Why are political policies not cutting through with the electorate?

Voters are confused about which pledge belongs to the Tories or to Labour. Those were the findings of a poll conducted by ComRes and commissioned by the Whitehouse Consultancy. Our poll, reported in the Financial Times (£), found that only a quarter of respondents recognised the Labour’s pledge to cut the deficit in each year of the next Parliament despite a commitment to enshrining this into law being on the very first page of their manifesto.

Similarly, more people thought the Conservative pledge to increase funding for the NHS was actually a Labour policy, with Labour’s plans to restrict immigrants’ access to benefits sounding like a Tory pledge to most voters.

With both David Cameron and Ed Miliband having been criticised for relatively stale and negative campaigns that do not engage with ‘real voters’, has this led to the public switching off?

My feeling is the answer is ‘no’, but for the first time in a generation hundreds of different elections are being fought over truly local issues across the country without a thought to the overall national picture. Local issues are really starting to trump national ones in tight English marginals, with the electorate blitzed with messages about how hard-working local MPs have fought to save local hospitals or receive funding for the local bypass. People in these constituencies have grasped the difference their vote might make to their local area and are unconcerned with the billions of pounds being waved about by party leaders.

The situation in Scotland is even more indicative of the success of a bottom-up localised approach to campaigning, with the SNP’s support only lazily explained as a by-product of last year’s referendum. It’s also due to Nicola Sturgeon and her team’s nationwide campaigning that has been open with voters and even encouraged questions for the electorate. No out-of-town business park rallies or dreary car parks for them.

Ed Miliband used to understand the importance of local campaigning and even used to describe how his only route to victory would be through ‘bottom up’ revolution. As explained by Dan Hodges, ever quick to question Miliband, the opposition leader’s grand plans for voter interaction and more innovative campaigning have often been thwarted by aides fearful of a ‘Gillian Duffy’ moment. This is the wrong move. I wrote last August that Ed had to be in the public eye passionately detailing his vision for Britain if he was to win this election. This isn’t only his problem. The Prime Minister had to as well.

The defensive, negative campaigning we’ve seen over the past month has only served to entrench the core vote with the remaining ‘floating voters’ unconvinced by a lack of substance and unwilling to trust parties they believe have failed to deliver on too many manifesto pledges in the past. How many of these voters will actually turn out on May 7th? And, if many do, how can we be sure they won’t go to one of the fringe parties that are becoming ever-more attractive to the electorate? As we keep being told, the political landscape has changed dramatically since 1992 and the Tories can’t hope for a similar late surge that got them over the line 23 years ago.

With this in mind, the public need to do as much as possible to make sure that they are able to fully understand the policies important to them. Here at Whitehouse we recognise the need to reach out to sections of the electorate that might not otherwise engage with the political process (and not through Russell Brand) and recently re-launched the De-mob website to encourage voters to engage with the main electoral issues ahead of next week. However, voting is in many ways an emotional choice. If the Conservatives and Labour don’t show why their vision matters and the policy substance behind it, and combine this with a bit of passion to connect with voters, why should we give them our vote?

To view the Whitehouse Consultancy/ComRes poll findings please click here for the Conservatives and here for Labour.

For information on the General Election and parties’ policies, please visit www.de-mob.co.uk.