In recent times it may be argued that personality and image has played a huge part in the voting behaviour of the electorate in the UK. The personality and image may refer to the personality of the party leader and how they present themselves in their campaign. This is a short-term factor and in a time where long-term factors are not said to play a huge role, as there is party de-alignment and a change in the class structure, perceptions of party leadership can play a huge role in determining voting behaviour. It may always have been recognised as a factor but now its influence may have grown because of media coverage that now covers election campaigns. The media covers heavily on party leadership and this factor is now important in determining voting behaviour.
In the 2001 general election Tony Blair was deemed to be the most competent party leader and was believed to make the best Prime Minister. A poll voted Blair at 54% in a question asking ‘Who would make the best Prime Minister?’ and Hague only received 18% of the vote. Hague’s popularity rating rarely rose above 20% and Blair was the most popular party leader by a wide margin. Blair won this election and suggests that perceptions of party leadership may have an effect on voting behaviour.
Also, in the 2010 general election, televised TV debates with party leaders took place and these debates focused on the personality of the leaders and how they fared rather than the policies. Clegg was extremely popular in these debates and became much more recognised by the electorate. This helped the Liberal Democrats and may have been a contributing factor for their success at the general election where they formed a coalition government.
It is difficult to see whether personality and image is more important than policies and performance in office, as these play a huge part in voting behaviour. Policies refer to issue voting and that the electorate vote for parties which have the best policies on salient issues. In 1997, Labour were very much in touch with the electorate and focused on salient issues, whereas the conservatives focused on issues such as trade unions and devolution which were not deemed as salient. This benefitted Labour as they gained a huge win at this election and rather than personality playing a huge part, it may have been their policies.
Another contributing factor at this election may have been performance in office, which in the above statement is not seen as important as personality and image. However, performance in office may have been extremely detrimental for the conservatives in 1997 because of their crisis in 1992. This focuses on the retrospective model, as people saw the Conservatives as incompetent in handling the economy because of Black Wednesday in September 1992. The Conservatives and especially Noramnt Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer, were to blame for the crisis that saw the pound forced out of the ERM. This didn’t help at the 1997 general election where they did extremely badly in a huge Labour win.
Personality and image does play a huge part in voting behaviour and will continue to do so in 2015, where Ed Milliband’s leadership will come into question and could affect Labour’s chances a lot. However, it is still not enough to suggest that personality and image are larger determinants in voting behaviour than on the basis of policies or performance in office. It is difficult to see whether people’s attitudes towards party leaders are separate from their views on the party and polls suggesting the like/dislike of a leader may actually just refer to the party.
Courtney from Study Moose