After recording their varying views of the general election campaign for the Voices and votes project for weeks, the reaction to the result from the swing voters we’ve been following was universal: shock.
Some are happy, some are sad – but it’s clear that when they woke up on Friday morning, like much of the political commentariat, no one saw this coming. “Did not expect it to be a hung parliament… Interesting to see how the day unfolds now…” Despite their surprise, their attitudes help us understand yesterday’s unexpected outcome and early analysis reveals some key themes.
We identified a marked shift in perceptions of both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn during the course of the campaign. This election was unusual in that, when it was called, voters told us that they didn’t feel they knew much about either prime ministerial candidate – and the personal profiles of both leaders appear to have been crucial to explaining why our swing voters voted the way that they did. Those who ended up voting Labour in one-time Conservative targets such as Harrow West and Birmingham Erdington have told us that they were won over by Corbyn’s hopeful message: “Corbyn offers a fresh approach to politics and a new direction for Britain, which I hope will prove to be a very positive change.” His perceived honesty and warmth relative to Theresa May was also crucial: “Watching the campaign over the last few weeks I feel Jeremy Corbyn has come across as far more trustworthy.”
This contrast between Corbyn and May was accentuated by the difference in the brands of their two parties, which we wrote about earlier this week. Rather than citing specific manifesto promises, many of our swing voters were swayed by whether the party and its leader were perceived to have the interests of ordinary working people at heart. While the Conservatives were “posh” – and the fox hunting pledge spoke to this feeling – Labour was “on their side”: “I voted for Labour because I do believe they have better intentions and will act upon their promises.”
But our undecided voters indicate that there are also other dynamics at play in Corbyn’s (relative) success around the country. In Hartlepool, it seems that his somewhat anti-establishment appeal was an important driver of votes and indicates why the Conservatives’ move rightwards didn’t necessarily see them home in Leave-voting constituencies which were previously fertile ground for UKIP: “It’s time for a change. The Conservatives have been in power for a while now and nothing is getting done.”
In Cambridge, this feeling seems to have been symbolised by Labour’s manifesto pledges which voters found very attractive – more so, indeed, than the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto with its position on Brexit centre stage: “I voted for Labour mainly because of the promise to invest in public services. I didn’t choose Lib Dem in the end because it didn’t feel like they were a real threat to the Conservatives.”
In Scotland, the dynamics were completely different – although our Voices and Votes seat Glasgow East opted to stay with the SNP, the mindset of those undecided voters who chose the Conservatives here provides a clear indication as to reasons for the party’s surge north of the border: “The biggest driver for me was to avoid another independence referendum in Scotland”.
Even among those who voted for Nicola Sturgeon’s party, some accept this vote as evidence that #indyref2 should not be revisited in the near future: “I wanted SNP to stay in power in Scotland – however, I wasn’t sure about another referendum and truthfully looking at the results I think Nicola has her answer. Not all Scottish people want independence.”