Strong policy positions on a few key issues will be the biggest factor in the success or failure of a new political party, if one is formed by MPs who have split from Labour and the Conservatives this week. But voters’ party loyalty presents a high hurdle to overcome.
The biggest influence on voting intention is the few key issues that matter most to people, according to new research of 1,005 UK consumers carried out exclusively for Marketing Week by Toluna.
More than half (53%) rank this in the top three factors that decide their vote, followed by the party that will be in government (42%). The party leader and the candidate’s name on the ballot paper trail behind in joint third, both on 32%.
The results suggest that Parliament’s newly formed Independent Group will need to agree quickly on how it positions itself to voters, taking a strong and united stand on key flagship policies, if its members are not to be wiped out by the big parties at a future general election or in by-elections.
Only 12% of voters say they don’t have a consistent party preference, suggesting only a small number are currently open to being attracted away from the major parties.
Eight former Labour MPs and three Conservatives resigned their party memberships earlier this week to establish the group, which will vote together in Parliament but has not yet registered as a political party. More MPs have indicated they could follow suit.
The key policy areas for a new party to focus on are likely to be Brexit, followed by terrorism, the NHS, immigration and the economy. These were the biggest issues for voters at the 2017 general election, according to the British Election Study of 30,000 people.
The Toluna research indicates there would be little hope of The Independent Group keeping their seats in a snap general election on the strength of their personal brands alone. Only 12% of voters say they don’t have a consistent party preference when voting in elections, suggesting only a small number are currently open to being attracted away from the major parties.
More than three out of five people say they normally vote for either Labour (32%) or the Conservatives (31%), while 21% say they normally vote for another, smaller party. The remainder don’t know or prefer not to say.
Whether this ingrained behaviour is born of habit or loyalty, The Independent Group will need to create an offer to voters strong enough to break it.
If The Independent Group becomes a registered political party, it will therefore need to establish its brand quickly and clearly. The Toluna data suggests it should not rely on a leader to win it votes, since Chuka Umunna is the only one of the 11 members whom a majority of consumers have currently heard of.
According to separate data from YouGov, his prompted awareness of 52% falls well below that of the main party leaders: 99% have heard of Conservative prime minister Theresa May, 98% of Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and 78% of Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable.
In The Independent Group’s favour is the fact that, according to Toluna, 71% of voters are already aware of it less than a week since it formed, and 33% of those have a positive view, versus 20% negative.
Keeping the current media interest going would need to be a key part of its strategy for winning votes if it were to contest an election, as would securing a place in televised debates, as news stories (67%) and TV debates (41%) are the two main ways voters say they gather information about political parties.
It would also need to create its own communications, as this is the next most common channel for receiving information (36%), although as 61% say they do not trust political parties’ messages, these are not likely to be as effective in swaying voters.