What Focus Groups Say About Ed Miliband

John Rentoul
ed miliband getty 300x225 What Focus Groups Say About Ed Miliband

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If people vote in the general election on 7 May 2015 the way our ComRes opinion poll today suggests, Labour would win a majority of 74 seats. But they probably won’t. So how will public opinion change over the next two years?

Here are two schools of thought: Dan Hodges, my fellow zombie Blairite, has devised what I call the Hodges Adjustment, which he applies to all opinion polls: “Drop UKIP to 6%, give rest to Tories. Raise Lib Dems to 16%, take that from Labour.”

Applied to the average of today’s three opinion polls, that would give Hodges-Adjusted numbers: Con 40% Lab 29% LibDem 16% UKIP 6%, a Conservative majority of about 34.

The other is my colleague Jane Merrick, political editor of The Independent on Sunday, who yesterday bet me that the next election result will be almost the same as the last one, give or take “a few seats”. (GB votes shares in the last election were Con 37% Lab 30% LibDem 24% UKIP 3%.)

The thing about both these predictions is that they assume that Labour will do worse than its current opinion poll rating (an average of 37% in today’s polls), possibly because Ed Miliband would fare poorly against David Cameron in the intense scrutiny of an election campaign.

But would he? In my column for The Independent on Sunday today I have some exclusive revelations from recent focus groups that were shown videos of Miliband and asked what they thought. The reports of these groups say it is still “difficult to test Miliband’s message and arguments” because people are so dismissive of him. He has become better known, however.

When Ed Miliband first became leader, focus groups tended to stress his weirdness – and to pick on physical attributes they didn’t like (voice, nose, eyes), reminiscent of how they used to judge William Hague’s appearance and voice when he was Conservative leader 1997-2001.

Where groups used to describe him as “weird”, they now tend to call him “weak”.

Ed Miliband is judged to be too weak to stand up for the country, too weak to take the tough decisions most believe are unavoidable, and too weak to stand up to Ed Balls, the unions or world leaders.

The report also says: “In most focus groups now people also spontaneously make the point that he wants to borrow more.”

I found this surprising, as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have only recently and rather under their breath admitted that their policy is to raise borrowing in the short term (after Miliband’s interview on BBC Radio 4 The World At One, known colloquially as “Wato”, in which he dodged the question – a performance that ought to have been called Watogate, but wasn’t). However, the focus groups seemed to know about the plan to borrow more now to borrow less later.

This is seen as a sign of a “lack of seriousness and absence of the steeliness to take difficult decisions”. The groups, perhaps surprisingly, resist the Tory argument that Labour are to blame for the country’s economic problems, but a phrase that has cropped up recently is: “He’d take us back to square one.”

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  • Matt Tysoe

    Don Hodges is in denial that UKIP are gaining support from ex labour voters

  • JohnJustice

    It was a reply to Richard Marriot’s response to my original comment not to your typically over-the-top Tory criticisms. As for the last one are you aware that a Nobel Laureate hu’

  • JohnJustice

    Disqus has gone haywire. Ignore my previous comment.

  • JohnJustice

    My focus group of one message to Miliband is convey your ideas in terms that ordinary people can understand.

    Borrowing more to borrow less later, for example, makes perfect sense to someone with an economics background like myself. It simply means borrowing to invest in income creating activities which will reduce borrowing requirements in the future. However I think that such language goes over the heads of most of the electorate particularly when people with posh accents continually ridicule the counter-intuitive concept of borrowing more to pay off debt.

    Maybe Miliband should learn from Thatcher and express the idea in the down to earth terms that people are familiar with. He could then make the simple point that hen a household producing garden plants for sale finds that its outstanding debt goes beyond its capacity to repay the debt it does not cut back its garden production (which leaves less to repay the debt) but takes out a loan to buy the extra seeds and inputs needed to create the additional income for repaying the debt.

    A Thatcher-type homily, a stitch in time saves nine, might also be used to explain how more borrowing now can reduce costs (and therefore more borrowing later). For example for every pound borrowed to fill in pot-holes nine could be saved on the NHS cost of treating the casualties of those unfilled pot-holes. The stitch in time proverb could also be used as a rule of thumb for distinguishing between public spending that is worth retaining and public spending that is better dispensed with in the current economic climate i.e. how much does it save costs and further borrowing down the line?

  • Pacificweather

    Oh dear, John, ComRes, hmm. Fine when it suits you, not so good when it doesn’t, but actually always and irredeemably wrong.

  • Pacificweather

    As long as it does not also buy personal protection insurance the everything in the garden will be Rosie. Lovely girl, Rosie.

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