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Brits' faith in democracy floored by Brexit and election

number 10

The Brexit referendum and Election 2017 shattered British confidence in politics in a big way, it emerged as the BBC’s Nick Robinson unpacked new research.

2015’s General Election eroded British faith in a fair electoral system, but it slid dramatically during the 2017 campaign, the Radio 4 Today programme presenter heard.

The Political Studies Association yesterday launched a raft of fresh studies on the latest election campaigns, including work from Brunel University London.

“For an established liberal democracy, this is horrendous,” said Prof Cees van der Eijk from University of Nottingham. “The elections did not do what they should, which is increase faith in the process itself.” Comparing reactions to the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, he noted the short time elapsed means many of the same people voted in both elections.

For Theresa May, 2017 is an election she called “on a campaign that did not achieve any gains and reduced the authority of democracy in Britain,” Nick Robinson said.

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The Conservatives ran the textbook campaign, said Brunel University London’s Professor Justin Fisher. The Tories aimed their effort at the seats that mattered most. But, unlike in 2015, it did them few favours. “Surprisingly, for the Conservatives, there was no real electoral gain from campaigning harder.” This wasn’t the story for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, whose constituency campaigns clearly paid off.

Looking at how local-level campaigning impacted the 2017 result, Prof Fisher found Labour was better resourced than the Tories – especially with activists. All three main parties targeted young people, ethnic minorities and older voters. The most online campaigning came from Labour and focused heavily on younger voters. And focusing on local candidates rather than national party messages boosted Labour.

Campaigning by all parties slumped from 2015 to 2017, with a sliding sense of enthusiasm, said Paul Webb from University of Sussex. The most active campaigners he found were young, socially liberal, left-wing and think more in line with their party.

Negative campaigning drove supporters towards their second-choice party and away from their first, with “no real evidence it worked,” found Nottingham University’s Annemarie Walter.

The briefing, Election Campaigning Laid Bare, aimed to explain the impact of constituency campaigns, the role of party members, negative campaigning and the public’s response.

Image, left to right: Prof Cees van der Eijk from University of Nottingham, Dr Annemarie Walter from University of Nottingham, Prof Paul Webb from University of Sussex, Brunel University London's Prof Justin Fisher and BBC R4 Today presenter Nick Robinson.

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268176
Hayley.Jarvis@brunel.ac.uk