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by Sally Abernethy, of Ipsos MORI
05 May 2021
Election Diaries: It's decision time

Election Diaries: It's decision time

Over the last six weeks of campaigning, Ipsos MORI Scotland and Holyrood magazine have been following a small group of undecided voters.

They have kept an app diary week by week as events have unfolded, sharing the experiences and thoughts that have shaped and informed their decision-making.

So, with the election taking place tomorrow, where have our voters got to?

Over the course of the campaigns, most have changed their minds at least once on their constituency or list vote preference.

Some have become more certain over time, while others have become less so.

Looking back over our voters’ journeys, there are aspects of the election campaigns that have clearly helped and hindered their decision-making.

What has helped?

With the publication of manifestos, voters have gained some clarity on policies (though not always as much as they would have liked) and this has helped to firm up some decisions.

Our voters have been keen to hear about the approaches offered by the parties on key issues such as health, the economy, education, climate change and recovery from the pandemic.

The performances of the party leaders, particularly in the leader debates, have also helped voters make up their minds.

The leaders displaying ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and ‘ambition’ have been viewed more favourably than those perceived to be stoking divisions. Several voters perceive the policies being offered by the parties to be similar, so how the leaders have conducted themselves has helped distinguish between them.

All the parties are very alike in what they're saying [and] what they're going to do, so I think it is down to personality this time around (Maggie)

Those who have now made up their minds about which party to vote for feel that only something drastic – a ‘scandal’, a ‘big idea’ or a ‘big upset’ - would sway them in a different direction at this stage.

Those who are still closing in on a decision are now trying to dial down the campaign noise and instead listen to their instincts. As one participant put it:

At this point, I think it is more of a decision within myself and it will be less influenced by external factors (Emma)

What has hindered?

For other voters, the campaign has felt less helpful – if anything, the field has become muddier with no clear frontrunner emerging.

Some have felt the pressure to decide in time for a postal vote and so have been more reliant than ever on information that will help them arrive at a decision. Among those still considering the options, there are several problematic factors at play.

While some have found clarity in the parties’ policy positions, others have not.

Questions over the ambitiousness of policies or how they will be funded have frustrated some.

Over the course of the campaigns, doubts have also arisen over the SNP’s record in government.

For some, assessments of promises and performances – far from providing clarity – have only highlighted the gap between expectation and reality. For one of our voters, this has led to the disappointing conclusion that no one party has all the answers:

I’m not happy that the candidate or party I vote for does not represent my vision for Scotland even 80% […] no party is offering everything that I want (Rob)

For others, the campaigns have exposed the less salubrious aspects of electioneering.

Manifesto pledges have been described as ‘carrots’ and ‘glitter’. Some see politicians ‘cherry-picking’ policies to tempt voters rather than designing ‘coherent’ strategies for Scotland’s long term future.

This has fuelled a degree of scepticism that the commitments made during campaigning will not necessarily be delivered in government. 

That's politics, they'll promise us the world but when they get in we don't get the world, we don't even get a moon (Chris)

Cutting across all this, of course, has been the question of Scotland’s constitutional future.

Polling indicates that, for many voters in Scotland, their views on independence are set to be key in determining how they will vote.

However, for a number of our undecided voters, this feature of the 2021 election has been more problematic:

I think a lot of people are going to base their vote on the independence thing which I can understand but (it) makes me very worried (Anna)

At the same time, several voters have also been considering a tactical vote based on their position on independence.

While for some, this has simplified their decision, for others, it has created a dilemma over whether to vote for a less favoured party because of the perceived importance of this election to Scotland’s constitutional future.

Beyond the election

Irrespective of the outcome, voters want their representatives to work collaboratively and overcome divisions to deliver on the promises made to the Scottish people.

While the perceived similarity of the parties’ positions on issues other than independence has been a source of some frustration, it has also given voters hope that the parties may be able to come together after the election to help Scotland build back better from the pandemic.

It’s good to see that everyone’s got different ideas, but they’re all talking about the same issues. I really hope that, regardless of who wins, everyone works together to have a united Scotland and not a divided Scotland (Stuart)

Sally Abernethy is research manager at Ipsos MORI Scotland

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