YouGov focus groups construct their ideal party leaders
Yesterday evening, YouGov conducted a face to face focus group with voters of different parties to both reflect on the campaign overall and to devise the ideal party leader based on the characteristics of different politicians and public figures.
Despite being a card-carrying Conservative I feel that Theresa May and the government have had a difficult campaign…she started off well but it’s gone a bit shaky.” Male
Overall reflections on the campaign
In truth, though our participants were more politically-minded than most, they were looking forward to seeing the campaign come to a conclusion. There was an interesting sense that the two main parties have ‘nullified’ each other and this has resulted in a bitter and quite attritional campaign, with a great deal of effort put into claims, counter claims, and often petty disputes. This has resulted in a bitter, recriminatory campaign, with social media, more than ever, allowing blows to be traded on a continual basis.
Participants believed that both of the two main parties have entrenched political stances that are further to the right and left than in previous years, and there are perceived to be few options in the middle for those who see themselves as politically centrist. For these participants, the choice for whom to vote is unclear, as they feel ideologically separated from both Labour and the Conservatives. Related to this, many participants were considering tactical voting. Some had a stronger sense of the party they did not want to be in power than the one that they did.
Related to a need for more choice, there was both a strong appetite and expectation for a new centrist party to emerge after the election, with France’s En Marche party an example of how this could be successfully achieved.
“There’s a big open space in the middle, for people such as myself who don’t want to go for someone extreme and the Lib Dems don’t seem to be standing up” Male
Participants argued that Brexit, and the different possible Brexit outcomes, had not shaped the campaign in the way that had been anticipated. They felt that this was a reflection of the public mood – Brexit is seen, even by this primarily pro-Remain group, as a ‘fait accompli’. Many participants were more interested in hearing about education, or wider public service delivery. Participants of all political persuasions also regretted the lack of a ‘grown up’ discussion about immigration during the campaign.
Generally, there was a strong sense that there has been much less of a focus on local issues in this election, with party literature, particularly from the Conservatives, instead focused on leaders and national issues. This has meant that many local issues had not been discussed, with examples of infrastructure and transport issues cited. This indicated a wider disconnect between local and national politics, with parliamentary candidates ‘whipped’ into towing the party line and reciting approved mantras rather than reflecting local concerns. Perhaps related to this, of all the campaign slogans employed during the campaign, the group preferred the Green Party’s ‘Standing up for what matters’, despite the fact that most were only hearing this for the first time.
“It feels very reactive rather than proactive – ‘oh, they said something the public like, let’s jump on that bandwagon’” Female
“Theresa May says she wants to bring back grammar schools to prevent inequality – I don’t know a single person, on either side of the political spectrum, who wants to see more. ” Female
“MPs allegedly represent people in their constituency but they are also tied to the party – you need to make sure the person you vote for is going to stick up for you and not the party” Male
Views of party leaders
Across the group, there was praise for Jeremy Corbyn in terms of his performance in the campaign. There was a sense both that the campaign trail is his natural territory, and that he had nothing to lose from the start. His relatively laid back style compared favourably with Theresa May’s more rigid approach (though there was no certainty that his position is secure following the election that most participants felt he was about to lose).
In discussing leader capabilities participants felt that a combination of competence and relatability were the primary qualities that they look for in a politician. In a more ‘presidential’ political landscape, the need to find the right leader is of increasing importance. Two names mentioned as potential leaders of the future were Ruth Davidson and Keir Starmer, both of whom were felt to have had good campaigns.
Participants were asked to fuse together their perfect party leader from the characteristics of various politicians and public figures. Participants were keen to stress that both politicians were genderless, but probably middle aged. The eye-catching results are as follows.
- Margaret Thatcher’s industriousness and discipline
- Ricky Gervais’ humour
- Nelson Mandela’s dignity and maturity
- Del Boy’s entrepreneurial spirit
- Frank Field’s sensible, principled approach.
- Ken Clarke’s affability
- Ruth Davidson’s sense of humour
- Stephen Fry’s intelligence
- John F Kennedy’s vision
- Malala Yousafzai’s fortitude.
Image from PA