Public care about the source of MPs’ second incomes just as much as the amount earned

5116060964_c118f83d00_oIt was an interesting leap from the shenanigans in Falkirk Constituency Labour Party to proposing a restriction on MP’s outside interests, but it was a leap Ed Miliband made two weeks ago. Arguing that this would help clean up politics, and renew public faith, he proposed a limitation on MPs’ second incomes, to no more than 15% of their total income. This is one of those issues where MPs might be forgiven for thinking they can never get it right. When many MPs had second incomes, the criticism was that they were not spending enough time at Westminster. When we got more full-time politicians, the complaint became that we had not enough politicians with experience of the ‘real world’.

We know that the public say they don’t like MPs with second incomes. A recent YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found a majority of the public opposed to MPs having second jobs and in favour of an outright ban. But MPs second incomes – where they exist – come in lots of different forms. Some involve fairly small sums of money. Some, on the other hand, have ‘second’ incomes larger than their parliamentary incomes. Plus, some of these second jobs are in fact first jobs, at least in the sense that they were the MP’s job before they became an MP – and exactly the sort of ‘real world’ professions that people often say they want to see represented at Westminster. (Miliband himself had previously argued that he wanted to see more entrepreneurs stand for Labour; an income cap would presumably limit the Party just to the unsuccessful ones, or to those who agreed to sell their companies for the pleasure of becoming a backbench MP). Other second incomes are directorships or such like picked up after becoming an MP.

To try to get at some of these differences, we ran a series of split-sample surveys, in which we tested the public’s reactions to small changes to the profiles of hypothetical politicians. To begin, we showed half of respondents to a survey two politicians:

Politician A is 48 years old.  After university, where he studied physics, he trained as an accountant, and set up a company, which he then sold.  He is married with three children.  He is an avid cricket fan, and a keen player in his youth; he is now a passionate advocate for sporting facilities for young people. He also has interests in the health service and pensions. He became an MP in 2001 and is a member of the Heath Select Committee and is known to be a hard-working constituency MP.

Politician B is 45 years old. Before entering politics he was a lawyer, although he no longer practices.  He is passionate about the environment and education. His wife is a primary school teacher and they have two children and he is a trustee of an educational charity that supports apprenticeships.  He has been an MP since 2005 and he is known for his focus on education policy, and is the one of the more rebellious and independent-minded MPs in the House of Commons.

We asked them, without knowing what party these politicians stood for, which would they prefer. Shown the profiles above, we found 38% of the public preferred A, 45% went for B, and 17% said neither. In other words, B led by 7 points. It doesn’t especially matter why B led by 7 points; this is just a baseline, with which we then compare other similar profiles.

So, for example, the other half of the same survey saw the same text as above, except we changed the second line of B’s profile so that it read ‘and he continues to practice, arguing that this keeps him in touch with the world outside Westminster’. Support for A over B was now 1 point. In other words, continuing to practice as a lawyer damaged B’s popularity among potential voters; his lead of 7 was now a lead for A of 1. In a further survey, we then changed B’s profile yet again to add a sum of money, earned as a result of this work. Half of the sample saw: ‘This brings him in approximately an additional £10,000 per year in income’. A’s lead now extended to +6. The other half saw the sum of £50,000; A’s lead extended even further to +11. That’s a difference of 18 percentage points between the baseline for the non-practicing lawyer and the one who’s still earning £50,000 from the work, suggesting a hefty electoral penalty for continuing a career in law once elected, magnified by the sums of money earned.

Some of our previous work has shown that GPs make very popular election candidates with the public. So in another set of experiments, we changed the text of candidate B replacing ‘a lawyer’ with ‘a GP’. As expected, this made a huge difference. Whereas in our first experiment, B had initially led A by 7 percentage points, B’s lead was now 23 points. But when we changed the extent to which our fictional GP still worked as a GP, their popularity began to wane. Continuing to practice, but with no mention of money, and the lead dropped to 18 points; earning £10,000 and the lead was 13 points; an income of £50,000 reduced the lead to seven points. Even then, they were still the preferred politician (and by exactly the same amount as a lawyer who didn’t practice any longer), but that is because GPs make – rightly or wrongly – such popular candidates to begin with. The overall negative effect of increasing the extent to which they worked as a GP from not at all to earning £50,000 was 16 percentage points, basically the same as when we changed the income of the lawyer.

But this seems not always to be true. A third experiment took our initial profiles, and we changed the text of politician A. Instead of having sold his company, the text read ‘which he continues to run, arguing that this keeps him in touch with the world outside Westminster’. And, again, we altered the income levels, from no mention of money, to £10k, and then to £50k. This time, the effect was non-existent. Politician B’s lead varied from six to 10 points, never statistically significantly different from the base-line. The additional income did not make him more popular, but it appears to have done no harm.

And finally, we tested for the effect of directorships gained since becoming an MP. Again, we split a survey, and randomly added the following text to the profile of politician A:

Since becoming an MP he has become a non-executive director of a company who pay him £10,000 per year. He argues that this keeps him in touch with the world outside Westminster.

Without that text, in our baseline survey B had led A by seven points. Adding that text to A’s profile, extended that lead to 34 points. In other words, it made a difference of 27 points. When we changed the amount to £50,000 we produced a lead of 29 points, a difference of 22 points. This is a much larger effect than we found for any of the GP, lawyer, or accountant experiments. In other words, the public reacted with much more hostility to income gained since becoming an MP than they did from income from pre-existing occupations. But with directorships the sum of money didn’t especially matter. The politician who earned £50k from directorships was no less popular than the one who earned £10k. If anything, on the raw figures they were marginally more popular, although the differences were not statistically significant. It basically didn’t matter whether they earned £10,000 or £50,000. Both were equally unpopular.

We found the sums of money involved did matter, however, if both earned money from directorships. In our final experiment, we first added £50k in directorships to profile A and £10k to B; and then we swapped the sums around. When A trousered £50k from directorships, and B just 10k, B led A by 32 points, which is a deviation from the baseline of 25 points. The other way round, and A led B by 20 points, a deviation from the baseline of 27 points. We also found, once both candidates earned money from directorships that the percentage of respondents selecting ‘Neither’ increased to at least 30% of respondents, higher than in any of the other experiment.

If the aim of any income cap is to make politicians more popular, then we need to realise that the issue for the public is not just the sums of money involved but both the sums and the source. Continue to earn £50k from a company that you had set up before becoming an MP, and the public do not especially seem to mind. But earn even £10k from continuing your profession as a lawyer or a GP, they do. They object even more to directorships – the spoils of electoral war for some MPs – but again the sum doesn’t hugely matter; £10k earned from directorships is worse than £50k earned from pre-existing occupations. But in terms of just the sums: for a backbench MP £10,000 would be below the proposed 15% cap. In other words, it won’t do much good.

Rosie Campbell and Philip Cowley

We ran questions with YouGov over five days, between 15-19 July 2013.  In total, we tested 15 variants of the profiles.  Each survey was weighted according to YouGov’s standard weighting. 

MPs and Twitter: what are MPs tweeting about?

Image by Shawn Campbell

Image by Shawn Campbell

For my final year dissertation I chose to look at what use MPs’ are making of social media. Focussing on their use of Twitter, I set out to answer two questions: which MPs are tweeting and what are they using it for?

To answer the second question I took a random sample of 40 MPs from those who tweet, and then coded their 200 most recent tweets. There were three areas looked at: the content of the tweets (what issues they were on: international, national, constituency or non-political), the purpose of the tweets (were they promoting themselves or their party, explaining their position or something else) and the type of tweet (were they simply posting their thoughts, saying what they were doing or taking the time to respond and communicate with people).

Majority International National Constituency Personal/Non-Political N
0 to 5% 4.2 57.5 30.9 7.4 1400
5% to 10% 6.9 53.8 27.8 11.5 1928
10% to 20% 2.6 39.1 36 22.3 2077
20% to 30% 4.2 55 26.2 14.6 1509
30%+ 1.3 64 20 14.7 400

Tweet content by majority (% of total tweets)

64% of the tweets sampled were on national issues, by far the most common topic. The second most common topic was MPs’ constituencies at 20%, whilst non-political tweets accounted for 14.7% and ones on international issues just 1.3%. Unsurprisingly a recurring topic is the economy, with MPs regularly attacking the opposing parties. Often Twitter simply appeared to act as an echo chamber, with MPs repeating what was being said by their party in the news or in the House of Commons.

Party Inform Solve Problem Explain Promote Journal Unclassified N
Conservative 14.6 2.9 30.9 35.7 3.5 12.4 2149
Labour 16 2.4 33.7 29.1 4 14.8 3165
Liberal Democrat 9.5 2.4 33.8 42.2 1 11.1 1600
Overall 14.8 2.6 33.7 31.9 3.2 13.8 6914

Tweet purpose by party (% of total tweets)

When it came to the purpose of the tweets most were explaining their or their party’s position or opinion on the matter, with a similar amount also promoting their or their party’s activities.  When it came to tweeting about their constituency it was often to promote what they were doing, such as visiting a local group, attending an event , or saying how well attended their surgery was. A small number of MPs responded to constituents with problems their constituents wanted addressing, but these accounted for only 2.6% of the tweets sampled. It looks like people  rarely try to contact their MP through Twitter when they have a problem they want to contact them about.

One possibility considered before carrying out the research was that there would be a high number of non-political tweets designed to make the MPs appear more ‘in-touch’ or ‘human’. A recent example of this was George Osborne’s much derided burger tweet before his spending review speech.

However, non-political tweets accounted for only 14.7% of the tweets sampled, meaning over 85% were political. And of those 14.7%, few had the staged feel of Cameron’s or Osborne’s tweets. They were just tweeting about their interests. Perhaps this is because many backbenchers tweet for themselves, rather than having an aide do it for them.

Party Conversation Status Pass Along News Comments/ Opinion N
Conservative 28.2 25.8 28.4 3.5 14.1 2149
Labour 21.7 17.3 34 7.4 19.6 3165
Liberal Democrat 36.8 8.1 45.9 2.3 6.9 1600
Overall 28.7 15.3 35.9 5.3 14.8 6914

Tweet type by party (% of total tweets)

One final area to look at was the type of tweets posted, the main point of interest here being whether MPs were communicating with the public much. 28.7% of the tweets sampled were communication with other users using Twitter’s ‘@’ function. Some of these were conversations with fellow MPs, journalists and other MPs, but a large number were with members of the public. It has been suggested that the Internet and social media could herald a new relationship between elected representatives and the public, and there was certainly a willingness to interact and respond to people from a good number of MPs. However, this willingness varied from MP to MP and there are still over 200 who do not use Twitter at all. If there is a new relationship forming, it is still in its very early stages.

James Donald recently graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BA in Politics.

See also:
MPs and Twitter: who’s tweeting?
MPs and Twitter: which parties are tweeting?
MPs and Twitter: an infographic

MPs and Twitter: which parties are tweeting?

Image by Shawn Campbell

Image by Shawn Campbell

For my final year dissertation I chose to look at what use MPs’ are making of social media. Focussing on their use of Twitter, I set out to answer two questions; which MPs are tweeting and what are they using it for? Something that emerged when carrying out the research was the differences between MPs from the three main parties.

Party Yes No N
Conservative 54.8 45.2 305
Labour 69.1 30.9 256
Liberal Democrat 75.4 24.6 57
Others 65.6 34.4 32

Who tweets? By party (% of total MPs)

As of January this year, 54.8% of Conservative MPs were tweeting. This is significantly less than the 69.1% of Labour MPs and 75.4% of Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives certainly look to be lagging behind the two other parties, but this difference in numbers is largely down to the number of tweeting frontbenchers.

The majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat frontbenchers do tweet, with over 80% of each party’s frontbenchers on Twitter. This is in contrast to the Conservative party, with only half of its frontbenchers using Twitter as of January this year. If there is one party that is behind in using Twitter it is the Conservatives, with proportionately less of their MPs on it and significantly fewer frontbenchers. It seems to be viewed with suspicion amongst the party’s leadership, with David Cameron once infamously claiming ‘too many tweets make a twat’ and reported attempts to restrict their MPs’ use of it. On Labour’s side, with 85.7% of their frontbenchers on Twitter this suggests more of an effort to get their frontbench to make the most of Twitter.

If they are making this effort, it hasn’t filtered through to their backbenchers. Whilst there is a large difference between the number of Labour and Conservative frontbenchers who tweet, there is little difference between the backbenchers with 56.3% of Labour backbenchers and 59.8% of Conservative backbenchers tweeting. With fewer MPs, proportionately there are more tweeting Liberal Democrat backbenchers at 71.8%. The Liberal Democrats are the only one of the three parties with a high proportion of both front and backbenchers tweeting, meaning overall they have the highest proportion of MPs on Twitter. Only 13 of their MPs do not tweet. Given their position as the third party, this is not massively surprising. Twitter is perhaps seen by them as a means to promote their party, whereas they might struggle for coverage in the media compared to the other two, larger parties.

In the run up to the 2005 general election a number of MPs set up blogs, and in 2010 they signed up to Twitter. They realised the benefits of blogging and tweeting for their campaigns, but as things stand the Conservatives lag behind in terms of their presence on Twitter (particularly amongst its ministers, being the only party with its backbenchers more likely to tweet than its frontbenchers). It will be interesting to see whether they feel the need to change this as we head towards 2015, or whether they will remain behind the other two parties.

James Donald recently graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BA in Politics.

See also:
MPs and Twitter: who’s tweeting?
MPs and Twitter: what are MPs tweeting about?
MPs and Twitter: an infographic

MPs and Twitter: who’s tweeting?

Image by Shawn Campbell

Image by Shawn Campbell

For my final year dissertation I chose to look at what use MPs’ are making of social media. Focussing on their use of Twitter, I set out to answer two questions: which MPs are tweeting and what are they using it for? Here I will outline what I found when exploring which MPs are using Twitter.

Age Yes No N
Under 30 75 25 4
30-39 83.8 16.2 74
40-49 76.1 23.9 188
50-59 59.1 40.9 230
60-69 44.8 55.2 125
Over 70 27.6 72.4 29

Who tweets? By age (% of total MPs)

As of January this year, 408 MPs were on Twitter and 242 not. A clear disparity between younger and older MPs was found, with younger, more recently elected MPs far more likely to tweet than older ones who have been an MP for longer.  Over 80% of MPs under 40 tweet, compared to only 44.8% aged 60-69 and 27.6% over 70.

Intake Yes No N
1959-1979 25 75 24
1983 31 69 29
1987 37.9 62.1 29
1992 55.6 44.4 45
1997 52 48 102
2001 56.7 43.3 67
2005 71.1 28.9 114
2010 77.1 22.9 240

Who tweets? By intake (% of total MPs)

Those MPs elected at the 2010 general election were the most likely to tweet, with 77.1% of them using Twitter. The intake of every parliament since 1983 proportionately has more MPs using Twitter than the last, the only exception being slightly more of the 1992 intake using Twitter than the 1997 intake (55.6% compared to 52%). All of this suggests that in the future, as older MPs retire and new, younger ones are elected, the total number of MPs using Twitter is going to go up.

Majority Conservative Labour Liberal Democrats Others Overall
0% to 5% 72.5 88.9 93.3 80 81.4
5% to 10% 73.8 77.1 50 83.3 73.4
10% to 20% 51.9 59 72.2 70 57.2
20% to 30% 51.3 60.9 90 28.6 56.6
30% + 39.4 73.2 100 83.3 56.3

Who tweets? By majority (% of total MPs)

I also looked at this question from the angle of MPs’ majorities to see whether MPs defending a small majority are more likely to tweet than those with a safe seat. This appears to be the case. MPs with a majority of under 5% are the most likely to tweet, with 81.4% of them doing so. Those with a majority between 5 and 10% are the group with the next highest proportion tweeting on 73.4%, whilst those with majorities of +30% are the least likely to tweet. Fewer than 60% of MPs with such a majority tweet.

Whilst there is an overall correlation, the picture within the individual parties is more mixed. All the parties have a high proportion of MPs with majorities under 5% tweeting, but when it comes to the larger majorities, over 70% of Labour MPs with a majority of +30% tweet (well above the overall figure) whilst less than 40% of Conservatives do. A small majority does look to be an incentive to tweet across the board, but only within the Conservative party is an MP with a large majority significantly less likely to do so.

Party Backbenchers Frontbenchers Total Backbenchers Total Frontbenchers
Conservative 56.3 50 229 76
Labour 58.9 85.7 158 98
Liberal Democrats 71.8 83.3 39 18
Overall 58.7 71.4 426 192

Who tweets? Backbenchers v. frontbenchers (% of total MPs tweeting)

Finally, frontbenchers are more likely to tweet than backbenchers. Of the three main parties, 71.4% of MPs who sit on their party’s frontbench tweet compared to 58.7% of backbenchers. These numbers do not tell the whole story however, as there are noticeable differences between the parties, something that will be looked at more in the next post.

James Donald recently graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BA in Politics.

See also:
MPs and Twitter: which parties are tweeting?
MPs and Twitter: what are MPs tweeting about?
MPs and Twitter: an infographic

Making Sense of Chief Whips

On Friday, the Government Chief Whip, Patrick McLoughlin, spoke to students on our second year British Political Parties module.  The next visiting speaker on that module is a former Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith.  That’s two Chief Whips in a couple of weeks.  So what’s the collective noun for Chief Whips?

Believing in the wisdom of crowds, I asked twitter.  And answers included: a threat, an obeyance, a clusterf**k, a black book, a thumbscrew, a crack, a dungeon, a coven, an inquisition, a flail, a discipline, a lash, a sewer, a headlock, a fist, a golden shaft, an omerta, an Urquhart, a looming, a panic, an oppression (that one even came from a former whip), a McAvoy (a Westminster in-joke), a walnut (very clever), and a persuasion.

It’s fair to say that whips have got an image problem…

Professor Philip Cowley