The relative qualities of the parties’ campaigns – bad for the Tories, good for Labour – stuck out most in the minds of the public
“Campaigns don’t matter” is an adage held in many political spheres which holds that the effect of election campaigns on how people vote tends to be very small, at least when compared to other factors like candidates’ popularity and the strength of the economy.
But if any election ever disproves this, it is the British 2017 general election. Over the course of the campaign, Theresa May's Conservatives squandered a twenty point-plus lead in the polls, ending up a just two-and-a-half points ahead of Labour on election day and failing to secure an overall majority in the House of Commons.
Now, newly released YouGov research conducted in the week immediately following the election shows what the British public thought – in their own words – were the most memorable things about the Conservative and Labour parties over the course of the campaign.
The Conservatives’ "bad" campaign was by the memory that stuck most in the mind of the public, at 23%. It was particulary high among Tory voters, at 27%, although it was still by far the most common answer goven by Lib Dem (24%) and Labour voters (20%) too.
It will doubtless provide cold comfort to Conservative sloganeers that the phrase “strong and stable” was the second most common memory associated with the party, with 11% of people recounting the slogan to us.
Negative memories of Theresa May’s role during the election – statements like “Theresa May hiding from the public” and “evasive answers from the PM” – rounded off the top three, with 10% of people saying this was their top memory of the Tories during the campaign. (By comparison, 6% of people gave neutral statements about Theresa May as their top memory, while positive feelings towards Theresa May were the main memory of the campaign for a statistical 0% of people).
Memories of the Labour campaign didn’t coalesce around a single concept to the same extent as they did with the Conservatives. In joint first place (on 11%) for the most memorable thing about Labour during the election was that the party was seen as having had a "good" campaign.
In contrast to the overarching view among voters of all the political spectrum that the Conservatives endured a "bad" campaign, it was only really Labour's own supporters that walked away from the election thinking the party had had a "good" campaign". Approaching a quarter (23%) of Labour voters said the party’s good campaign was their main takeaway, compared to 9% of Lib Dem voters and just 4% of Conservative voters.
Neutral statements about Jeremy Corbyn – such as “Corbyn’s rallies” or “Corbyn high fiving someone’s boob” (or indeed simply “Jeremy Corbyn”) – were the other memory tied in first place for Labour’s campaign. These statements were particularly likely to be made by young people (25% of 18-24 year olds).
The 7% of people coming away from the campaign with the main memory being one of positivity towards Jeremy Corbyn were most likely to be Labour voters and, intriguingly, Liberal Democrat voters, while the 6% of Brits with negative memories of Corbyn were unsurprisingly more likely to be Conservative supporters.
The third most memorable memory of Labour’s campaign was the notion that Labour’s manifesto was unaffordable or that the party was making empty promises (8%). This is mostly because 18% of Conservative voters who gave this answer and it was the most common memory that 2017 Tories had of the Labour campaign.