UK General Election 2017
Eye of the storm? Or the beginning of the end of tribal politics?

On June 8th 2017 the UK Conservative Party precipitated the third major national voting occasion in the previous three years – the first two being 2015 General Election and the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The results of our and others’ polling reveal the UK to be ‘a house divided’. More significantly, our polling revealed that voters’ political behaviour had been transformed from a ‘set-piece’ event engaged in once every four to five years to a continuous campaign of competing ideas.

Elections in the UK have traditionally been conducted at more or less fixed times, understood by the electorate to be occasions when they cast their vote to confirm they are happy with the current government - or that it wishes to replace the government with a party that has a different set of policies. Our binary political system, with voting taking place under First-Past-The-Post, has traditionally reinforced that view. To the winner the spoils: the ideas and propositions of the loser(s) are confined to ‘opposition’ with no possibility of implementation.

In the current political climate – frequent occasions, dysfunctional parties and unique options – the voter journey to the ballot box differs significantly. Campaigns are purposely designed to generate differentiated feelings, thoughts and more focused behaviours among voters. Modern campaigners understand the power of rhetoric to simplify and clarify complex ideas into short snappy slogans that resonate with pre-existing values systems. Some people would call this "spin" and dismiss it. This would be a mistake - as it is in fact the latest manifestation of Classical rhetoric, and is often aligned with modern discoveries into how the brain processes information.

System One and System Two

The Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes how campaign rhetoric builds understanding – but only at the level of what he calls System One thinking. This is ‘default thinking – automatic thinking’ that we use on a moment by moment basis as we travel though our daily activities. Kahneman’s research shows this level of engagement provides us with a world view that at the most lasts no more than 12 seconds. If new situations are encountered, and System One is not supplying immediate answers, then his System Two kicks in - and more reflective, conscious thinking comes to the fore.

In brief: System One thinking is automatic; System Two thinking is reflective.

For the most part, people are happier when they don’t have to spend a lot of time engaged in System Two thinking – it takes energy, doesn’t always produce the clear answers expected, and it can be hard to communicate one’s process to others. Expert communicators use rhetorical methods to frame their argument in order to satisfy the needs of System One thinking and short circuit the need for System Two. Politicians have done for centuries – it is nothing new.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle and with mass and immediate access to wide sources of data and information (but which arguably contain little knowledge and even less wisdom) the skilful exercise of rhetoric results in ideas being processed at a System One level. This can be good thing or a bad thing.

Fact: Matters of policy generation and implementation (the role of government) involve classic System Two thinking.

It will be clear that a socio-political dilemma is emerging here. The electorate is experiencing successive waves of classic System One messaging rather than a ten (or so) week election event every four to five years, previously experienced via System Two thinking.

It is comparatively easy to observe the result of this disconnect. Political pundits and media commentators make a living explaining or justifying a range of opinions about the results of successive electoral events. These opinions are mostly given without much insight into the dynamics of the values systems of the electorate; the differing content of their System One thinking; and how they frame their Systems Two thinking.


Gathering evidence

In 2017, Cultural Dynamics Strategy & Marketing ran two unique surveys, in each case of 2,000 nationally representative adults aged 18-85. Within this sample registered voters were specifically identified, resulting in final samples that contained over 95% registered voters. These surveys were designed to gain insight into voter values and how the different Maslow Groups and Values Modes think about a range of issues, personalities and policies that were perceived, by experts and commentators, as significant factors resulting in the framing of political choices expressed in the polling booth.

The first survey, conducted in the early weeks of the 2017 General Election campaign before the publication of the Party manifestos, was summarised in an earlier post and can be read here.

The second survey, conducted in June after the General Election, revisited some of the questions contained in the pre-election survey but also included questions about issues that emerged during the campaign.

Taken together, this series provides us with a unique set of results that bring real insight into the effects of framing, rhetoric and modern media on the emotions, perceptions and behaviours of the British electorate – and illuminates the way different values systems framed the options presented to them.

CDSM’s unique methodology allows it to look beyond outcomes - what people did - to the reasons behind the choices they made. It examines the nest of values, motivations and beliefs that drive human behaviour.

This ‘top line’ analysis examines:

  • What people felt about the parties and the political choices on offer - which party they felt closest to ‘in their heart’
  • What they thought about them - what their voting intention was pre-election - as well as
  • What they did - how they actually cast their vote.

This approach introduces a depth of understanding as well as a time series that provides insights not available using conventional polling methods.

How representative was the sample?

Only 4.5% of the final sample were not registered to vote. The high percentage of non-registered among the 18 to 24 age cohort are likely to be students, registered unemployed or working in the ‘gig’ economy (Social Class DE). Registration was also significantly lower than average in the 25 to 34 age cohort – a factor that tends to indicate that this age group had other priorities at this relationship - and family - building time of life.

Non-registrants 18 to 20 – 13.6%

Non-registrants 21 to 24 – 19.4%%

Non-registrants 25 to 34 – 37.4%

In contrast, within the sample only 2.2% of the 55 to 64 cohort and 1% of the 65+ cohort were not registered to vote.

In terms of social class there is also over representation among the non-registered in the DE group – roughly translated as the poorest sections of the population. This also correlates with other sources of voter identity.

In small sample sizes – less than 100 – some caution needs to be applied to some outcomes. However, the use of statistical analysis suggests that the results have a statistically valid robustness within these age and social class groups.

Of the 4.5% not registered to vote there was a noticeable spike among the Prospector Now People, reinforcing our analysis that the shortfall in young voters was likely to be among students and younger people who are living at basic income levels.

The map below shows the index scores for each of the six prime Values Modes not registered to vote, within the survey sample.

Eligible to vote but not registered.

The relatively low indices among Transcender (68) and Concerned Ethical (71) are to be expected as they make up a large group within the registered voter base.

The even lower indices for Settler Values Modes Roots (44) and Brave New World (60) may be unexpected for some regular readers. These two groups tend to be older and more down market – though 25% of Roots and 22% of Brave New World are ABs in this survey. What it does indicate is that the Settlers are likely to see voting as a duty, an obligation, a salute to those in previous generations who preceded them into the voting booth. As a result they tend to be loyal to the process even though they may not have an option they truly support - and therefore often vote against propositions, rather than positively voting for an option.

The Settlers are the most ‘tribal’ of all voters - and the fact that tribalism exists at all in today’s complex political environment is, in no small measure, a reflection of their significant and continued propensity to register to vote compared to other Maslow Groups.

The corresponding map of registered voters provides very little insight because it is so "flat". This means that registered voters have values very similar to the population as a whole (something that some critics of elections with low turnouts might dispute). All Maslow Groups and Values Modes register to vote, which is good news for democracy.

Though registered voters are almost equal within all Values Modes (indices ranging from 100 to 103), the number of those registered to vote in comparison with the general population tells another story altogether. The percentage difference between population and registered voters by Maslow Group is significant.

  • Pioneers are the most likely Group to be accurately represented among the voter base - 38% population, 41% registered voters.
  • Settlers are significantly over-represented in the voter base - 25% population, 31% registered voters.
  • Prospectors are most likely to be under-represented in the voter base - 37% population, just 28% registered voters.

These Prospectors are most likely to be under 45 and with a high need for so-cial affirmation that is seldom satisfied by engagement with political issues. They are those most likely to be struggling with the effects of years of austerity economics and their ability to satisfy their dreams – or even to have a dream at all.

Changing cultural values - politics, polarisation
and choosing policy makers

The type of dreams, or visions, that each of us has of our future is a function of our Values Mode. As the more strident and ‘confident of their opinion’ Values Modes increase in size the cultural narrative changes. The battle for the dominant narrative then increases in perceived value for all involved, and even trivial things become ‘important’. Phenomena that were once or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ now become ‘awesome’ or ‘evil’ – the reaction, and the language, becomes more extreme. Older voters, left behind by newer generations of policy makers, change their vote from the party they voted for all their lives - their right, and a neutral behaviour in a democracy - and are branded racist or homophobic by those who don’t share their values on the basis of a lot of judgment and not much debate or attempt at understanding. On the other side of the same coin, these judgmental voters may corrupt the language and change the meaning of ‘liberal’ from a civic virtue to a pejorative indicating a lack of patriotism and adherence to ‘traditional values’.

When more people hold more differing opinions and the media environment allows more opinions to be expressed openly (Facebook, blogs, specialist aggregators of other media output, etc.) there will easily identifiable and accessible polarised opinions.

The polarisation of opinions is not a sign of decline in democracy – rather it is a sign of healthy debate, even if the methods of communication are in many ways dysfunctional.

The problem isn’t how healthy or unhealthy the state of democratic debate is within the UK – and the US and the EU for that matter. It is about how democracies elect their representatives and leaders to become their policy makers – how System Two thinking can be mobilised in electoral systems dominated by Sys-tem One campaign rhetoric.

A healthy democracy does not always create conditions for great government. The UK political system, in which people feel compelled to express personal, in addition to policy-based opinions, is not necessarily the best method for selecting people to become MPs and, eventually, policy makers. For example, it is arguable whether Tim Farron’s religious beliefs impact his ability to be a good MP. Nevertheless, those beliefs were a factor during the 2017 General Election campaign.

Selecting a leader of a party (which may at some time govern the country) is not a process the electorate is involved in – it is done by members of the party, be that a group within Westminster or a larger membership. So the perceived personality of the leader can act as a significant System One factor when selecting a government among people who are fundamentally not tuned into the political process - realistically, most voters, most of the time.

This leader may initially be ascribed with positive virtues before the campaign planners and mobilisers begin their rhetorical work in earnest – but during electoral campaigns perceptions of their abilities may shift. These perceptions are often based on the Values Modes of voters. One set of values may see a behaviour or response to questioning as a good thing while a different Values Mode will perceive the same behaviour in a negative light.

Party manifestos are a factor that plays a central part in defining what the party and its leader promise to do if they win the election. Yet most people who vote have not read the manifestos before they vote. Even with the ubiquity of information sources available many people have only the vaguest idea of the policies of the parties they vote for and the methods with which they propose to devel-op those policies into projects and programmes.

These factors – and many others – will be explored in the series of papers that CDSM Ltd will be publishing over the next several weeks of summer 2017.

In the next section of this report, voters will be measured on three axes that typically frame perceptions of political parties, the personalities of their leaders and their policies - the factors which drive behaviours that lead to a vote. It is a process that involves ‘feeling, thinking and doing’ - a process that captures System One and System Two thinking as well as Values Mode-driven perceptions.

CDSM Ltd. will be testing several hypotheses through this data. Central to our questions is that we are not sure if the political storms of the last several years are coming to a head and real change is a possibility within the political institutions and organisations that have served the British public for centuries – or whether we are just in the eye of a storm that will intensify in coming decades.

This evidence will help us determine which way the wind is blowing.