With just under 300 days until the general election next year, which party are you thinking of voting for? But if choosing a party is a bit premature for you in the heat of summer 2014, which issues matter to you? In effect, what topics will determine how you vote?
Let’s assume that politicians are purely driven by creating policies that will win them votes rather than their own subjective beliefs about the qualities of those policies (an assumption over which there is great contestation among academics, as well ‘voters on the street’). We also cannot forget about the electoral algebra of the first-past-the-post system. Under these circumstances, politicians should not really care about how the majority of you answered those initial questions.
True, your responses may inform them about trends of voting inclinations, and which issues are the ‘big topics’ of the day, but with the first-past-the-post electoral system, only certain areas of the country will determine the result of the general election. That’s why, at 50for15, we are going to focus on 50 of those areas where the ‘views on the street’ actually matter. It would be great to hear everyone’s views about the next election, but we’re just going to have to apply the filter of the vote-grabbing candidate over the next few paragraphs as we describe our first event in Abingdon.
The constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon is a key Lib-Dem v Conservative battle, although it is no easy feat to pit coalition partners against each other in the electoral arena, especially when UKIP is punching for the affection of dissatisfied voters from all parties. Our project in Abingdon was simple: ask voters who they thought they were going to vote for, and what their main reason for doing so is likely to be, writing that down on a coloured piece of card correlated with the ‘colour’ of the party (Labour is red, the Conservatives are blue, who’ll win the election, I haven’t a clue). It was a simple enough task – once we found a way of quickly telling people that we weren’t asking for money!
An initial spurt from UKIP was later matched by an upsurge of Labour support (against the trend that the seat is solidly yellow or blue). We talked to 97 people, and although the small sample size stops us from extrapolating the proportions of the vote, unlike a Lord Ashcroft poll (the latest finding the Conservatives out in front), both us and Ashcroft can agree that UKIP are increasingly gaining traction in the area.
UKIP was siphoning support mainly from Conservatives, but also a fair chunk from traditional Labour votes. As with the national polls, the Liberal Democrats (who from 1997 until 2010 held the seat) did extremely poorly – we only met 4 Lib Dem supporters on the day.
Yet, considering the 97 as a large walking and talking focus group, we were able to identify recurring themes throughout the day. A wordle of the reasons people gave on why they would be voting for a party is below; the larger the word, the more frequently it was mentioned. Immigration and the NHS come out as clear concerns.
Delineating reasons by party, some clear differences emerge: UKIP voters believe the most important issue is immigration; Labour supporters are worried about the NHS. Green supporters unsurprisingly brought up the environment, but not exclusively so: the NHS and disenfranchisement with the larger parties were also mentioned. As with the supposed founder of Conservative thought, Edmund Burke, the supporters of the Conservatives in Abingdon were sceptics of ideology, instead opting for pragmatic and management arguments (“You can’t trust Labour to run the economy”/ “Best of a bad bunch”/ “Our MP (Nicola Blackwood) is good.”)
The pale purple on the board is not a voice of support for a version of UKIP-lite, but voters who said they were unsure about how they were going to vote in the election. This group was definitely the ‘winner.’ That the largest proportion of people were in this category of ‘undecided’ suggests that there is a long way to go for candidates to persuade voters in this marginal seat. Not that this is a simple task – Layla Moran, the Lib Dem challenger for Oxford West and Abingdon, is already working 100-hour weeks in order to get her message across.
It is an interesting exercise to focus on what the voters in marginal constituencies think, but that’s not to say everyone else’s opinions are irrelevant. What parties do you want to vote for, and why? What would you like us to ask the candidates, and voters in the marginal seats? Comment below, tweet us @50for15: we’ve got a long way to go, and it would be great to have you on board.