Election diaries: Holyrood and Ipsos MORI hear from some undecided voters
As the Scottish Parliament election campaigns heat up, Ipsos MORI and Holyrood have been listening to a small group of voters who have yet to make up their minds how they will vote on 6 May.
Using our ‘Election Diaries’ app, they will share what they are thinking and feeling – and how their views are changing – throughout the campaign. Here are four things we’ve learned from them so far:
1) There is trepidation about what tone the campaign will take
Our voters are aware that this is a high-stakes election and that the outcome is likely to be critical to Scotland’s constitutional future. Scotland is perceived as a divided country – not only on the question of independence, but also on other key issues such as Brexit, and how and when Scotland should ease COVID-19 restrictions. There is apprehension about the direction and tone the campaigns may take and concern that the election may deepen these divisions. As one participant put it:
“I’m thinking this may be one of the most divisive election campaigns in my lifetime as there’s so many different subjects that will split opinion. I’m a mixture of excited and scared at the thought of it.” (Gilbert)
The emergence of the Alba Party – announced a day after our group started keeping their election diaries – has, if anything, added to this trepidation. Voters are worried that the ‘personality politics’ involved will distract from the important issues they want the campaigns to focus on:
“I just want to hear answers for the things that I’m concerned about. … I don’t want us diverted by the two independence campaigns and tit for tat.” (Danielle)
2) The issues feel bigger than ever before
This election feels different to previous Scottish elections. Not only is it being held during a pandemic, but the campaigns are taking place in the context of not one, but three hugely significant overarching debates: independence, Brexit, and how Scotland can best recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our voters discussed many issues that matter to them which they will be looking for the parties to address, such as education, health, climate change and the economy. However, these three issues cut across all the others and provide the prisms through which the more ‘standard’ election issues are now viewed. Concerns about education, for example, are focused on how parties will ensure the next generation are:
“Equipped to come into a world that’s just completely changed upside down.” (Stuart)
The scale and importance of these overarching issues has increased the significance voters attach to this ‘critical’ Holyrood election.
3) The independence question is unavoidable (even for those who want to avoid it)
Our group includes both Yes and No voters. Both felt the question of independence was likely to dominate the election. However, unsurprisingly, they had very different feelings about this. Those who did not support independence expressed considerable weariness and frustration with the extent to which independence was likely to dominate the debate in the run up to May, viewing it as an unnecessary distraction from the issues they felt most important:
“We voted and we’ve said we don’t want to be independent so why are we doing this just now? There are bigger factors to deal with in the country just now”. (Laura)
Those in favour of independence, in contrast, were more likely to take Nicola Sturgeon’s position: that independence is crucial to being able to address all the other issues that matter to them – from Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, to our relationship with the EU post-Brexit. As one voter who had switched to the SNP after a lifetime of voting Labour put it:
“I’d rather be in an independent Scotland in Europe than in the UK out of it.” (Sandy)
4) There is an appetite for a different kind of politics
There is a real sense of fatigue with partisan clashes between politicians. Our group of undecided voters are keen to see the parties engage with each other more respectfully and, where appropriate, to collaborate.
This desire for politicians to adopt a less adversarial tone in their dealing with each other was reflected in appraisals of the performance of the party leaders in the first TV debate. While views on who ‘won’ the debate varied, Anas Sarwar won praise from across the political spectrum for his performance:
“Articulate delivery - measured and calm. And gave credit to other leaders where due. Wants to unite the country, rather than take a divisive approach.” (Jeanette)
In contrast, Douglas Ross’ focus on independence and perceived lack of willingness to work with others was less well received. As one past Conservative voter commented:
“Sometimes in life you need to work with people, or parties, to implement good ideas. His stance on working with the SNP last night was he just wouldn’t, which made him look very narrow-minded.” (Ross)
Ultimately, honesty and empathy are the key qualities that our voters are looking for in their elected representatives. They were not necessarily hopeful that these characteristics would be on display during the campaign – the Salmond inquiry had, if anything, exacerbated existing concerns about integrity among politicians. However, for this group of undecided voters, politicians who can embody these characteristics may be in with a better chance of their vote.
Emily Gray is the managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland