NEWS11 December 2019

Tactical voting and turnout crucial to election outcome

Brexit Election 2019 News UK

UK – The day before the election, the nation is disillusioned and despondent, with undecided voters around the country struggling to choose who they disagree with least, according to research by BritainThinks.

London big ben_crop

Insight and strategy consultancy BritainThinks has conducted focus groups among undecided voters across the UK and found that most undecided voters are not paying much attention to the election campaigns. Undecided voters – those who are certain to vote but uncertain as to who to vote for – were believed to make up about 13% of the population as of last week.

“This election has been an unwelcome reminder of how angry the country is,” said Deborah Mattinson, co-founder of BritainThinks. As well as looking at its own focus groups, BritainThinks included its Mood of the Nation research and other sources.

Mistrust has been at the heart of this election campaign; of the leaders themselves and the promises being made by all parties.

“I think I’ve done eight elections and I’ve never seen national mood as gloomy and pessimistic as it is now,” said Mattinson. Almost three quarters of people ( 74%) think the current political system isn’t fit for purpose. In particular, the massive spending promises made in this election have further eroded trust.

While it has firmly remained a Brexit election, the narrative has changed – it’s no longer about the positives or negatives of coming out of the EU, but rather just about getting it over and done with. ‘Get Brexit Done’ is a slogan that has cut through.

What started as a four-horse race – with Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and the Brexit party – has narrowed to a two-way fight between the Conservatives and Labour. Most undecided voters felt their option is to choose which party they disagree with least.

Voters have not been paying much attention – from Lord Ashcroft’s polls in November and December this year, when asked ‘what incidents, events or stories have you noticed form the election campaign in the past few days?’ for the past five weeks ‘none’ has scored highest, varying from 37% to 42% – far outstripping any specifics. Although in the past three weeks ‘lies’ has ranked second at around 20% – on the 10th December that was joined by Andrew Neil, 14%, and extra nurses, 13%.

In terms of individual leaders, none are popular, but Jeremy Corbyn is especially unpopular – 68% dissatisfied compared with Boris Johnson’s 56% (Ipsos Mori). Among undecided voters, Johnson is seen as decisive and focused on Brexit, but also untrustworthy; while Corbyn is seen as genuine but also weak, extreme and promoting unrealistic policies.  

The two unknown variables that could determine the outcome are the extent of tactical voting and the turnout. People in the focus groups talked about ‘lending’ their vote to a party. But while the Leave vote has galvanised with the Brexit party standing down in Tory seats, Remain has failed to unite in the same way.

There is high voter volatility – about half of voters did not vote for the same party in 2010, 2015 and 2017 according to the British Election Study.

At an event launching the research, Rachel Sylvester, political columnist at The Times, said: “It’s about who is motivated to come out; Remain has been hopelessly divided. There has been a loss of trust in Johnson during the campaign and a rise in favourability in Corbyn. Conservatives are still seen as a party of wealth and privilege when its whole strategy is on breaking the red wall in Labour constituencies. Even Remain voters are saying ‘get Brexit done’ – that message has cut through but will the photo of the little boy and the NHS break through at the end?

“All this is storing up so much trouble for the future. Having lied, if Johnson gets in, he’s not going to get Brexit done, if it’s Corbyn it’ll be a hung parliament and his extravagant promises won’t get made. It’s only getting worse, and this is with those who voted for Brexit feeling the systems weren’t working for them!”

Jonathan Freedland, columnist on The Guardian, said: “It’s an asymmetric election – the winning post is in different places – for the Conservatives it’s a 321+ majority, for Corbyn it’s just denying the Tories a majority. The fact that the government is seeking a fourth term almost never happens – it’s a freak event, not the norm. The national pessimism should disqualify the incumbents. With the polls, I look at the Lib Dem figure first, it’s still 12/13% and that prevents Labour breaking through. Also, what’s last in people’s minds? It was too late for polling but Johnson failing to show sympathy for the boy might be toxic.

“It’s a post-truth election – people don’t trust Johnson’s personality and they don’t trust Labour’s manifesto. It’s the big lie that succeeds – ‘Get Brexit Done'. People think Johnson’s a liar, but they do believe he wants Brexit done.”