to win their votes in the weeks leading up the general election.

Two thirds of us say Brexit is bad for our mental health, reveals Deborah Mattinson
Two thirds of us say Brexit is bad for our mental health, reveals Deborah Mattinson

The mood is grim as the electorate trudges towards 12 December.

In focus groups last week we asked undecided voters to describe Britain. "Divided", "angry", "confused" and "broken" were the words they chose.

BritainThinks' recent Mood of the Nation study tells us that just 37 per cent feel optimistic about the country's future, dropping to 29 per cent of 18-24s.

This gloom is Brexit-related. Even people who voted Leave in 2016 hoping to transform politics now feel that Brexit has ended up emphasising what they most disliked: aggressive, shouty politicians, driven by self-interest.

This is compounded by the sense that even the most well-meaning are incompetent, failing to navigate a route out of the mess we are in.

Three-quarters of respondents now believe that 'the UK political system is currently not fit for purpose' and only six per cent think UK politicians understand people like them. Two-thirds of us even say Brexit is bad for our mental health.

Brexit has also triggered a different problem: the opportunity cost of single-issue politics.

Voters are deeply concerned that the policy areas that actually affect their lives are being neglected – notably the NHS, education and crime.

Crime has raced up the voters’ priority list to the extent that one in five of us worry that we – or a close family member – may be a victim of a violent offence in the next year.

Asked which fictional character [Boris Johnson] is most like, Leavers, flatteringly, suggest James Bond, but Remainers see him as "Homer Simpson in the power plant, asking: ‘What do I press here, what do I do?’

Deborah Mattinson, founding parter, BritainThinks

Against this backdrop, voters are looking carefully at the party leaders. Leadership is the most reliable predictor of electoral success: since 1979 the party with the most popular leader has always won the most seats.

Boris Johnson, once a "Heineken" politician, capable of reaching out beyond his own party, is now a more polarising figure.

Leave voters admire his verve, but Remain voters see him as out of control and dangerous.

Asked which fictional character he is most like, Leavers, flatteringly, suggest James Bond, but Remainers see him as "Homer Simpson in the power plant, asking: 'What do I press here, what do I do?'"

Nonetheless, Johnson comfortably outscores Corbyn as 'best PM'.

Corbyn, little-known in 2017, was a blank canvas onto which voters could project whatever they wanted. They now know him, and many don’t much like what they see.

The least popular Leader of the Opposition since polling first asked the question, he is thought to be ineffectual, partly due to his lack of visibility.

Focus groups say the fictional character he reminds them of is "Where's Wally".

As one put it: "He seemed a breath of fresh air at first, but he’s been silent on so many things, especially on Brexit."

Many seasoned psephologists expect this election to be even more unpredictable than the last.

Brexit-driven tactical voting and low turnout due to electoral fatigue, Christmas and cold weather may all conspire to make this most volatile of electorates even more capricious.

Meanwhile, the cloud of Brexit hangs over the campaign. This, it seems, is not a reassuring spectacle.

According to our most recent Brexit Diaries poll, 58 per cent do not expect the election to resolve Brexit conflict. One focus-group member grumbled: "This is so incredibly annoying – we just want it over and done with."

Deborah Mattinson is a founding partner of BritainThinks



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