The Election Diaries: 'It doesn't matter to me - they're all a bunch of clowns'

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.

Leadership is the best predictor of electoral outcome, writes Deborah Mattinson
Leadership is the best predictor of electoral outcome, writes Deborah Mattinson

It's been a bumpy start to the campaign and, so far at least, voters continue to feel frustrated – even angry – at what they've seen.

BritainThinks' focus groups last week echoed the gloomy mood we have been reporting since the campaign began.

Some are now telling us that their response is to check out entirely: "It's a joke – I don't really think about it at all," said one undecided voter.

The dominance of Brexit, emphasised this week by Farage's Brexit Party pledge to step down in Tory-held seats, is both infuriating and inevitable.

Voters' views on Brexit have become more entrenched and polarised, with two-thirds of the population clustered at either end of the spectrum – die-hard Leavers or passionate Remainers – while the other third holds the more flexible views of floating voters.

Brexit tribes have now overtaken party tribes and it is clear that this most volatile of electorates no longer self-identifies along traditional party lines.

Nearly half did not vote for the same party in the past three elections.

While the Tories maintain a significant, usually double-digit, lead over Labour, it seems there is everything to play for as the campaigns kick off.

A wise old adman once drily observed that there are really only two election themes: "Steady as we go," or "Time for a change."

He was obviously right, and now more than ever, given the current background of voter dissatisfaction with politics: only six per cent believe UK politicians 'understand people like me' and three-quarters of voters believe that the UK political system is no longer 'fit for purpose'.

This is definitely a change election, and all parties – large or small, incumbent or insurgent – have cottoned on to that as they launch their campaigns. "It's time for real change," urges Labour, while the Brexit Party promises to "change politics for good".

Now read:
 General Election Panel: Tories energised as Brexit Party blinks first

The Tories and the Lib Dems have polar opposite takes on dealing with Brexit to enable 'a brighter future', 'better education/infrastructure', and much else.

The 2017 election taught us that campaigns do matter and minds can be changed. However, few pay attention to manifestos and policy detail.

When swing voters shared their unprompted election diaries, fewer than one-fifth of all entries related to policy.

By contrast, leadership is the best predictor of electoral outcome.

Theresa May began the campaign ahead, but the more voters saw, the less they liked.

One focus-group member observed that "they would trust her to look after their house when they went on holiday, but not their pet dog".

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn exceeded the lowest of expectations, depriving May of her majority.

As the 2019 campaign gets underway, Johnson (himself less popular as PM than most of his predecessors) is the only one of the party leaders to score a reputational net positive.

Corbyn is the least popular leader of the opposition ever. The Lib Dems' Jo Swinson, is, as yet, unknown.

It remains to be seen whether weary voters will be inspired to tune in or tune out. The view so far? "It doesn't matter to me – they're all a bunch of clowns," sighed one last week.

Deborah Mattinson is a former pollster for Gordon Brown and the founding partner of BritainThinks

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