Posts Tagged ‘Party politics and elections’

Why reading polls is actually a lot more complicated than it looks

When the results of the European Parliament elections are revealed they will likely be met with the usual assortment of self-congratulation and outcry. Drawing on the work of the LSE Electoral Psychology Observatory, Michael Bruter and Sarah Harrison explain why polling is a lot more complicated than people may think.

Reading polls is a lot more complicated than what many assume and often, we blame polls for our own misunderstanding of what they can and cannot tell us and of the nature of citizens’ psychology. As British people vote for the European Parliament Elections, here are seven points that might be of interest to those who care about polls and elections.

Over 90% of our political thinking and behaviour is actually subconscious

You can ask someone what they think or what they will do, but the truth is that they do not know it themselves. So, whilst a person’s answer to the question ‘who will you vote for on Thursday’ is useful and consequential, it is not so in a ‘what they say is what they will do’ sort of way. This impact of the subconscious has been well studied, and scholars are aware of it, but sometimes we do not fully realise its impact of the relationship between what we ask and what people can answer.

Moreover, the consequences of the subconscious nature of political behaviour can be harder to evaluate in the age of de-aligned politics. Whilst everyone realises that party identification has declined, the prevalence of ‘old’ models of identification means that we implicitly assume that such identification is the sole source of consistency in electoral behaviour, and that therefore, electoral unfaithfulness or populism are incoherent or anomalous.

The truth is that there can be many other sources of consistency in electoral behaviour which are not based on constant party choices. One may choose to vote for Labour when the Tories are in power for exactly the same reason they chose to vote Tory when Labour was in power. This can be perfectly coherent and predictable, just not in a simplistic partisan framework, but instead based on our understanding of how different voters perceive the function of elections and their own role as voters – what we call their electoral identity.

(Most) people vote on Election Day for a reason

Our research suggests that between 20-30% of voters typically make up or change their minds within a week of an election, about half of them (10-15%) on Election Day. In low salience elections – such as European Parliament elections – this can be even more.

We find that the atmosphere of elections typically picks up radically in the final week and also that voters are far more sociotropic when they vote at a polling station than when they answer survey questions or vote from home. Usually, a lot of those late deciders and switchers cancel each other out, but sometimes this is not the case (e.g. second round of the French 2017 election) and individual conversions can then add up to a change in the election result.

Pollsters make assumptions about what they are getting wrong

Your favourite pollster does not just ask people who they will vote for and print the result. Poll results would look very different if they did. Instead, they use past experience and make assumptions on what they must change to correct what they believe is the gap between measured responses and actual picture.

For instance, if for the past three years, a survey company underestimated the country’s extreme right vote, they will assume that their current measure similarly undercounts those voters and they will “correct” the responses they get by using weightings (i.e. multiplying the declared vote for the extreme right by a small or sometimes not-so-small factor) to try and reach a more realistic figure. Those assumptions and corrections may make the results more accurate… or less.

Pollsters make assumptions about who will vote

Pollsters also make assumptions over turnout. What’s the point of taking that into account a respondent’s answer on who they will vote for if they stay home? When you expect a high turnout of say 80%, those assumptions are fairly robust, but the lower the expected turnout, the more fragile the guesswork is – European Parliament elections tend to have a low turnout so fall squarely within that category.

Often, survey companies will use questions such as ‘how sure are you to vote?’ to predict turnout, but our research suggests that those questions are not very efficient. So, many of the differences across polls are partly due to different pollsters making different assumptions on which respondent categories will or won’t vote, something many got wrong in 2017 about young people.

Furthermore, while analysing the EU membership referendum and the 2017 snap election, we pointed out that most polls and surveys do not use actual measures of turnout, because they count proportions of voters out of total respondents, whilst turnout is a proportion of voters out of registered voters. However, we know that those aged 20-25 are far less likely to be registered than any other category. So in a poll, when a 20-year-old tells you that they won’t vote, you count them as an abstentionist whilst they may just be unregistered.

Because of what we explained above about weightings (surveys chronically have too many people claiming to vote), mistaking unregistered youngsters for absentionists will then make you disproportionately overestimate the presence of abstentionists amongst young people.

Institutional designs matter

Electorates are not monolithic, and national trends do not count as much as what happens within each constituency. For instance, Labour was more affected than the Conservatives by the rise of the UKIP vote in the 2015 General Election notably in some Northern constituencies, and benefited more from its decline in 2017.

With the 2019 European Parliament elections, things are further complicated by the d’Hondt method which implies different calculations for strategic voters than under the plurality used in General Elections. Under plurality, it is quite easy to be strategic: avoid small parties. Under the d’Hondt method, things are far more complex. Often, voting for a strong list means a wasted vote whilst supporting a smaller list will give them a seat. Thus, the ‘remain voter’ website designed by data scientists has come up with suggestions for remainers to vote for the Lib Dems in Scotland and Wales, the Greens in the North West and the Midlands, and for Change UK in London and the South East. Even then, those predictions still rely on the polls so may be exactly right or not at all.

Polls do not just measure voting intentions, they shape them

One of the important concepts in our research is the concept of ‘societal projection’. Many voters think of the rest of the country and its behaviour as they cast their vote. Of course, opinion polls play a big part in shaping what we all believe others are doing. In other words, polls precede the vote and can thus affect it.

Thus, we believe that part of the explanation to the apparent ‘surprise’ of the 2015 General Election which saw the Tories win a straight majority after all polls seemed to predict a hung Parliament is that precisely due to those expectations, many voters cast their ballot thinking that they were effectively shaping the type of coalition that could lead the country rather than giving a party a majority.

In an era of transparency, it is actually good that all citizens have equal access to polling information rather than those being secretly collected by parties or governments. However, this creates an endogeneity problem: polls do not just measure something with no ensuing consequence; instead, they become one of the prime sources of information that voters use to make up their minds.

Should we just get rid of polls altogether?

Nobody would suggest that we should stop having chemistry experiments just because not everyone can just immediately interpret their result or self-teach how to be effective chemists on the internet. Survey research is the same: a complex body of knowledge which design, analysis, and interpretation require complex knowledge, and literacy. It also requires sufficient introspection to know the limits and conditions of the exercise.

At the Electoral Psychology Observatory, when we thought that Leave and Trump may well win at the times most polls seemed to suggest Remain and Clinton victories, it is because we asked ourselves questions like’“are the people who should vote Clinton say that they will?’ and ‘are claimed leave and remain supporters equally enthusiastic or do they say that they will choose the lesser of two evils?’. The picture that emerged was very different from the misleading headline figure most media focused on.

Voters doing what they said they intended to does not make polls wrong. Instead, we are blaming polls for our own collective lack of understanding of how we should read them, and of the psychology of voters, human beings who react to all information including polls, and who can and will change their minds till the last minute especially when they feel the responsibility of their role as a voter on their shoulders. Indeed, anyone who has ever been to a polling station knows that this is not a meaningless moment. There are a whole range of thoughts, memories, and emotions that come to our mind as we stand in the polling booth which we could not expect until we are reminded of the role that we inhabit as a voter. That we should behave differently in those circumstances than when we answered a random interviewer about our voting intention does not make the interviewer wrong, instead it proves the whole logic of electoral democracy right.


Note: you can follow the work of the Electoral Psychology Observatory here.

About the Authors

Michael Bruter is Professor of Political Science and European Politics in the Department of Government at LSE.



Sarah Harrison is Assistant Professorial Research Fellow in Political Science in the Department of Government at LSE.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Losers’ consent and Brexit: the distinction between ‘graceful’ and ‘sore’ losers

Why do some voters accept their defeat and agree to a democratic verdict while some do not? Richard Nadeau, Éric Bélanger, and Ece Özlem Atikcan focus on losers’ consent in the Brexit referendum.

In the protracted aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote, more than 4.1 million UK citizens signed a petition in early 2019 calling for a second referendum on EU membership. This time they wanted it to be based on new rules in terms of the scale of majority (60%) and the turnout (75%) required to act on the result. Their hopes faded away when the government responded that the decision made in the 2016 referendum ‘must be respected’.

Existing studies in political science suggest that post-electoral reactions by voters are mainly outcome-driven. These accounts consider winners and losers as homogeneous groups; and they neglect the individual-level profile and motivations of ‘graceful losers’. Using an innovative and direct question to measure consent by voters on the losing side, our research finds that their reaction to the outcome is also process-driven.

We have three key findings. First, using opinion survey data collected right after the referendum, our research shows the importance of distinguishing between ‘graceful’ and ‘sore’ losers for a better understanding of the crucial phenomenon of losers’ consent. Using a direct question to measure this, Table 1 demonstrates that there are three key groups after an election (not two). Voters on the winning side are overwhelmingly satisfied with the result, but then there are the losers who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the outcome; and ‘graceful losers’, who accept that appropriate procedural rules have been complied with.

Table 1: Winning and democratic majorities in the 2016 referendum on British membership of the European Union.

Notes: The ‘vote’ column represents the official results (rounded) of the 2016 referendum. The legitimacy question reads as follow: “Do you think that the government should accept the result of the referendum and that the UK should leave the European Union or do you think that the government should not accept the result of the referendum and that a second referendum should be held on this question?”. Source: Survey of 1514 respondents. Fieldwork: 1-5 July 2016. See full article for more information.

Second, our research confirms that these patterns hold when we rely on a less direct but more commonly used variable to measure voters’ acceptance of the result: respondents’ level of satisfaction with democracy. Grouping respondents into two homogeneous blocks, winners and losers, leads to the usual conclusion that satisfaction with democracy is higher among winners (52%) than among losers (45%). However, the level of satisfaction with democracy among ‘graceful losers’ (57%) is not smaller, but in fact slightly higher than that amongst voters on the winning side. By contrast, only 37% of ‘sore’ losers are satisfied with democracy. This 20-point gap for the same variable (57% vs. 37%) between the two groups of losing-side voters is striking. ‘Graceful’ or accepting losing voters are a group that adds to the democratic majority, and provides greater legitimacy to a given political outcome.

Third, our research examines and compares the distinct attitudinal profiles of these two groups of losers. Table 2 demonstrates that the consent of graceful losers depends on a balance between their emotions, holding moderate opinions, and political sophistication.

Table 2: Multinomial regression model of winners, ‘sore’ losers and ‘graceful’ losers

The results in column 1 are based on the contrast between winners and ‘sore’ losers whereas those in column 2 compare ‘graceful’ and ‘sore’ losers. They indicate that socioeconomic variables are not very useful in discriminating between our three groups of voters. The results in column 2 offer interesting indications of the reasons why ‘graceful’ losers were more willing than the rest of Remainers to accept the referendum outcome. The positive sign of the ‘Happy (to leave)’ variable suggests that ‘graceful’ losers’ reacted to their defeat in a less emotionally intense way than did ‘sore’ losers. Furthermore, the significant result for the Information (about the EU) variable suggests that ‘graceful’ losers’ higher level of sophistication makes them more likely to use democratic principles to form their view of the referendum outcome’s legitimacy – which made them more likely to accept their side’s defeat.

The last three variables in table 2 show that ‘graceful’ losers were driven by contradictory feelings when faced with the options on the table. In a more moderate way than winners, the ‘graceful’ losers saw the EU as too centralized, were more attached to the UK than to the EU and made up their minds relatively late in the Brexit campaign. These variables may be interpreted as reflecting the state of mind of “cross-pressured voters”, who are either ambivalent about the different options or simply have a moderate opinion about the issue of EU membership. The positive coefficient for the variables measuring attachment and EU centralization variables signal that ‘graceful’ losers were less in favour of the EU and more prone to think that it decides too many issues than were ‘sore’ losers. Holding mixed and moderate views about Britain’s EU membership may also explain why ‘graceful’ losers made up their minds how to vote later than ‘sore’ losers did.

Overall, these findings suggest that ‘graceful’ losers over Brexit were politically involved and principled citizens who were more inclined to judge the merits of democracy in procedural terms. In our study they were also more politically sophisticated, less emotionally engaged in the electoral decision, held more moderate views on the object of the vote, and were undecided between the options until the end of the campaign.

These findings have some important implications for democratic theory. Our picture of the equilibrium between emotion and reason buttresses the conventional image of the ideal citizen: informed, sophisticated, committed, and able to overcome their frustrations after a defeat. However, the findings suggest that the stability of democracies may also depend on other groups of voters rarely celebrated by analysts – namely some of the late deciders and those voters torn between contradicting considerations. These two groups have a reputation for being less politically educated and deciding how to vote in emotional or expressive ways. We suggest that the ‘graceful’ losers amongst them are an indispensable component of the democratic majority in the aftermath of an electoral campaign, and that they contribute to the stability of democratic regimes.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ published work the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties.

About the Authors

Richard Nadeau is Professor at the University of Montreal.



Éric Bélanger is Professor at McGill University.




Ece Özlem Atikcan is Associate Professor at University of Warwick.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Tactical voting in the EP elections: different regions call for different strategies – and efforts may still backfire

alexander kustovHeinz Brandenburg explains that due to the electoral system used in the European Parliament elections, and in the absence of any coordination between the relevant parties, pro-Remain voters are facing a tricky task when looking for ways to vote tactically. Importantly, they would be ill-advised to apply identical tactics across the various regions.

The European Parliament (EP) Elections in the UK on 23 May will be different from any previous ones, and not just because they were not supposed to take place at all. In contrast to previous EP elections, these are actually generating interest – because of Brexit, the Brexit Party, the multitude of “Remain” parties, the expected punishment for both the governing and the main opposition party, and plenty of other sub-plots.

What they are also generating is a sudden interest in how EP elections are actually conducted, and how votes are translated into seats. This is primarily because three Remain parties are contesting these elections separately and competing with each other (Liberal Democrats, Greens, Change UK/The Independent Group). So, while the Brexit Party appears to be attracting most of the hard Brexit vote, the pro-Remain vote – which is probably equally big – could be split three ways, or even four, given that some Remainers may stick with Labour despite their equivocation around a second referendum question.

So far, at best, people may have been aware that in EP elections a proportional system is used, and not the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system as in general elections. Because of this, we suddenly hear the name d’Hondt bandied about in the British media. D’Hondt is one of the available methods of allocating seats in multi-member districts, and is the method in use for the European elections in the eleven electoral regions of Great Britain (not in Northern Ireland).

Table 1 illustrates how d’Hondt works, with the example of South West England, a six-seater electoral region in the 2014 EP election: each party’s total votes are listed in the first row, while the further rows display votes divided by two, three, four and so on. After identifying the six highest numbers in the spreadsheet, each gets a seat allocated. Note from the example that the Liberal Democrats, even though their vote share was not far off the Greens, would not have won a seat if seven had been on offer, as UKIP would have edged them to win their third seat.

But d’Hondt is not really what creates disproportionality – that is instead brought about by relatively small district magnitudes. The term district magnitude describes the number of seats in an electoral district. In FPTP, district magnitude is one and results are least proportional. The eleven EP election regions in Great Britain allocate between three and ten seats, which means district magnitude ranges between three and ten. And that is where things become disproportional. If Britain used the same system as, for example, Germany, with no subdivision into regions, just allocating its 70 seats according to national vote shares, the d’Hondt system would create an almost perfectly proportional outcome. And the important point is that EP elections in the Britain not only use a somewhat disproportional system, but that the system is differently disproportional across British regions.

With decreasing district magnitude, electoral thresholds emerge – i.e. parties need to win an increasing share of votes in order to convert these into at least one seat. Figure 1 reports how over the past four EP elections, since PR was introduced in 1999, required vote shares vary across electoral regions, depending on the number of seats on offer. Competing in North East England (three seats), a party typically needs to win over 15% of the votes to convert into one seat and over 30% to win two seats. Whereas in South East England (ten seats), 8% tends to be easily enough to win a seat, 15% sufficient to win two.

Note: Data points show the lowest vote share ever recorded for a party winning one (black dots) or two seats (blue dots) across EP elections 1999-2014, and the highest ever vote share recorded for a party that failed to win a seat (red dots) or failed to win more than one seat (pink dots). The added yellow line shows the effective threshold by district magnitude as proposed by Arend Lijphart (eff thresh = 75% [m+1]), illustrating the fit with empirical data from EP elections in the UK.

This means that parties face vastly different competitive situations across electoral regions, and also voters face different situations – lower district magnitude would require more tactical voting in order to make votes count. However, given the low salience of EP elections and knowledge about them, British voters have shown no signs of adapting to the varying electoral contexts. This is illustrated in Figure 2 which reports how fragmented election results were across regions with varying district magnitude. It uses the measure of “effective number of electoral parties” which helps to measure fragmentation of the party system. Basically, if half of the voters vote for party A and the other half for party B, we have a perfect two-party system (ENEP=2), whereas if five different parties receive the votes of a fifth of the electorate each, we would have a perfect five-party system (ENEP=5). Figure 2 shows that fragmentation varies systematically between EP elections but does not respond to changing district magnitude.

For comparison, I added ENEP scores for the EP elections before 1999 when FPTP was still used, as well as for general elections after 1999 – on the left side, at district magnitude of 1. (These are obviously not directly comparable, as ENEP in earlier EP and later general elections are measured for the entire country, whereas those for EP 1999-2014 at the level of electoral regions. These are only meant for general comparison of how voting varies between FPTP and PR elections.) Here we do see that voters behave differently under PR than under in FPTP – more votes go to smaller parties. But voters in EP elections behave as if elections were equally PR across all regions – voters in NE England or Wales are just as likely to choose from a wide range of parties as those in London or SE England, despite small parties having a much lower chance of gaining seats.

What happened in 2014 gives us some idea of the challenge faced by pro-Remain parties and voters in the upcoming EP elections: two of the three now competing pro-Remain parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, suffered badly in 2014 from voters behaving almost identically across very different electoral contexts. Between them, the two parties won over 2.2 million votes (13.4%) but only four seats (5.5%). Three of their four seats were won in London and South East England where both parties polled close to their national average. The only exceptional performance came in SW England, where both achieved over 10% – enough for the Greens to win a seat but not the Liberal Democrats.

In total, two-thirds of their 2.2 million votes were “wasted”, in the sense of being cast in regions where no seats were won. In total, Liberal Democrats and Greens contributed 1.5m or 62% of all “wasted votes” across Britain (see Figure 3). However, only in the three regions with the smallest district magnitude (NE England, Wales and East Midlands) was their combined vote share below the effective threshold.

For the current contest, a recent FT analysis of regional breakdowns projects the three English pro-Remain parties to convert their combined 27% or so into only nine seats (12.8%), while the Brexit Party is looking at converting just under 30% of votes into 29 seats (41.4%). The latter is doing so well because it polls at well over 30% everywhere outside Scotland, Wales and London and hence is on course to win multiple seats in all of those regions.

The general urge among pro-Remain voters is probably to agree on one of the pro-Remain parties at the expense of the two others, but however hard they may try, without party agreements and more central coordination this will remain quite haphazard. While an actual electoral pact might have maximised returns, some half-hearted concentration of votes in favour of one party would create sub-optimal outcomes in regions with low as well as in regions with high district magnitude.

Tactical voting will fail in NE England or Wales because any such haphazard effort will not be sufficient to get that one party over the required threshold of 15% or more. It could be most successful across regions with district magnitude of 5-7, if it helps getting at least one party over the threshold of 10-12%. However, in London, NW England or SE England (with eight or more seats), it could actually reduce the overall number of seats the three pro-Remain parties could win between them. If, for example, tactical voting pushes one pro-Remain party close to 15% but reduces the two others to 5 or 6%, the bigger party will not have enough to win multiple seats (look again at Figure 1 and the threshold for winning more than one seat) while the others could both fail to win a single seat. That could reduce the pro-Remain parties to a single seat where three could have been won.

Where the effective threshold is well below 10% (London, SE England, NW England), the best outcome for pro-Remain parties would actually be for the vote to be as evenly split between them as possible.


Note: the above was first published on LSE Brexit.

About the Author

alexander kustovHeinz Brandenburg is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Strathclyde.



Corbyn’s Labour agenda has more in common with its forbears than is often assumed

There are widespread claims that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has entailed a shift to a more ‘radical’ and ‘left-wing’ form of politics. Yet, many of these claims are untested or lack clear empirical evidence. Rob Manwaring contextualises Labour’s policy agenda by focussing on the 2017 Labour Manifesto. He explains how the wider claims about Corbyn’s radicalism tend to mask some long-standing continuity in the Labour tradition, and how to simplify a more complex policy agenda.

British politics is, somewhat inevitably, dominated by the politics of Brexit. The 2016 referendum result has triggered a significant realignment of British politics and the party system. Whilst we should be circumspect about reading too much into the longer-term meaning of the European elections, recent polling suggests a significant shift against the two key major parties. One key issue is that the sheer dominance of the Brexit means that attention shifts away from other significant changes (and also continuities). In terms of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, much of the current media scrutiny is on its position on leaving the European Union. Yet, this narrow focus, whilst clearly important, means that we have not fully understood how Labour has been changing under Corbyn.

In recent research, my colleague Evan Smith and I, examine Labour’s policy agenda under Corbyn. To do this, we focussed on Labour’s most recent election manifesto, ‘For the Many, Not the Few’, which outlined Labour’s policy agenda at the 2017 General Election. Using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, we wanted to put Corbyn’s agenda in context, and also better understand how Labour has changed and, crucially, what has remained the same.

To do this, we compared ‘For the Many’ with every Labour manifesto since 1945 (20 manifestos in total), using the Manifesto Research of Political Representation (MARPOR) database. The MARPOR database is the longest running dataset in political science, and rests on the salience view of voting, in that parties will give salience and preference to different policy issues at each election to win votes. The MARPOR data enables a comparative view to see how a party changes its policy agenda. For example, it is relatively straightforward to see how much space in the manifestos is given to an issue, such as support for nationalisation. We can then note how, over time, support for this issue can wax and wane. We then supplemented the quantitative comparison by examining it in more detail with four key ‘signature’ Labour manifestos. So, we give a qualitative comparison of how the 2017 manifesto compared against Ed Miliband’s 2015 manifesto, New Labour’s first (1997), the ‘longest political suicide note’ manifesto of 1983, and also the first of the 1974 manifestos.

Before giving a snapshot of some of our findings, we note two key issues in the understanding, and indeed, misunderstanding of Corbyn Labour’s policy. First, we looked at some of the press coverage of ‘For the Many’. We found that the press coverage of the manifesto in May and June was dominated by the language socialism. In nearly 4,000 articles in the mainstream newspapers we found the manifesto linked to terms such as ‘socialist’, ‘radical’ and ‘hard-left’. But, was it? Second, we reviewed much of the recent scholarship on Corbyn. There are a number of important contributions to understanding the rise of Corbyn, and a number of articles and essays seeking to understand his agenda. Yet we find a significant gap in the scholarly knowledge in understanding what Corbyn Labour is setting out to achieve. In our view, the press either mis-understand or wrongly frame Corbyn’s agenda, or in the academic literature we lack a detailed account of his policy agenda. So, what did we find?

In sum, we find both continuity in Corbyn’s agenda with previous Labour manifestos, but also some changes. We also find some clear links with Labour’s policy agenda with the ‘New Labour’ manifestos. In Figure 1, we compared Labour’s score on the MARPOR left/right scale. Basically, the more ‘negative’ the overall coding score the more ‘left-wing’ the manifesto is. Whilst this is something of a crude measure, it does give a useful overview of the manifestos. Clearly, on this measure Labour’s 2017 manifesto is one of the most left-wing of the recent manifestos, and relatively speaking one of the most left overall (7 our of 19 are more ‘left’ than Corbyn’s). Yet, it is not as left-wing as the 1992 manifesto, nor is is it as ‘left’ at the infamous 1983 manifesto. We can also note that all the key new labour manifestos were the most right-wing in Labour’s recent history.

Yet, the left/right scale only gives a rather crude snapshot of the party’s agenda. We then drilled down into specific policy areas and issues to get a better sense of change and continuity in Labour’s policies. On economic issues, we see a more nuanced and complex picture. In Figure 2, we compared Labour’s salience of specific economic policy issues, its support for the free market, its support for market regulation, its preference for planning, and also the support for the mixed economy. We find no mention/support for the free market in ‘For the Many’.

For a social democratic/Labour party this is unsurprising, but it is worth noting that that whilst a mention of this in New Labour’s 1997 and 2001 manifestos this was very small, and indeed no mentions in 2005 New Labour manifesto. Whilst on these measures, Labour’s economic agenda is dominated by a strong focus on market regulation, we can note that this was a far more significant feature of Ed Miliband’s policy agenda. What is clear is that over time, Labour has moved away from a focus on using the instruments of economic planning to shape its agenda, and somewhat ironically we see slightly greater coverage of this issue in the latter New Labour manifestos. Corbyn’s apparent radicalism in this sense did not hark back to the 1970-1980 manifestos.

On a set of different economic measures, we do get a much stronger sense of what was different about Corbyn’s economic agenda. Figure 3 outlines four other indices (support for protectionist policies, support for Keynesian demand management, preference for a greater control of the economy, and support for nationalisation). Here, the great difference in Corbyn’s agenda is apparent, and what in our view fuelled the media framing of Corbyn’s agenda as ‘socialist’ – the focus on nationalisation. This by far, dominated ‘For the Many’, and the nearest comparison for similar levels of coverage was the 1983 manifesto. Nationalisation as a policy issue is almost non existent in Labour’s manifestos from 2001-2015. Yet, whilst on this issue Corbyn’s agenda does have more in common with the mid-late 70s and early 1980s Labour, it is striking how on Corbyn’s Labour gives little to no salience of a more Keynesian approach.


In the rest of the article, we examine and compare Corbyn’s agenda across a wider range of policy issues, including foreign policy, welfare, and support for specific population groups. Again, we find a complex story, and one that is under-appreciated. To a large extent, and in common with some commentators, in more recent times the policy renewal under Ed Miliband has been far more dramatic than Jeremy Corbyn’s. With some policy exceptions, Corbyn’s social democracy has a good deal in common with its historical forbears, and more in common with New Labour, than is sometimes supposed.


Note: the above draws on the author’s published work (with Evan Smith) in British Politics.

About the Author

Rob Manwaring is Senior Lecturer in the College of Business, Law and Government at Flinders University.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit:Jenny Goodfellow, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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