Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with negative campaigning (though surely there’s something a bit wrong about being inaccurate). But when parties pontificate about crafting messages of hope and avoiding smears and falsehood, before plumping for the latter, can they really be surprised that overall voters are a bit cheesed off with mainstream politics?
All the parties negatively campaign against negative campaigning, accusing the others of doing something that they too are doing, and hoping that no-one notices. Well, voters do seem to notice. They’re also not particularly thrilled with any of the parties.
While the Tories might be pleased that the first YouGov poll after the Budget puts them two points ahead of Labour, both parties might want to pay attention to some of the other questions in that survey. Those polled were asked which party the following statement applied to the most: ‘It seems rather old and tired’. The Tories were old and tired for 30 per cent of voters, while 28 per cent plumped for Labour, which means David Cameron’s party enjoys a two point lead on old and tiredness as well as overall voting intention. The Lib Dems came third with 17 per cent, 10 per cent said none of the parties and 15 per cent didn’t know.
In another era, 30 per cent and 28 per cent for Conservative and Labour respectively would have been OK, given the share of the vote that the parties used to enjoy. But the percentage of voters who think the two main parties are old and tired is only a little smaller than the percentage of voters prepared to back the main parties.
Labour has a six point lead over the Tories on having its heart in the right place, on 29 per cent, while the Tories have a one-point lead over Labour on ‘it seems to have succeeded in doing on and left its past behind’ at 20 to 19 respectively. The answer that should worry the Tories the most is the one where 50 per cent of voters think the party ‘seems to appeal to one section of society rather than the whole country’, against 23 per cent who picked Labour, 6 per cent who picked the Lib Dems, 7 per cent who went for none of them and 14 per cent who didn’t know.
The main parties already know voters are annoyed with them. The Tories know that they’re seen as out-of-touch with sections of the population (if they didn’t, they must be wondering why on earth Ed Miliband and his colleagues throw that line into every interview they can, even when irrelevant). But neither of them seem particularly enthusiastic about doing things that would really counter those perceptions. Their levels of motivation to change seem to be as high as those of someone at the end of January who is wondering why on earth they shelled out for a year’s gym membership when they don’t like exercise. Worse, in boasting that they won't do negative campaigning and then doing it, the parties are like the sort of person who posts on social media about their visits to the gym, only to go suspiciously quiet after a while as they sink back into the sofa.
So they carry on negative campaigning, while also attacking their opponents for doing the same, and pay far less heed to the sorts of things that permanently erode their support than they should if they fancy ever exciting voters, rather than just scaring them, and boring them.