Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 20 January 2011

How big will the "voting with their hearts" problem be?

Listening to some interviews with Old & Sad voters following the recent by-election I was struck by some comments from one woman who was very annoyed about the tuition fees issue.

She explained how for various reasons she could not vote for Labour but that also she could not bring herself to vote for the Lib Dems because of the fact that the party had helped triple tuition fees. And instead she voted Conservative.

Yes, you might just need me to repeat that. She voted Conservative.

I think what this demonstrates is that voters do not always vote rationally. If tuition fees is really such a touchstone issue for this woman, how could she possibly bring herself to vote for the party whose fault it largely was that tuition fees went up? If the Lib Dems had formed a majority then the fees would already be on the way to being abolished. As it was they had to compromise with a party who was implacably opposed to anything other than raising tuition fees. The Lib Dems took some of the harsher edges off the policy and made it fairer than it would have been. The Conservatives on their own would I am sure not have approached it in that way.

I just wonder how many people out there over the next few years with the various elections and referenda will follow a similar path to that and vote with their hearts rather than looking objectively at the decisions the parties in government have taken and weighing up the good against the bad.

I do fear that many will not do this and that may be why the Lib Dem polls are so low. I can only hope that over the next few years the party gets its fair share of the credit as well as the blame.


Radar said...

I guess for her it's not the fact that fees went up, merely that Lib Dems have been so anti fees in the past that this then reduces their credibility. If she feels this way then it's totally understandable.

Unfortunately the positive aspects of the policy have not had the coverage they deserved and as such people will only remember the headline figure or triple fees. The fact that only 40% of these fees will ever be paid back and will be paid at a lower rate for a finite amount of time does not get a mention.

I fear the scaremongering will put people off going to University, not the increased possible charge itself. This is why I am deeply appalled with Labour's youth movement - er sorry the NUS.

Antisthenes said...

"I think what this demonstrates is that voters do not always vote rationally."

Circa 40% of the electorate vote Labour so I suggest that a large proportion never vote rationally.

dbmaverick said...

I think it's perferctly rational.

She didn't want to vote lib dem as she felt they had betrayed their principle.

She didn't want to vote labour, but wanted to register her displeasure with the lib dems. What would have been the worst thing to happen in the byelection for the lib dems? To come third. So she tried to engineer that result.

Mark Thompson said...

dbmaverick - I suspect you are correct about the motivations. However your comments cut to the heart of what I am saying.

To vote Tory because you feel that the Lib Dems have betrayed their principles on tuition fees is a very black and white way of approaching the situation. It takes no account of the grey areas that the party continually finds itself in. The truth is that the Lib Dems took the harsher edges off the policy and made it more "progressive" than even that proposed by the NUS. Within the constraints of coalition government they did make a difference. Of course it can be argued that they did not go far enough but for various reasons it was not going to be feasible for them to deliver on their promise. So of course they could have chosen to vote against the government and defeated the bill but that would likely have led to the collapse of the government. Instead they chose to make a difference from inside the tent.

I do not feel this was a "betrayal" but instead a pragmatic approach making as much difference as they were able.

But the point of my post is that it seems a substantial proportion of the electorate do not agree with this and instead really do feel very strongly that the party has betrayed its principles. If this persists over the next few years then the Lib Dems will be in serious trouble. The irony is that then a Tory majority government becomes much more likely which presumably is the opposite of what people such as the woman I referred to in the post would actually want, given their policy on for example tuition fees would have been even worse (from her perspective).