In a general election there are three main factors that make the floating (undecided) voter come to their choice when confronted with a ballot paper. They are:
- Incumbency. Voters don’t like change, they have got used to the existing team and really think that any uncertainty about new faces just isn’t worth the effort. The incumbency factor comes at two levels, firstly voting for the local MP, secondly voting for the existing government. Psephologists and pollsters try to allow for it but they seem to mostly underestimate its power. Human beings tend to be loyal.
- “Presidential” leader. This has won and lost many elections in the past and no doubt will do so again. People want our Prime Minister to look like a Prime Minister when he is on the world’s stage. This is why Ed Miliband was famously media coached to say “tough enough”. We were supposed to think it made him look more “presidential”.
- The economy. Bill Clinton famously used “It’s the economy, stupid” as a key message in a winning presidential campaign. Quite simple people vote for how well off their vote is likely to make them. Pure, mercenary, self interest.
In the upcoming General Election David Cameron and the Conservatives have got Ed Miliband and the Labour party soundly beaten on all three of these. This is a good thing because, depending on who you talk to and what questions you ask, as many as 40% of the entire electorate are going into the election undecided. So, in theory everything is up for grabs. The SNP could still crash and burn in Scotland.
You might ask about the many hundreds of opinion polls. With such a high level of undecided voters these are giving very flaky results. And there is a new error that has just been discovered. Pollsters ask their questions based on party. So for Sheffield Hallam when this was done a Labour victory was the result. But then someone had the bright idea of using the names of the candidates instead of their parties, which is much more accurate because it is the main message on the voting slip. And the result changed completely to a Liberal Democrat victory with their candidate, Nick Clegg. Repeated round the country there will be names which resonate in different ways in many constituencies. So a second reason to expect surprises.
Then there is the third factor which will massively skew results; tactical voting. Voting for a party you wouldn’t normally vote for to stop a party you don’t like from getting in. So a Conservative voting Labour in Scotland to thwart SNP. A Labour voter going for Libdem in the West Country to thwart the Conservatives. And so on. It has happened in the past, but this time we have a bigger choice of popular parties and it is going to happen on an industrial scale. Many newspapers are giving their readers tactical voting guides.
Fourthly we have election fraud, mostly using postal votes and mostly by a certain ethnic community (just google the court cases). At the 2010 General Election some thought that this resulted in Labour gaining 6 seats that should have gone to the Conservatives. So a net 12 seat change, which with things so tight, could decide this upcoming election. It will be interesting to see if it is worse this time or whether the police are on top of the situation. Certainly postal votes make it vastly too simple to defraud the election and something serious needs doing to prevent it. To some cultures election fraud is normal in their home countries, so they just bring their values to Great Britain when they come here.
So brace yourselves for a very interesting Thursday night. It is not all going to unfold as any of us think. But it is worth pointing out that bookmakers are still offering 10 to 1 for an overall Conservative victory.