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Sunday, February 07, 2010

The pollsters rule

At every General Election the pollsters try to make their mark in more ways than by predicting the result. They seek to define the debate itself.

We have had 'Worcester Woman' and 'Mondeo Man' and now we 'Motorway man', a usually childless, youngish voter who lives in modern homes close to the main motorway networks, the less environmentally attractive pockets of England where planning permission for new developments is often easier to obtain.

According to pollsters these are the swing voters who will determine the fate of key marginal seats:

"Where these sort of people live is increasingly incidental; the homes they live in are temporary," said Richard Webber, visiting professor at the geography department of King's College London and the man who led the team that developed Mosaic. "Often these people will be couples who live near motorway junctions and who will drive off separately in the morning to the different towns and business parks where they work."

The increasingly rootless nature of their lifestyle means old ties of community are no longer important. Instead, there is greater focus on material possessions, something that has major ramifications for the political process.

"These people are much more politically and ideologically footloose," ­Webber said. "They look at political parties like some people look at cars. How they voted last time is not going to influence them this time. For them, it's purely a shopping experience."

The group comprises about 15% of the electorate, said Webber. But it will have a disproportionate influence on the ­election because, according to Mosaic, it is significantly over-represented in key marginals in constituencies such as Crawley in West Sussex, Milton Keynes South in Buckinghamshire, Eastleigh in Hampshire and Dartford in Kent.

What is most worrying about the so-called influence of this group is their rootlessness:

Experian notes: "Given that this younger group are followers of celebrity culture, it is likely to be more responsive to ­personality politics, which means they are more inclined towards the perceived charisma of 'new man' Cameron over the perceived dourness of [Gordon] Brown."

Labour's emphasis on improving public services is unlikely to hold much sway over the group, according to Webber. "They feel overtaxed, but they feel they are not getting much back from the state," he said. "Because of where they live, they don't encounter people from different backgrounds. They don't meet handicapped or old people; they don't have children; and they don't use public transport. So they don't meet people who benefit from the services they are funding. As a result, they don't see the point of all the tax they pay."

I admit that I am cynical. It seems to me that the defining factor of such a group of people will be that they do not vote. If they are to decide the election as predicted then the parties will need to make a massive effort to get them to the polling booth at a time when respect for politicians and the level of political engagement by ordinary voters is at its lowest.

It is a good try but really, the age of spin is dead and with it these easy marketing definitions of people's complex perceptions, needs and wishes all of which conbine to determine where they will put their cross, if they do so at all.
You shouldn't dismiss this analysis so readily. Yes, these categorisations can be simplistic. Nevertheless, the term 'Motorway Man' highlights a real trend, which is that increasing numbers of people are becoming detached from geographical communities and consequently no longer relate to communal concerns.

This poses a real problem for the Liberal Democrats. Our campaigning relies heavily on exploiting local grievances but the sort of issues we talk about in Focus leaflets have less and less traction with people who frankly don't care about the local pedestrian crossing or graffiti in the bus shelter on Acacia Avenue.

No-one in the party is thinking seriously about how we adapt our strategy to this sort of change in identity. It's time they did.
It is a fair point but that does not increase their propensity to vote. I suppose the best way to tackle this group is to improve our air war and our message targeting strategies.
only 15% of the electorate?...maybe a bit more of these people, in the true interests of democracy they should only get half a vote!
Anyone who's head is so engrossed with soap opera's, celebrity culture and so on..some would say they would be better off not voting at all, it makes a farce of politics -that motorway man's vote is the same worth of somebody who thinks about environmental, economic, societal concerns for weeks before the election in making their choice, c'est la vie
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