The case for making “personality” ratings a good electoral indicator

The case for making “personality” ratings a good electoral indicator

A guest slot from isam

Last month, Keir Starmer appeared on the television in my front room to give his response to the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 statement. A few seconds later my eyes glazed over,  a few more passed and I switched the tv off saying “Jesus, he is dull”. It set me thinking that in a world of Reality tv, tiktok, snapchat, (none of which I am a fan of), and general instant gratification, (which I kind of am) Starmer was too boring to be Prime Minister. Those with a keen interest in politics scrutinise policies, but it could be that a significant minority, perhaps even a small majority, of the public prefer someone they can imagine mucking in on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. The polls are tightening, and this weeks IPSOS-MORI political monitor has Starmer ahead of Boris Johnson in favourability by 14 points, albeit with over a third not yet knowing enough about him to express an opinion. So does charisma matter?

Pondering recent UK General Elections, I noticed the winning party tended to be led by the candidate with more personality than their main rival, whether I were favourably inclined to them or not. Fortunately, IPSOS-MORI have put this question to their respondents a couple of times a year since the late seventies,  so I was able to objectively test my hypothesis against contemporary opinion. In the days of three, four or five tv channels only, and no internet, the effect was not really pronounced; Margaret Thatcher shaded Jim Callaghan, thrashed Michael Foot and was about even with Neil Kinnock, who was in turn considered to have way more personality than John Major. Then, in the era of Sky tv, social media, and what some might say was a general cultural dumbing down, things start to change 

Tony Blair was undoubtedly smoother than the three Conservative leaders he defeated, John Major, whom he beat 29-5, on average, on personality, William Hague (35-5), and Michael Howard (22-7), even when Howard’s Conservatives led on voting intention and Howard himself on net satisfaction in September 2004, before his Chancellor Gordon Brown was ousted as PM by David Cameron. Labour actually made a point of highlighting Cameron’s charisma by comparing him to TV detective Gene Hunt, dubbed ” a “national hero”, an unlikely sex symbol and a “top cop” ‘ by critics. The Government wanted to make the distinction between the incumbent safe pair of hands who had looked after the economy for over a decade, and a risky, lightweight, novice. Unwittingly they had made their already more attractive opponent look even sexier. Cameron beat Brown 24-3 on personality and became PM by way of Coalition with the Lib Dems (whose leader, Nick Clegg, scored 19)

Ed Miliband was an earnest, nice guy – a bit of a nerd who found it easier to finish a rubiks cube than a bacon sandwich. Left wing critics of Cameron accused the PM of resembling posh boy bully Lord Flashman, but, again, this was an error.  In Sep 2012, Labour led the polls 40-31, and Ed was 13 points clear of Cameron on net satisfaction, but when it came to “Who would be more fun to meet in person?”  dashing Dave was trouncing him 34-21. For the rest of the Coalition’s time in office Cameron was ahead by an average of 40 to 20 on personality, and won the Conservatives a majority in 2015 when NOM was “nailed on”.

Cameron never faced the left’s left field choice as his next challenger at the ballot box. Jeremy Corbyn matched him 41-41 in the only personality poll during their time together, in September 2015, and led the PM by 7 in terms of net satisfaction. Possibly of greater significance in that poll was UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s personality score of 66…  nine months later, Leave won the referendum.

Now to Theresa May vs Jezza. In September 2016 the Conservatives had a 6 point lead in the polls, and May led Corbyn by 58 points in net satisfaction. Good times! Scratch the surface, though, and things were not quite as rosy as they seemed; on personality her lead was just 5 points. Nevertheless in April 2017, TM the PM’s Tories led Labour by 21 points in the polls so, to put the Brexit issue to bed, she called a General Election. Her campaign was horrendous; while she was stiff, and ducking debates, the kids at Glastonbury were chanting “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” to the tune of “Seven Nation Army”. May lost Cameron’s majority, as fellow unelected, uncharismatic PM Brown did Blair’s. By September, Corbyn led in the charisma stakes by 47-21, and was favourite to be next PM, until…

Along came Boris. May’s personality rating was down to 16 (to Corbyn’s 39) by April 18, and when the Cons came 4th with less than 9% of the vote at the Euros, it was all over. The Brexit Party won, Farage was rated 61 in June 2019, trouble for the Tories… time for a new leader. It boiled down to Boris Johnson (79) or Jeremy Hunt (21). They made the correct choice
Relative to May, Corbyn was a charismatic maverick. Up against Boris he was on a hiding to nothing, losing 79-22 & 76-25 on the occasions they were compared. May’s fragile arrangement with the DUP became an 80 seat majority for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Now back to where we started,  Keir Starmer QC leader of the Labour Party. Smarter than Jez, cleverer than Ed, better looking than Gordon…  while he has narrowed the gap to Boris on favourability, he loses the personality test 64-30. You know the rest.

Two bets spring to mind on the back of this. Firstly, Sir Keir will not be the next PM; if he is up against Boris, unless he develops a side to his character we have yet to see (possible this early in his stewardship), Boris wins. If Boris quits/retires/is ousted before the next GE, maybe Keir will beat his successor; but then he wont have been the next PM. Lay him on Betfair at 2/1 ish (previously tipped by David Herdson)

A more exciting bet is Next Labour Leader. Surely they will learn their lesson if the dullard loses to the maverick yet again. There is only one personality to take on Boris in the Labour ranks who is outspoken, has the potential to be known by first name only, and appears to have the common touch. You could imagine her being a character in a soap opera or a contestant on a reality tv show, and I am of the opinion that trumps political philosophy in the 21st Century – 50/1 with Ladbrokes, Betfred and Coral to get the gig – Jess Phillips. 


Isam, who works in the betting industry. has been a poster on PB for several years. This is his first header

Comments are closed.