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Category archive for: General Election 2015

Three common errors in interpreting voters’ choices

By BES FactCheck Team

During election night, we undertook a fact-check in which we assessed the factual (in)correctness of all kinds of claims made by politicians, journalists and commentators about the behaviour and motivations of voters. We did so on the basis of analyses of the British Election Study Internet Panel, using data collected recently (wave 4, collected immediately before the start of the campaign). The results of this enterprise can be found on the BES website and in a large number of tweets summarising the conclusions of these fact checks, tagged with #BESFactCheck.

In the course of this work we encountered some popular misconceptions about and incorrect interpretations of voters’ behaviour and motivations that, in our view, deserve extra attention:

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The British and their political parties: The Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In our previous blog post we discussed the electoral potential of the Conservatives and Labour, and emphasised that while both parties could do well tomorrow and potentially hit 40% of the vote with a good campaign, they could lose a great deal of support as well. Here we consider the electoral potential of the parties that might take some of those votes and who are competing throughout Britain: the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens.

Just as in our discussion about the Conservatives and Labour, we have to distinguish between ‘vote intentions’ and ‘electoral preferences’. Vote intentions are gauged by a question about the party one intends to vote for in the general election. Electoral preferences refer to voters’ propensity to vote for a particular party on a scale from 0 (meaning ‘very unlikely’) to 10. A person’s vote intention could change from one day to the next as a result of their exposure to the election campaign and other events – and they are particularly likely to switch from one party to another in this sense if they have a high electoral preference for that party. Similarly, some voters reply ‘don’t know’ to the vote intention question, because they may find two parties equally attractive and cannot decide which one to support.

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The British and their political parties: Conservatives and Labour: little room for gains, much room for loss

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In two previous posts we discussed why asking people how they intend to vote in the general election is not enough to understand adequately how voters relate to political parties. One reason for this is that ‘vote intention’ does not reveal how one’s preference for this party compares to their preferences for other parties. The other reason is that we get little idea of how strong that person’s intention to vote for that party actually is. Both problems can be solved by asking voters, in addition to their vote intention, how likely or unlikely it is that they would vote for each party on offer, on a scale from 0 (‘very unlikely’) to 10 (‘very likely’). We use here the information from such questions as asked in the British Election Study at the onset of the campaign.

These questions allow us to gauge the potential support for every party in the electorate i.e. the proportion of voters who consider each party a sufficiently attractive choice that they may vote for them on polling day. As most voters have high preferences for more than one party [insert hyperlink to blog post 1], a part of each party’s ‘potential electorate’ overlaps with other parties. Parties’ competition for votes, therefore, focuses particularly on these groups of voters. It is unlikely that a given party would ever realise its entire voter potential (unless it had a particularly good campaign while its competitors had a particularly bad one), but nonetheless we can identify the potential support each party could conceivably obtain on election day, if everything went its way.

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Unpopular Leaders Missing from 2015 Leaflets

By Caitlin Milazzo

A few weeks ago we explored which party leaders appeared most frequently in their party’s election leaflets in 2010. Based on pre-campaign evaluations of the leaders we expected that David Cameron would have appeared most frequently in his party’s leaflets, as he was the least disliked of main party leaders (followed by Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown). As a result, Cameron should have been seen as less of an electoral liability by his party. And indeed, when we looked at the extent to which the three leaders appeared in more than 4,000 election leaflets from 2010, we saw that Cameron was more likely to feature in his party’s leaflets than the other leaders.

Using leaflets collected by, we return to this topic and explore whether parties have been taking into account their leader’s popularity (or lack thereof) when designing their leaflets for the 2015 campaign. We looked at more than 1,300 leaflets collected between the start of the long campaign and 20 April, coding each leaflet based on a number of dimensions, including the issues covered, the nature of the message, and the types of images used.

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Negative Campaigning Does Not Need To Be Defended

By Annemarie Walter

The use of negative campaigning is hotly debated in almost every election campaign, and the current General Election is no exception. Negativity was already discussed before the last, ‘hot’, phase of the campaign.  Labour’s campaign chief Douglas Alexander announced in January that they discarded all plans to run billboard posters of David Cameron in what he said was a deliberate attempt to avoid “negative personalised adverts” and to raise the tone of debate. This announcement was made after (and in response to) a series of negative posters from the Conservatives attacking Ed Milliband.[1] More recently Ed Miliband was branded “shameful” by various Conservative politicians for suggesting that David Cameron was partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean in a pre-briefed Chatham House speech.[2] Similar outrage was voiced by Labour politicians when Conservative defence secretary Michael Fallon stated that Ed Miliband had “stabbed his own brother in the back” to lead Labour and was now “willing to stab the UK in the back” by doing a deal on Trident with the SNP “to become PM”. To cite Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman: “To have accused Ed Miliband of being somebody who would stab the country in the back, I think that is negative campaigning – obviously they hope it’s going to work – but actually it undermines our democracy, because it turns people off.”[3]

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Political pork chops

By Matthew Bailey

By the mid-sixties their television show was pulling in a regular audience of over 10 million viewers. In one year they had made more Las Vegas appearances than Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr combined, and having shared the stage at the Hollywood Bowl with The Beatles were now receiving more fan mail a week than the Fab Four themselves. They were: Pinky and Perky.

The two chirpy, high-pitched puppet pigs (created by a Czech husband and wife team Jan and Vlasta Dalibor) were part of an extremely lucrative merchandising campaign, proving popular – thanks to their early evening slot in the TV schedules – with both children and adults. The BBC had recognised their commercial worth and Pinky and Perky became the first film made by the corporation aimed exclusively for overseas sales

All this was put in jeopardy when Harold Wilson decided to try and extend his wafer-thin majority with an election in March 1966. At the time of the announcement Pinky and Perky were trotting their way through a series of programmes based on the theme of ‘You, too, can be a…’. The swines had their eyes set on the ‘top job’: they had decided they could be Prime Minister. The BBC were worried that this episode would upset their need for strict impartiality in the lead up to the vote.

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Will Russell Brand endorsement deliver Britain’s alienated youth for Labour?

By Steven Fielding

As Britain’s longest-ever election campaign reaches its final excruciating moments, Russell Brand announced his support for the return of a Labour government.

A celebrity endorsement is not usually a matter of great political moment. But in a campaign which has failed to engender much enthusiasm, Brand’s announcement created a splash – for journalists at least. For Brand is no ordinary celebrity and his announcement marks a complete turnabout in his attitude to voting.

In 2013 Brand told the BBC that he had never voted and would never do so, because of “the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations”.

He encouraged others to abstain as the only way to bring about change. From that moment the media anointed Brand the leader of those largely urban, mostly young and often poor Britons disenchanted by a political system that did not represent them and expected them to bear much of the burden of austerity. A millionaire comedian maybe a paradoxical tribune of the streets, but that is what Brand effectively became.

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The British and their Political Parties: How good is the electoral menu?

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In a previous post we discussed how approximately half of British voters hold multiple party preferences. For these voters, the electoral attractiveness of their second-best party is the same or almost the same as for their best party, which makes it easy for them to switch their vote intention during the campaign.

At first sight this may look like people are spoilt for choice – but there is a caveat. Electoral preferences were measured, for each party separately, on a scale from 0 to 10. A tie at the top could mean quite different things, depending on the strength of preferences that are tied. Indeed, those who rate two parties each at 10 on this scale are well served by the party system, as they have two options to choose from on polling day, each of which they find excellent. But if the two best parties are tied at 7, it suggests that neither of them are particularly electorally attractive.

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A Bridge Too Far: Cameron’s choice in war films says more than he intends

By Steven Fielding

At the start of the 2015 election campaign David Cameron revealed to Daily Telegraph readers that he liked war films and in particular A Bridge Too Far.

As someone who has spent a fair share of my time watching films about World War Two, hoping to find what they tell us about the past they depict and the present in which they were made, I think Cameron’s choice of A Bridge Too Far as his favourite war film says more than he intends.

Presumably Cameron hoped he would appeal to elderly and nostalgia-ridden Telegraph readers who – if the content of the paper is anything to go by – have a view of the past dominated by benign monarchs and brave British soldiers. Yet, for a Conservative it is a paradoxical film to choose. Released in 1977, the last time Britain struggled to recover from an international crisis and its own economic and social problems, A Bridge Too Far depicted not a victory but the worst Allied defeat in World War Two. It was closely based on real events. In the late summer of 1944 General Bernard Montgomery persuaded Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower that Germany could be knocked out if they dropped an unprecedented number of paratroops behind enemy lines to capture all the Dutch bridges they needed to cross the Rhine.

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