2017 General Election Diary Day 23: Vote for the Nonattitudes Party

Labour’s draft manifesto was leaked just after my post last night, which means people have had twenty-four hours to make all the jokes they want about it before I got a chance to do anything about it here. However, it does reveal something interesting about political behaviour that people — especially those involved in politics — don’t often understand. Taken individually, a lot of Labour’s policies like rail and energy renationalisation, or banning zero hours contracts are very popular, but Labour still trail in the polls and Corbyn — closely associated with a lot of these popular policies — isn’t popular. There are two main reasons for this.

First, is that most policies on their own tend to be popular, especially when they’re presented with no downsides. Second, and more importantly, most people don’t think about politics in the way people heavily immersed in the political system do (and that’s going to include most, probably all, of you reading this). I wrote about some of this a while ago in a post on John Zaller, but the main person of interest in this is Philip Converse who proved over fifty yesrs ago that most of the conventional wisdom about people’s opinions is wrong. He found that most people have what he called ‘nonattitudes’ on most political issues, because they don’t think about them. Asked to give an opinion on something, and not allowed to say ‘I don’t know’ either by the pollster or social pressure, they’ll give an essentially random answer. When it comes to picking who to vote for, they’re not weighing up all the carefully-considered and fixed opinions they have on a wide variety of issues, they’re responding to whatever considerations and associations are foremost in their mind at the time. It’s why asserting that ‘public opinion’ wants something (or that the ‘will of the people’ exists) is so problematic because in most cases, the public aren’t thinking about something enough to have an opinion on something.

(This, by the way, is why opinion polling is so hard and why question design is as much art as science, as you need to discover if people have actual consistent beliefs as well as finding out what they are)

Nominations for the election closed today, so we’re now in the stage of the election where various people at the BBC, PA and other organisations are collating information from local authority PDFs to get their election news up to date. If you’ve got time to help out with an open source project to share data about candidates, then you might want to check out Democracy Club.

Here in Colchester, our candidate austerity continues to bite. In 2015 we dropped from nine candidates to six, and this time we have just four. If this rate continues then at the next election we’ll have to find a way to have two-thirds of a candidate. In other trivia, this is the sixth election since Colchester became a single seat again in 1997, and in all that time, across all parties, we’ve had just two female candidates.

(EDIT: Turns out I should check for myself and not take someone else’s word for it. There are five candidates in Colchester this time)

In other nominations news, Zoe O’Connell has compiled her list of trans politicians standing for election and found that there are six at this election, which is a record. I also wonder if Helen Belcher, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Chippenham, is the first trans candidate in a seat formerly held by their party?

(If you’re looking for information on other representation, there’s some early figures from the Constitution Unit at UCL, which will no doubt be updated now nominations have closed)

Now we have lists of candidates, I’ll soon be able to start looking through them for some of the more fringier political parties standing, though I do wonder if there’ll be a lot fewer this time because a snap election means people have less time to get organised and raise the funds for an election campaign. However, there’s not the time to do that today, but there is time for Election Leaflet Of The Day, which almost went to a Tory newspaper that appears to be called ‘Strong and Stable Leadership’ but it looks so generic that I’m assuming you’ll get a copy through your door soon. Instead, to follow up on the news about trans candidates, the award goes to one of them: the Green Party’s Aimee Challenor in Coventry South.

In four weeks time we’ll be in the post-Sunderland results gap. Is anyone excited by that thought?

Originally published at www.nickbarlow.com on May 11, 2017.

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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