A few thoughts on valence voting

Valence voting is voting based on ‘leadership images, partisanship, and evaluations of economic performance.’

  1. Economic performance.  The Tories have traditionally been the party of strong economic governance, largely because they are the party of the rich.  Believing in hierarchy, and also that an individual should be able to keep whatever wealth they have earned (or inherited), Tory policy will promote company profits and individual wealth.  The Tories recently have been banging the austerity drum:  we need to be very sensible and stop spending so much; we need to balance our budget.  They have blamed Labour for crippling government expenditure.  Labour has been seen as the party of government expenditure – increasing spending on the welfare state, and so on.  Labour will put taxes up.  Let’s take the last election as an example.  Labour proposed raising corporation tax from 19% to 26%; the Tories were aghast (they proposed lowering it to 17%).  The national media was pretty negative about this.  Here’s a good example from Cityam – a newspaper for business-types.  ‘Labour has revealed dramatic plans to hike corporation tax as part of a bid to raise cash for a schools spending spree.’  Notice the use of language here:  ‘dramatic’, ‘hike’, ‘schools spending spree’.  The message is clearly ‘Labour is going to cripple business so that it can spend money like water.’  The fact that Labour’s 26% is not even as high as the USA’s, and is really only as high as some of our European neighbours, seemed to escape the media.  Because Labour is the party of expenditure, it has been portrayed yet again as financially incompetent.  That was behind a large part of the vote.
  2. Partisanship.  Traditionally, you voted the way your parents, and everyone else in your community, did.  It’s a bit like supporting a football team.  That was an explanation for the dominance of the Conservative and Labour Parties.  This declined, and, either as a cause or correlation, new parties sprang up, with clear policy bases:  the SNP or Plaid Cymru – (left-wing) nationalist -, the Greens, UKIP.  Partisanship, though, can also mean identification with particular policy areas or issues – so, for example, the SNP’s vote went up when it came out with support for the NHS, and so on:  it managed to combine its tradition Scottish identity with a protest at the British government eroding public services.  People do vote according to policy.  This can be seen in the New Labour victory of 1997:  the Labour Party fought its reputation for financial incompetence and promoted centrist economic policies; almost immediately, a load of the liberal middle classes voted Labour.  Partisanship here is connected to economic competence!  Brexit has been a hugely partisan issue:  many people mistakenly voted Labour in protest against Brexit, forgetting that Corbyn has Brexit tendencies himself…
  3. Leadership images.  Hugely, hugely important.  Theresa May’s real weak spot is that she’s no public figure:  she’s competent, but finds communicating with the public really rather difficult.  Cameron was charming, even if he was a straw man.  We need look no further than the Sun for how leaders come across – just search Google images for ‘Sun wot one it’.  Do not underestimate the media in our perceptions of parties.  The Sun is overtly biased, but the BBC indulges in biased reporting occasionally – this piece is very, very subtly biased.  I myself had to tell Private Eye off for anti-Green bias.  Corbyn has managed to survive being lambasted by all sorts of media for being an out-of-touch dreamer, but Clegg didn’t survive media blasts for being a middle-class intellectual.

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