24th November 2019
With leader debates and manifesto launches now having taken place, the 2019 General Election is now in full swing. But while manifestos are important, it is usually not for the reasons that many people would imagine.
The latest results from Deltapoll for the Mail on Sunday show the Conservatives maintaining both a strong share of the vote and a double-digit lead over Labour. Since the start of the campaign, support for the top two parties has moved relatively little, but only this week did voters get a look at detailed policies from the parties as the manifestos were released.
During the 2017 campaign it was the release of the Labour Party manifesto that handed Jeremy Corbyn some positive momentum, followed by a difficult manifesto launch from the Conservatives and a subsequent u-turn on their social care policy. This was then reflected in the polls as Labour began to close the gap on their rivals.
The importance of the manifestos can be overstated, however. Each manifesto is made up of a wide range of policies, some of which may be very popular, but also others which may be equally unpopular. Voters do not get to pick and choose policies. They must take them all or not at all.
Even while individual policies may be popular, and indeed often are, most members of the electorate are paying less attention to the specific details of particular policies and are instead more influenced by the broad narratives surrounding the parties – to put it another way, the sort of stories that we tell ourselves and each other.
For example, this week’s Deltapoll results show that many of the policies in the manifestos, particularly increasing spending on health and raising the minimum wage, are both very popular. It does not mean, however, that such popularity will simply translate to the party putting that policy forward.
It is worth keeping in mind that there are very, very few people (if indeed any) who download copies of each of the party’s manifestos, read each one from cover to cover, make detailed notes and then come to an informed decision about which party to vote for.
Instead the manifesto launches usually provide a particular party with an opportunity to dominate the news agenda for that day, which can lead to greater attention from voters. They also provide a chance for parties to demonstrate their beliefs and values through their core group of policies, which they hope will in turn be picked by voters and influence the narratives they have in their head.
Which party do voters think will be most effective? Which party do voters trust to do the right thing? Which party will be best for the country? Which party shares my values? These are the kind of questions parties hope their manifestos will answer. We wait to see if they really can.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Mail on Sunday.