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In the News

Party leaders and voting behaviour

Mike McCartney

30th January 2024

What to make of Sunak and Starmer?

Predicting the outcome of the next election is not a requirement of the A Level course, but it is a good way in to thinking about what factors influence the outcome of elections. Furthermore, it's a fun game.

The reason for writing this is based on what BBC presenter Laura Kuenssberg discovered when talking to a sample of voters.

She writes

"'We're not allowed to swear, are we?"

Both Conservative and Labour politicians might have muttered a curse or two if they had been in the room on Wednesday in Manchester, when we invited nearly 50 voters to share what was on their minds.

We did encourage them not to swear, as we will be showing their conversations on BBC One on Sunday. But the sentiments were strong.

Our groups were upset and frustrated about the state of the country, which was "in crisis", "depressing" and "dishonest and messed up".

And they did not spare the feelings of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

"Incompetent cretin", "dull" and " "not strong enough" was how some put it. Read on to find who was the target of which hurled insults.""

The full article is here.

This chimes with polling from Ipsos, that has the Prime Minister on a net satisfaction rating of -44 and the leader of the opposition on -18. The importance of the party leader is debated by psephologists but there is no doubt that it has some effect on how voters cast their ballots.

As probably all Politics students are aware, members of electorate are inclined to cast their vote according the rational choice model. The twin anchors of partisan and class alignment still heavily shape decisions by voters at the polls, but they don't decide the outcome. It is decisions by the vital swing voters that ultimately determine what the colour of the door at Number 10 will be painted.

As such, it is the 4Ps that matter: past performance, party unity, future policies, and of relevance here, the party leader.

As such, neither leader is currently doing much to increase their party's chances of victory!

On a related note, there is an excellent article on the limited parallels between 1997 and 2024 here.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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