For Brit politics watchers, now’s a great time to have internet access. Virtually every day a new poll and to go with it, a new claim for significance in tiny shifts in popularity. And a new counterclaim. Every day a re
-calculated prediction of the outcome in the most complicated of electoral contests.
Last night was the only time all the major party leaders (incl Welsh and Scottish nationalists and the Greens) were on one stage at the same time and able to “debate” with each other (albeit under strictly controlled conditions).
Each of the party’s spin team were hard at it last night and this morning, trying to establish the “fact” that their man (why is it so unusual to have 50% of the candidates on stage being female?).
And certain (Conservative- supporting) newspapers seemed to have prepared their headlines before the debate was started (the Telegraph and the Sun).
And one candidate at least (Nigel Farage of UKIP) managed to keep his twitter account going through the 2 hours.
Clearly, what’s in the mind of the spinners and strategists is that 5 years ago, the Liberal Democrat’s Nick Clegg found himself and his party a boost in the polls as the result of just such a debate (albeit a 3-man one and one with more head-to-head of the leaders of the 3 parties). Both Labour and Conservative leaders found themselves doing was copying the phrase, “I agree with Nick” to show how sensible and mainstream they were (all this to much comic effect (at least for this voter)).
What the strategists perhaps don’t recall is that the shift in the polls was both temporary and lagged. It wasn’t until the day after the debate – when all of us could see both the polls AND each others’ responses to it – that things started to shift.
Will the fact we have a bank holiday today and therefore no water-cooler moments hinder any impact of the debate itself? We’ll have to see.
It’s not that opinion polls have no impact on the voting choices we make – just like music charts, they are an excellent indicator of what is popular amongst our peers. Hence why certain democracies – like Germany and India – limit the publication of them during elections.
It’s just that this time, there are too many polls and too much noise and spin around them: it’s hard to pick out good from bad. So perhaps, while the topline numbers remain so close, we’ll just see the polls being pick ‘n’ mixed to justify what we’d like to believe is the case from those around us.
Will poll changes solidify into a clear position? This is what the strategist hope. The thing is that Clegg’s performance 5 years ago created a short-term boost which had largely (but not entirely) evaporated by polling day. It’s the difference between copying popularity (SE on the behaviour map in CopyCopyCopy): this style of copying creates volatility) and copying experts or authorities or traditions (NE which creates slower and more stable patterns of change).
All of this and still more than 4 weeks to go.