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“I thought he would be no good, but actually he has surprised me a bit”

John Rentoul

emfar 300x199 I thought he would be no good, but actually he has surprised me a bitAbout whom did one voter make that comment?

The Times has put the transcript of a focus group it commissioned from YouGov on its website (on a tab on the story here, pay wall). Good focus-group material is hard to come by, and anyone registered as at risk of Westminster bubbleitis should read it all.

The group of eight floating voters were recruited by YouGov and paid to take part in an online discussion on Thursday for two hours. Three of them voted Labour in 2010, three Conservative and two Liberal Democrat. Six of them said they did not identify themselves with any party now; one was a weak Labour identifier and one a weak Conservative. They live in eight Conservative-held marginal seats.

At the end, they were asked whom they would most like to see in No 10 after the next election: five chose Cameron, two Clegg and one Miliband. Those numbers have no statistical weight, although they do nothing to alter my view that the Conservatives will do better at the next election than the opinion polls currently suggest.

Here are the sections in which the group discuss Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nigel Farage, but before they watched video extracts of Miliband and Cameron’s conference speeches, followed by a couple of three-way comparisons (Miliband, Cameron, Nick Clegg). Jane Carn is the moderator, and there is often a delay in responses.

Ed Miliband

[0:24:46.44] Jane Carn: Has the Mail story changed your opinion of him either positively or negatively? How?
[0:25:01.95] Richard: Not at all
[0:25:06.68] Tracey: Not changed my opinion
[0:25:11.28] Angela: not really
[0:25:18.45] Richard 1: Not changed my opinion about him
[0:25:29.88] Bethany: No change – only brought him more to the front of my mind when he is usually quite bland and forgettable
[0:25:30.97] Martin: no change I still think that he lacks statesmanship like all of our current party leaders
[0:25:33.83] Catherine: Ooh, I might disagree with Tracey there – he has repeatedly said he has been heavily influenced by his father who was, famously, Marxist and so actually might be of interest to undecided voters
[0:25:40.71] Valerie: no I don’t like him, if he can stab his brother in the back how could you ever trust him

[0:26:02.15] Jane Carn: How would you describe him?
[0:26:20.36] Catherine: Adenoidal
[0:26:24.31] Martin: ineffectual
[0:26:42.61] Angela: two faced
[0:26:43.33] Tracey: Surely we should judge them though Catherine by their policies rather than upbringing
[0:26:44.48] Valerie: agree with both above comments
[0:26:48.32] Bethany: average, bland, not memorable
[0:26:49.56] Richard: Certainly not a man I would want at the helm in a war situation!!
[0:26:58.30] Tracey: bland
[0:27:01.46] Catherine: Except if their upbringing influences their policies?
[0:27:10.84] Richard 1: I think he lacks something to be an effective leader
[0:27:16.29] Tracey: well yes, but then that is judging the policies :-)
[0:27:34.12] Jane Carn: Do you believe he has leadership attributes? Which ones?
[0:27:45.09] Martin: no
[0:27:55.73] Valerie: no certainly not
[0:28:01.05] Bethany: Not really, he seems to quiet and I am never really sure where he stands on issues.

[0:29:09.01] Jane Carn: and trustworthy? How trustworthy do you think he seems?
[0:29:20.11] Martin: yes….they have lost touch with their core vote….drifted to the bland centre of politics and seem afraid to believe in anything
[0:29:27.85] Tracey: yes, I suppose it has…
[0:29:38.13] Richard 1: Not sure that you can trust politicians of any colour
[0:29:43.58] Richard: Can anyone trust any Politician?
[0:29:50.74] Valerie: not at all did the dirty on his brother who would have been a better leader
[0:29:53.97] Catherine: No less than any of them
[0:30:08.31] Angela: he can’t be that trustworthy if he can stab his own brother in the back during the leadership contest after the last election
[0:30:09.19] Tracey: as trustworthy as the rest…

David Cameron

[0:33:39.31] Jane Carn: And how about Cameron? Your words to describe him please?
[0:34:02.20] Angela: trying to be another thatcher
[0:34:14.71] Jane Carn: @Angela is that good or not?
[0:34:15.46] Valerie: think he believes in what he says
[0:34:19.91] Catherine: Better than I had expected
[0:34:26.57] Martin: slimy……a toff trying to pretend to be ordinary
[0:34:29.28] Richard: A coward in the face of Europe.
[0:34:30.59] Bethany: a bit out-of-touch
[0:34:33.23] Richard 1: He seems focussed but maybe out of touch with a majority of the voting public
[0:34:38.63] Jane Carn: @Bethany, why?
[0:34:41.58] Angela: not good trying to sell off everything thatcher didn’t
[0:34:45.84] Tracey: I may not agree with everything he has done but he does it with confidence in his beliefs
[0:35:08.91] Tracey: agree with Richard 1
[0:35:20.44] Jane Carn: and what about his leadership attributes? have your perceptions of his leadership skills changed since the election?
[0:36:04.24] Catherine: Yes, I thought he would be no good, but actually he has surprised me a bit.
[0:36:08.58] Valerie: he comes across as very committed
[0:36:13.70] Angela: he is a very convincing leader he may be the only one who survives after the next election
[0:36:14.36] Martin: no…he tries to be all things to all men, not a sign of good leadership
[0:36:19.08] Richard: Seems to avoid making Cabinet changes when needed.
[0:36:20.88] Jane Carn: Out of touch – in what way?
[0:36:23.18] Bethany: I don’t think he could relate to or empathise with most social groups
[0:36:34.82] Richard 1: He talks a good talk and can deliver a speech, but that’s what he was trained to do from an early age wasn’t it?

Nigel Farage

[0:37:33.33] Jane Carn: Let’s focus on Farage for a moment (on the left of the screen)
[0:37:43.89] Jane Carn: what do you think of UKIP?
[0:38:04.82] Catherine: I think they are an important voice in British Politics but boy, are they going about it the wrong way
[0:38:08.67] Valerie: like some of their ideas
[0:38:18.60] Jane Carn: @Catherine, what do you mean by that?
[0:38:24.87] Angela: a bit confused by them some ideas contradict themselves
[0:38:28.09] Jane Carn: @Valerie, which ones?
[0:38:34.63] Martin: a joke…. taking us of Europe is economic suicide….old fashioned Tories in disguise
[0:38:43.43] Richard 1: A one-trick pony that will receive a few protest votes but lacking in any real substance to back up whatever popularity they have built up
[0:38:54.50] Valerie: keep us out of Europe
[0:39:03.70] Bethany: Worried about issues of sexism in UKIP
[0:39:09.92] Catherine: I think they are letting in folk who are really little more than racist thugs who simply don’t know how to behave nicely!
[0:39:10.61] Jane Carn: Do you consider them to be a serious contender in British politics?
[0:39:37.38] Richard: If it’s only objective is to allow an IN/Out vote on Europe and then close down Fine, But I cannot see them as a credible Government. Cameron must listen to what he is promising the British public.
[0:39:47.07] Richard 1: Not really, I think you’ll be able to put them on par with the Lib Dems after the next election
[0:39:53.24] Tracey: I don’t think people take them seriously enough for them to be a serious contender
[0:39:56.87] Martin: no just nipping at the heel of the Tories, but will gain protest votes
[0:39:59.74] Catherine: Not in British politics but suspect they will do well in European elections
[0:40:04.04] Valerie: it looks as though they might be
[0:40:12.50] Angela: they could be if they can be as convincing about their policies a bit more and enough people want to protest vote
[0:40:13.38] Jane Carn: have you ever voted UKIP and do you think there’s any chance you might in 2015?
[0:40:22.23] Catherine: No and no!
[0:40:32.59] Martin: not a hope in hell
[0:40:33.15] Bethany: I haven’t voted UKIP but my mother is strongly considering it
[0:40:42.62] Valerie: not yet still unsure on this one
[0:40:45.43] Tracey: No and I am not sure I know enough about them to consider it at this stage
[0:40:57.74] Richard 1: not at all on both questions
[0:41:01.50] Angela: never voted UKIP but I won’t vote for them not sure of them
[0:41:05.82] Bethany: Agree with Tracey, I would want to research them for myself first
[0:41:16.59] Richard: A good chance if, as I say they get their act together.
[0:41:37.39] Jane Carn: Does Nigel Farage have leadership qualities? Why/why not?
[0:41:49.23] Jane Carn: @Richard – what do you think?
[0:42:05.05] Catherine: Actually, I think he does, I just don’t agree with all that he has to say
[0:42:28.07] Bethany: No – he is not likeable, not direct (sidestepped question about sexist views), annoying
[0:42:39.68] Richard 1: Like the others I think he talks the talk but without putting him in position we won’t really find out
[0:42:40.15] Martin: there’s something about him that I don’t trust
[0:42:43.94] Richard: Leadership of his Party I would say yes. Leadership of the UK no
[0:42:45.89] Valerie: yes I think he is quite likeable
[0:42:47.82] Tracey: He comes across confidently but not entirely likeable
[0:42:52.23] Angela: no he’s too out spoken but doesn’t take control when there is a problem within the party

Comparing the three main party leaders

[1:43:15.84] Jane Carn: OK, let’s think about the three leaders we have discussed today.
[1:43:43.50] Jane Carn: Who do you think is the strongest leader now? Did their speeches have any impact on your opinion?
[1:44:03.80] Bethany: DC was the strongest
[1:44:04.43] Richard: Cameron
[1:44:05.52] Tracey: Cameron came across as the strongest Leader
[1:44:07.25] Catherine: DC although watching the speeches did improve my opinion of NC
[1:44:09.01] Valerie: DC is the strongest leader
[1:44:12.09] Angela: David Cameron is the strongest leader
[1:44:22.43] Richard 1: The most convincing was DC but the best of a bad bunch
[1:44:47.02] Martin: none came across as statesmen but Cameron is marginally better
[1:44:49.85] Richard: I agree with Richard 1

[1:44:38.87] Jane Carn: and who is the bravest in what they are saying and standing for?
[1:44:57.64] Bethany: none were brave because they were all mainstream views
[1:45:18.06] Angela: unsure
[1:45:25.84] Valerie: none I would class as brave
[1:45:27.33] Catherine: Oh, none – like someone said earlier on, all the conferences this year were too bland. Nobody had anything really ‘out there’ to say
[1:45:37.52] Jane Carn: Which policies or messages have stood out most to you? Why?
[1:45:38.63] Martin: bravery doesn’t come into it, they are just pleasing the party faithful
[1:45:38.73] Richard: They all brave for promising things they know they cannot deliver
[1:46:00.58] Catherine: Haha, good point Richard!

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  • JohnJustice

    These “floating” voters were obviously floating to the right prior to taking part in this focus group. That included the one “weak” Labour man and the “weak” Conservative who was more a potential UKIP recruit. To pick them out in this way solely from Conservative marginals made a nonsense of the objectivity of this exercise.

    It was clearly designed to get the answers the Times wanted. Their banal comments about Miliband (“adenoidal”, for God’s sake!!) were taken straight from the right- wing tabloids, regurgitating all the usual smears about him, with the usual group think when someone starts the ball rolling and no one having the guts to be the odd one out.

    I’m surprised that you should be giving space to it JR.

  • aardvark10

    Now here’s a first. Me on JR’s side against JJ.
    JR quite clearly said “These numbers have no statistical weight”.
    It is clearly NOT obvious that these voters were “floating to the right” just because they don’t have opinions which coincide with yours. Your contribution descends to the level of a left wing rant. Surely you are going to accept only those opinion polls which don’t include “banal comments”? I must say I found the thing a quite interesting read.
    The only thing I would say is that you really cannot conclude anything about the next election from such a survey (obviously).

  • reformist lickspittle

    If they have no “statistical weight” why did the Times devote two whole pages to these supposedly “meaningless” findings??

    Its very simple – the Times knew what answers it wanted beforehand, and the respondents were manipulated into giving them.

    Expect lots more of this sort of stuff until the GE.

  • reformist lickspittle

    You can get “focus groups” to give ANY answer you want. Literally.

  • JohnJustice

    Opinions about Miliband which simply repeat all the nasty stuff about him spread by the right-wing press ( knifed his brother in the back, ineffectual, two faced, for example) indicate that most of this group had a generally right-wing perspective on things . Either that or the participants had little interest or knowledge of politics left or right and simply responded to the leading questions put to them according to the headlines they see in he papers they read, what they see on the telly when they happen to have the news on or what is said in the pubs if the subject comes up.

  • Kippers

    “Good focus-group material is hard to come by …”
    Yes, quite. Getting a sight of the basic data from Phil Gould’s focus groups is very difficult indeed.


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