The Times: Leaders’ speeches group discussion

Jane CarnQualitative Research Director
October 08, 2013, 2:50 PM GMT+0

The qualitative team at YouGov was commissioned by The Times to run an online focus group looking at reactions to the three party leader’s speeches at the recent party conferences. During the group, we played a 4 minute exert from each of the leaders’ speeches, highlighting the key policy areas from each leader.

Participants in this online focus group were selected from marginal Conservative seats and had been identified as swing voters with no strong commitment to any particular party. Through our panel data, we were able to see which party each participant had voted for in the last general election selecting 3 Labour voters, 3 Conservative and 3 Lib Dem. This data meant that we were able to compare participants voting history with their comments during the focus group, often with interesting results.

We structured our discussion to focus on three key areas: voter’s political attitudes to the political issues of today, reactions to each party leader’s speech and comparisons voters made between these speeches, highlighting what impression this had on swing voters.

The full transcript is published on The Times online, and here on the YouGov website.

Some key points of the group included:

  • The Daily Mail/Ralph Miliband story has reflected badly on the Mail for its heavy handed approach. Whilst there was some sympathy for Miliband, there was little evidence of a change in attitudes towards him (positively or negatively) based on his response. Even 2010 Labour supporters were divided in their response. “By speaking out too soon, he gave Oxygen to this news” (Richard, Labour); “He was right to condemn The Mail in Public” (Martin, Labour).

  • Reactions to Ed Miliband’s party speech had failed to impress this group of swing voters. Whilst most conceded that Miliband is strong speaker and impressive in his ‘no notes’ delivery, the less formal style and stance he adopted ran the risk of sounding lighthearted or “soundbitey” rather than convincing, particularly when compared to the other leaders. Our 2010 Conservative voters were the most critical of his tone: “He tried to sound serious but came across as lighthearted, and can’t take him seriously” (Valerie, Conservative)

  • Prior to watching the speech, Nick Clegg was perceived to be a politician “out of his depth and trying to be someone he is not” (Angela, Lib Dem) – even by former 2010 Lib Dem supporters. His speech was clearly seen as a pitch to continue in coalition, with either of the two main parties He comes across as “someone who can keep a lid on whichever party is in charge if they were in coalition with the lib dems” (Richard, Labour)

  • From this focus group, Prime Minister David Cameron came across as the strongest and most convincing leader with 5 of the 8 wanting him to be the next Prime Minister. “I am not a fan of DC but his speech was very easy to follow” (Bethany, Labour); “His tone was impressive” (Valerie, Conservative). However, for some, he was still felt to be arrogant and out of touch – he “made me feel like I was being told off” (Richard, Labour). His policy on getting under 25s off benefits split our focus group down the middle, and not necessarily along party lines.

  • The focus group also discussed Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Vince Cable. Only one member of the group was considering a UKIP vote in 2015, whilst Boris Johnson brought humour to politics but was not taken seriously by our group – “he has obvious talents but must stop acting the bafoon” (Martin, Labour).

See the full transcript of the online focus group for The Times

See for an explanation of what a focus group is