A Values snapshot taken before the 2017 General Election starting gun has fired.

One week after the 2017 General Election was suddenly announced by Theresa May and a mad scramble began by all political parties (including her own grassroots local organizations) to maximize their chances of winning seats in the next Parliament, Cultural Dynamics and The Campaign Company jointly ran a Values Modes poll of 1,963 registered voters to establish a benchmark context for a deeper analysis after the election.

This pre-post analysis will be the first of its kind in the UK. More information and analysis will be published after the election.

At the time of the poll no party had its election machine ready and waiting for the starting gun. As a result, there were only hints of the battle to come. Most voters who responded to our research had no idea of what the parties’ manifestos would contain. This type of research is a ‘gut check’ of the state of preferences and opinions based on the past and current performance and existing positioning and behaviour of the parties at a pre-campaign starting line.

The 10-week period between the announcement of a General Election and election day is the testing ground for the acceptance of the policies and the nature of the government rival parties propose. The adult population is no longer subject or citizen – it is the electorate of a future government. The electorate, all individuals registered to vote, can take this time to run a ‘gut check’ against the manifestos as they try to make decisions about their own futures - to personalise the competing offers.

This values survey was commissioned within the social context of a 24/7 news cycle; declining newspaper circulation but exploding social media; internecine warfare within the two major parties; and the rise of extra-Parliamentary groups attempting to encourage new approaches to voting.

And all of this within the context of high uncertainty brought about by the effects of triggering Article 50 and exit from the EU. This is a unique situation in British history. At the time of the election the electorate will have no clarity about what post-negotiation position they will have to accept; no clear consensus on a desirable outcome - or even about the capacity of the next elected UK government to hold the Union together after Brexit.

Framed as a ‘once-and-for-all’ vote, the paradigm shifting vote against continuing our web of connections with the EU is a game changer in terms of the self-perceptions of the UK electorate. The Brexit vote did not settle ‘once and for all’ the question of immigration, whether ‘economic’ or ‘asylum’ from life threatening situations; or about the movement and protection of human rights of people between countries in close geographic proximity in a globalized world. Though many issues were raised during the period before the referendum of 2016, the ‘beginning’ dominant narrative concerned this single issue.

The governing Party has made this the platform upon which their early campaigning is built. It has been constructed based upon an assumption that the majority of Leave voters would vote for them. The government has decided that the nation - or rather the half of it which voted to leave the EU - wants a stronger approach to the Brexit negotiations and has set out its stall to harvest this sentiment.

Though this seemed a winning strategy it must be remembered that ‘Leave’ and Conservative voting are not necessarily synonymous.

It’s worth briefly revisiting how we got from there to here. The Conservative Party had made a manifesto promise in 2015 to hold a referendum, one of hundreds of manifesto promises, and when the Prime Minister judged that he could win a vote to remain he called for the national vote – which he lost. He immediately resigned and other members of the Cabinet lost the confidence of their backbenchers - the ship of state was effectively leaderless.

The party then voted for a new leader, and a new leadership team was assembled primarily to focus on creating viable negotiating positions and combining multidisciplinary teams into a competent negotiating machine to handle serial and simultaneous talks and withdrawal treaties with the EU. This machine would then be modified to prepare the UK for the massive project of re-negotiating treaties and procedures with 27 other EU countries, formerly conducted under EU auspices, after a negotiated withdrawal.

This untested Brexit process and the likelihood that any party of government would be able to gain a ‘good result’ for the UK within a two-year time scale was put to the electorate in the run up to the referendum – an opportunity to make a ‘rational decision’ about the voters’ and country’s future. The voters have spoken and their rational choice was to exit the EU and begin this leap into the dark.

The 2017 General Election was positioned by the government as an extension of this process and not a debate about the future of the Britain that would be withdrawing. After seven years of austerity budgets and no end in sight to continuing public service cuts, the government did not want an election based on past conservative governments’ behaviours, so they began the campaign by trying to make the political narrative about their position as a ‘strong and stable’ government, contrasting it to a chaotic opposition. The rational decision was assumed to be voters selecting strong over chaotic.

However, as readers of this site will know, a simple rational reason is seldom the prime factor for making decisions. Our research has shown that people hold different values and different values produce different versions of ‘rational’. We have found that different ‘rationalities’ are the result of values creating emotions. When faced with stimuli that cause emotions to run high, values become conscious.

From a psychosocial perspective the purpose of elections, referenda and voting situations is to raise the emotionality of ‘everyday life’ to a level that significantly increases the probability that ‘gut level’, subconscious, or unexamined beliefs and motivations will be consciously evaluated.

It is this examination and questioning of present and previous beliefs that provides the rationale for behavioural choices – and different values groups will have different rationales.

This is why the benchmarking of values, beliefs and motivations is so important for political parties and influencers to understand before creating manifestos capable of winning a ‘first past the post’ election. With this level of insight they can understand how to motivate their potential supporters to turn out on the day and how to negate the appeal of their opponents.

It is unlikely the Prime Minister had access to this type of information before she committed the body politic to another General Election, making this election another unexpected event similar to the Brexit vote. And once again the decision was made in reaction to internal party politics, and the rise of an opposition party - UKIP - that was drawing strength from formerly loyal party members.

This paper is written before the publication of the various manifestos and after we have surveyed the values of the registered voters and their orientation towards parties and issues. This is a true measure of the electorate before cultural factors (media, group discussions, Party communications, etc.) begin to ‘raise the emotional level’ of ‘everyday’.

Let’s take a look at one of the many factors we’ve measured to see if we can begin to understand where the electorate is before the campaigns begin.


In our British Values Surveys we measure the values, beliefs and motivations of the whole culture – as we have done in the other large European economies and to a lesser extent in 20 other major countries worldwide. In our latest research we surveyed a sub-sample of the general population – registered voters – and found they were unrepresentative of the general population.

The adult population of England, Scotland and Wales (a smaller Northern Ireland population is a separate culture and not included in the research) has a Maslow Group profile that looks like this:

38% Pioneer, 37% Prospector and 25% Settler.

This mixture and the interaction between the different values creates the dynamics of change, and resistance to change, in the wider culture.

The electorate – registered voters – is different from this:

40% Pioneer, 30% Prospector and 30% Settler.

This will have a significant impact on the election – and is likely to make the election unexpectedly close - not a 100+ seat majority for Teresa May’s Conservatives as predicted in the early polls by major pollsters.

The electorate is composed of a large group (Pioneers, 40%) open to change and looking for a more Benevolent and Universalist (transparent and justice for all) approach from their government. They feel they haven’t been listened to in the Brexit debate but believe they can make a difference when casting their votes in this election. There is also a more ‘small c’ conservative group (Settlers, 30%), that feels left behind by both major parties - resigned but angry about it. A third group (Prospectors, 30%) is more likely to feel left behind as well, but historically is swayed by very different rationales than the other two.

All of this leads us to note that although the single largest group, the Pioneers, wants a more liberal form of governance, the other two groups are also dissatisfied with the status quo in general - in other words, all the Maslow groups are rejecting the established political orientations offered by almost all parties.

A very interesting fact comes out of the pre-election values polling. Almost 40% of the Pioneer group has a gut feel that the Conservative party is their likely choice in the General Election. It is likely this counter-intuitive indicator is based on perceptions of the capability of the Conservative party in the Brexit negotiations in relation to their perceptions of the Labour party’s capabilities in framing the negotiations. If the dominant narrative of the choices in the GE changes from Brexit to other issues this ‘open to change’ group are those most likely to change their minds, especially if the narrative turns to social issues and the performance of present and recent Conservative governments.

But the more conservative and ‘left behind’ groups still outnumber the Pioneers 60% to 40%.

These groups do not make an easy target however – they are as different from each other as they are from the Pioneers.

Of that 60%, half are unlikely to change to a more liberal orientation but can be swayed by more personal appeals to a better future - and the other half can be swayed more by appeals to nostalgia and a better Britain they believe existed in the past.

The challenge to all parties is to frame the communications of their manifestos in such a way that they appeal to the values of the different groups.

The Brexit Leave vote was rooted in Settler and Prospector values. This was manifested as a combination of fear of more immigrants taking ‘benefits’ they weren’t entitled to, and the jobs voters thought belonged rightfully to British people; and a real desire to change the status quo that had left them behind - in other words it was a vote against whatever ‘the establishment’ supported.

The result has created a mainstream media narrative that somehow the ‘small c’ conservative orientation of the UK had rejected ‘the left’ and fully embraced a populist ‘right wing’ form of government. Theresa May inherited a government with a small working majority and felt she needed to consolidate her position - to present a more united front in her Brexit negotiations - to back up her ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ stance to her own party, the country, and those opposite her at the negotiating table.

One could say this was a reasonable rationale.

There is a basic problem with this narrative and it is the assumption that a vote for Brexit is a right-wing response to anti-EU messaging - that only right wingers voted for Brexit.

Our research, six months before the referendum in November 2015 and before it was even announced, showed that there were not enough professed right-wingers in the culture – let alone among registered voters - to win if that were the only issue.

Leave voters also contained a significant number people who just felt left behind and powerless over many facets of their life. The referendum presented an opportunity to throw a two-fingered salute to those they perceived as controlling their lives, while failing to hear their hopes and fears.

With the Remain campaign headed by the Prime Minister, this was a chance to send a “We’re Not Gonna Take It Any More” message to ‘the man’ without having to support a disorganised Labour party or a discredited Liberal Democrat party.

The reasons for voting against a ‘rational’ technocratic solution – “It makes sense to stay inside and try for change, rather than being totally powerless outside the EU” – were different for the different values groups. Because of this it is difficult to make a single sweeping statement about the reason why the Leave campaign (based on rejection of this rationale) won the largest number of votes in the Referendum.

So why is this important in the General Election - a year after the referendum?

Take one step back and remember the central plank of the Leave platform, that seems to have been forgotten in the current analysis pumped out by media and commentators in the early days of this election.

The central plank was about ‘control’; taking it back, and exercising it at as local a level as possible – whether that was taking it back from ‘Europe’, or taking it back from ‘Westminster’ and giving it back to ‘people like us’.

The Leave campaign successfully leveraged this motivation among a wide swathe of the electorate into a winning coalition; in spite of being countered with facts and figures promulgated by ‘experts’ on the detail of the processes that would kick off if the UK exited from the treaties and benefits of EU membership. Indeed the Leave campaign ran on a platform of ‘don’t trust the experts”!

Control is a values level issue – membership of the EU is not.

Appealing to individual values will stimulate examination of gut level motivations. If a values level option is presented by those appealing for the individual’s vote, the individual will vote for that value – even if it has adverse consequences for them. Look at the action of soldiers in war zones, fighting and often dying for a set of values, or doctors staying in zones of conflict to treat others at the risk of losing their own lives.

No less powerful, but a bit more prosaic - look to those who pay their taxes to support others in need, though doing so reduces their ability to buy the things they want. Now compare them to people who hold a different set of values who see taxes as a burden on their own very powerful drives and dreams to display symbols of value - taxes take away some of their ability to ‘buy the dream’. Our research shows taxation is primarily a values level issue in the British culture, and is a battle between two starkly different values systems and very much correlated with issues of control.

This is important because the May government appeal is based – in this early period of the GE process – on a ‘strong and stable’ meme that runs through every talking point. Control, strong, stable – all words that appeal to a very specific values set. In many ways this platform is an extension and an improvement on the Leave campaign’s meme.

Gotta be a winner, doesn’t it?

From an average observer’s point of view it sure seems like it – and supposedly so for Conservative party advisors to Theresa May before she called the snap General Election.

The Cultural Dynamics’ view.

Through the lens of values and looking at any culture as a sum total of the shifting narratives being produced by different values sets - and the shifting behaviours this produces - it is possible to understand the perceptions of electorates, and the likelihood of one or more core values that are more, or less, likely to resonate with the culture at any one time.

Many commentators have given insights into long term trends that impact on cultures and individuals. Increasing globalisation; decreasing entry level work for youth and people whose jobs have be eliminated or radically transformed by technology; expectations of more volatile markets and political systems; decreased expectations of being able to bring children up in world that is ecologically changing at a rate that is hard to understand and anticipate – just a few examples. And there are many more short term trends evident in fragmenting social support systems and the emerging social relationship networks and structures created by the internet.

This is perceived as a world out of control. The desire for control is a survival level value and has been shown to trump a multitude of non-values issues.

A year ago, Leave voters confirmed that a vote for control was a vote against experts – the very people who had created a world out of control, and were now attempting to scare people by telling them about it. Project Fear. Has it delivered more control - or the perception of more control?

The answer is no, and explains why a ‘strong, stable, control’ meme may be exactly why the same voters who voted Leave will reject it and vote for an anti-elitist populist campaign - even if that means a vote for the leader most reviled in the mainstream media and with serious problems within his own Parliamentary party. Remember, people sometimes vote against their own ‘self-interest’ when they feel there is a more basic issue to address.

The Conservative party is perceived as an elitist organisation made up of people who are controlling the lives of those who believe the world is out of control, and who, as a result of the world not caring about them and their beliefs, are being left behind. The leader represents the mentality that doesn’t care about the lives of the electorate and is instead calling herself a strong, stable, control focused leader. This can be positioned as a positive - or it can be positioned as a negative.

The role of the opposition is to establish a differentiated position in the minds of individual members of the electorate. While times are ‘good’ this can mean taking a position in opposition to a popular policy or process – difficult but necessary within a political system based on opposition rather than compromise and coalition.

However, in ‘hard times’ the opposition has a real chance to support genuinely different positions compared to the status quo.

Anti-elitist positioning is the traditional haven of populist political movements and politicians. Populism can be either right-wing or left-wing, local or national. The right wing used it to win elections like Brexit in the UK and the contentious Trump campaign in the USA – successfully appealing to those who believed they were living in ‘hard times’.

To those believing the Conservative party, in power for seven years, is the source of their living through hard times it is very likely that there is only luke-warm support for them among Brexit Leave voters identified as core supporters for a Conservative government. By viewing these voters as more right-wing than left-wing, and thus more likely to vote Conservative, Mrs May’s advisors may be likely to misinterpret their polling results.

The vote of Leavers was driven by anti-elitism given a voice through a populist campaign, years in the making. By adding millions of pounds of resources the campaign successfully gave voice to the disenfranchised, voting on a set of values that was not in their own best interest but gave them a sense of control and power – for the time they were in the voting booth at least.

Many on the Remain side also voted for an anti-elitist position. However, their anti-elitist vote was driven by a different set of values. They were recognising the policies of the elite as driven by ideological economic arguments and policies – at the expense of Benevolent and Universalist values.

The lack of care for ordinary people posed by ideological solutions to social issues is a day-to-day manifestation of a basic values level clash.

If the opposition to the May government exercises its ‘natural positioning’, as anti-elitist, without the dissonance displayed by the leaders of the Leave movements populism, there is a genuine chance to produce a real surprise in the General Election.

A Benevolent and Universalist populism works as a real differentiator when the elite/government of the day displays an indifference to these values through their manifesto promises. If the Conservative party doubles down on the ‘control, strong, stable’ meme and continues to propose ideologically determined economic solutions to social issues their elite status will be reinforced. This is likely to lead to rejection by a different form of populism.

If this differentiation can be established in the early stages of the campaigning and present a real challenge to the early dominant narrative of the General Election still being about Brexit then - and only then - can the framing expand beyond Benevolent and Universalist core values. The campaign can begin to appeal to the 50% (Now People) of the 30% (Prospectors) that is not opposed to those values but is driven by a different set of values. They hold values that prize being smart and different, and being recognised for their achievements but not feeling condescended to in the process. They are looking for a party that hears them and works with them - that demonstrates an empathetic link to their hopes and aspirations and recognises that they are being ‘uncaringly’ crushed in these hard times. But they don’t just want relief from the hard times with more economic fixes, they want to have the the opportunity to do ‘something different’.

This ‘small L’ liberal approach to government is a real differentiator in this election. If, as expected, the level of tactical voting is higher in this election than in past elections, there is real chance for the ‘next wave of populism’ to make its presence felt as heavily as the wave of right-wing populism that swept the UK out of Europe.

Contrary to the early polling - if this analysis is anywhere near the truth – this is an election for Labour to lose and not a reaffirmation of a society that wants more authoritarian and centralised powers to control the future of the UK, local communities and the lives of individual voters.

UPDATE 21 May 2017

The manifestos have been published and the seemingly insurmountable lead of the May government among voters has dramatically declined as the implications of their policy intentions reveal elitist, ideologically driven, economic solutions to social issues – exactly the wrong position to gain a 100+ seat majority in a Brexit Britain.

This only reinforces our initial analysis that if a ‘new wave of populism’ can be led in the closing weeks by a credible organisation or, more likely, a coalition of loosely connected organisations, and tactical voting is exercised by a wide spectrum of anti-elitist groups, then the government may once again shoot itself in the foot and the Conservative party once again see its leader depart from the front bench.

This would lead to a very different country negotiating for the best conditions possible in the Brexit negotiations - one based more on a new wave of populism and less about a fight for survival by a busted Britain.

UPDATE 24 May 2017

A bomb has literally gone off in the midst of the run up to the General Election.

The tragedy of terrorism has struck at a time of ‘raised emotions’ created by the electoral campaigns.

The effect of this on the perceptions of issues and the positioning of the major Party’s is unknown and won’t be fully clarified before the campaigning starts again on the 26th.

Will the former Home Secretary’s, now Prime Minister, austerity based decisions to cut police numbers and their ability to gather intelligence and interact in a coordinated manner with identifiable at-risk communities come back to weaken her claims to provide a ‘strong, stable government”?

Will the Leader of the Opposition’s past behavior in talking with ‘terrorists’ be seen as a liability or a strength?

Will the social issues solutions published in the Manifesto’s be overcome as ‘voting issues’ by the chaos of emotions created by the scale of the human suffering, grief, fear and anger as a result of the Manchester atrocity?

Will the registered voters be more welcoming of ‘stronger measures’, or will they demand a different approach from the political elites who have cut budgets that have prevented ‘stronger measures’ from being installed in the recent past?

It is likely the Pioneers will differ from the views of the Settlers – much as was measured in the pre-election values survey. It may be the more pragmatic Prospectors that define the winners and losers in this chaotic new voting environment.

Other updates will follow as issues become more defined.

Watch this space!