Connecting with aspiration remains the key to electoral success

Friday, 13 May 2011

Synopsis

Only a year on from the coalition negotiations and the  “Rose Garden” press conference, the minds of the political parties are already beginning to shift towards the next election. At an event this week, Policy Exchange considered how the battleground for the next election might look and what will come top of the policy agenda in 2015.

A further clue about how politicians should look to appeal to voters at the next election was contained in research conducted for Policy Exchange by YouGov recently. The research confirmed the importance of meritocracy and aspiration in the British psyche and how aspiration provides the basis for the British public’s approach to “fairness”. The findings of the survey suggest that, for the vast bulk of the British people, fairness and meritocracy are the same thing.

The polling shows that the British people consistently expect “something for something” across a wide range of issues and their outlook is fundamentally aspirational and meritocratic. Politicians from all parties should take note of this resounding finding.

We gave respondents three options of what fairness means to them. Some 85% supported the idea that in a fair society “people’s incomes should depend on how hard they work and how talented they are.” 63% agreed with a free market concept of fairness (fairness based on what the market will pay) and only 41% believed in an egalitarian concept (equal rewards regardless of effort or ability). Despite the success of books such as The Spirit Level in recent years, meritocracy has more than twice the appeal of egalitarianism. Throughout the polling, there is a clear emphasis that voters believe in hard work, effort, ability and ambition being rewarded. Whilst compassionate about poverty, they also believe that “something for something”, rather than “something for nothing” should be the ongoing motto.

The results confirm that the key to electoral success in British politics is appealing to aspiration and emphasising opportunity, particularly amongst the C1s and C2s of market research jargon. At the last election, the Conservatives claimed 37% of C2 voters and the Labour vote collapsed from a high of 50% in 1997 to 29% last year. The most successful electoral politicians of the past 50 years, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, both gained their considerable electoral success through an appeal to meritocracy and aspiration. It is clear that both political parties have more to do to appeal to those “strivers” who can be the decisive factor in British elections.

The Conservatives failed to persuade enough voters that they understood aspiration to make crucial breakthroughs in key marginals, whilst Labour seemed to increasingly lose touch with aspirational voters. Both parties have work to do to appeal to enough of the crucial aspiration working and lower middle class to gain an overall majority.

The findings of our poll suggest that belief in meritocracy is stronger than ever and that the political party that successfully taps in to the well of aspiration will be rewarded with electoral success. As all parties set out to shape the policy agenda leading up to the next election, they should have the meritocracy and aspiration at the forefront of their minds. Connecting with aspirational voters will be the key to electoral success in 2015, just as it has been key in every election in the past 50 years.

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