How do voters really feel about key manifesto pledges? 

24th June 2024

For political messaging to be effective, it must pass two tests. Firstly and obviously, people must see it. Just as importantly, for it to have any chance of swaying people it must also generate emotional resonance. What does this mean? In effect, it is not good enough for people to simply say they support or like something for them to actually do so – they must believe it right down to the core of their being rather than just saying it with their mouths. To achieve that, a message must engage and provoke an emotional reaction.

Emotions are at the core of everyone’s being, and when we react to something emotionally – positively or negatively – we encode it in our brains where it installs itself and nags away at what we truly think. Good messages are thus an earworm for the brain, implanted and repeatedly doing their thing until we – the person – respond by buying that product…..or voting for that party.

The Emotional Resonance Score (ERS) attempts to recognise this by combining support with emotional infiltration. Good scores are achieved where both are present, where everyone supports an idea and also reacts emotionally to it, or in reverse, where nobody does with any emotional hit. In context, this explains why “Take Back Control” was a message of genius because, guess what, people still react to it with emotional intensity, whereas few talk about Project Fear anymore. The ERS score for the former was more than double of the latter – in a close run referendum a dopamine hit that perhaps explains why Leave edged it.

It also explains why standard polls asking for simple support and opposition to a policy or message are limited in their explanatory power. Just ask Jeremy Corbyn why individual items on his policy menu in 2019 were so popular, but his party performed lamentably at the ballot box. It’s because few people emotionally engaged with them because they knew it was fantasy politics which both the brain and the heart rejected.

So what of 2024’s main policy offerings? ERS scores suggest that some decent policies are on the table, but nothing that really takes the breath away – which appears to be just as PM-in-waiting Keir Starmer probably wants it. His Great British Energy company tops out the Labour list, with an ERS of 66/100, something that all voters view positively. The Tories’ Triple Lock Plus is their best effort (65) but just don’t mention it to younger people who are understandably less enthused.

Talking about being less enthused, the National Service proposal generates an overall ERS of 42, not a really poor score, but it’s Conservative (66) and Reform (67) voters who underpin it. In contrast Labour and Lib Dem counterparts are distinctly unimpressed (as are 18-24 year-olds, who respond to it with a woeful ERS of 21).

In one final twist of delicious irony – look away now if you happen to be Theresa May – the Liberal Democrat policy of providing free personal care for elderly and disabled people achieves the highest ERS of 69, rising to 89 among Lib Dem supporters for whom it’s obviously core vote nirvana. Just don’t mention their other policy of scrapping the two child benefit cap where the overall ERS is a poor 29, dropping to a miserable 19 among Lib Dem voters. It would appear that liberally handing out more generous benefits fails to motivate liberals.

 

All in all the scorecard offers a little something to everyone but nothing major for anyone. If the manifesto section of the long campaign were the last main chance for the Tories to close the polling gap, they’re probably going to be disappointed…or perhaps shrugging their shoulders with a ‘meh’ rather than reacting with any kind of emotional intensity. The voters will know how they feel.

Deltapoll interviewed 1,383 British adults online between 14th to 17th June. The data have been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. Full results are available on our website.

Martin BoonAuthor: Martin Boon