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“I went with what I always do…”

A qualitative analysis of ‘Cleggmania’ and vote choice in the 2010 British General Election
by

Kristi Winters

on 4 March 2013

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Transcript of “I went with what I always do…”

A qualitative analysis of ‘Cleggmania’ and vote choice in the 2010 British General Election “I went with what I always do…” Why did Cleggmania fail? The Qualitative Election Study of Britain Conclusions On 6 April 2010, 17 to 21 percent of respondents polled expressed a Liberal Democrat vote preference (Populus 2010; YouGov 2010).

The first debate was held one week into the campaign and drew an audience of approximately 9.7 million people.

Clegg ‘stole’ the first leaders’ debate: his performance was ‘fresh’ and he was viewed ‘as a serious player’ (Wintour and Curtis, 2010; Sergeant, 2010, Stringer and Allman, 2010).

All post-debate opinion polls reported that Clegg had won the first round (Lawes and Hawkins 2011, 62). Where the Lib Dems started and the first debate See the paper at Academia.edu for exciting real time reactions to Clegg’s performance in the First Leaders’ Debate! Observing ‘Cleggmania’ live Types of voters Following the debate Liberal Democrat support in the polls rose from 17 to 31 percent (Lawes and Hawkins 2011, 68).

In the media comparisons were made between Clegg and Che Guevara, Sir Winston Churchill, and Barack Obama (Burkeman 2010; Oliver and Smith 2010).

There was speculation the Liberal Democrats might overtake Labour to become the main opposition party (Deacon and Wring 2011, 287). Cleggmania emerges Why did Cleggmania fail to live up to its expected results? Two accounts have been provided to explain:

1) ‘The polls got it wrong’, either because they measured support that did not exist or they failed to measure a decline in support (Atkinson and Mortimore 2011, 78).

2) Over-emphasis by the media on the effect of the Leaders’ Debates (Allen et al 2011) while ignoring the constraining factors, such as the limited number of viable seats Liberal Democrats could win, that prevented any bounce from translating into seats (Lawes and Hawkins 2011; Johnston and Pattie 2011). The puzzle and possible answers The results of the 2010 general election were disappointing for the Liberal Democrats.

The party won 23 percent of the vote, just one point better than its share in the previous general election (Atkinson and Mortimore 2011, 78).

The six BPC polls had overestimated the party’s vote share by an average of 3.6 percentage points (Kellner et al 2011, 95).

Bartle et al (2011, 148) observed the three parties ended up where they began the campaign. The election results Our approach to the Cleggmania puzzle uses unique data: the perceptions and self-reported actions of voters themselves.

Qualitative data allows researchers to examine the British general election as self-reflexively understood by the participants.

The Qualitative Election Study of Britain (QESB) provides high-quality textual data to analyze ‘how people use language in their everyday interactions, their ‘discourses’ with each other, and how they…put their linguistic skills to use in building specific accounts of events,’ (Burr 2003, 17). Our analysis We analysed transcripts from post-election focus groups conducted between May 18 and 24, 2010 in England (Essex and London), Scotland (Glasgow) and Wales (Aberystwyth).

40 participated, 30 of whom voted. Participants were invited to recount what happened leading up to Election Day and if, and for whom they voted.

Vote choice narratives (and relevant side mentions) were identified in the transcripts, extracted, and prepared for analysis. Qualitative Election Study of Britain Data Our working assumption was that since participants knew how they had voted they would construct their vote choice story both to recount and to explain (or justify) their actions.

We employed two methods of qualitative analysis, narrative and discourse, respectively and iteratively. Qualitative analysis Narrative analysis is a holistic approach that preserves the context and particularity of the data (Riessman 1993).

‘The temporal ordering of events in a story is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emergence of a story.

The events in the sequence must be bound together by some principles of logical coherence’ (Franzosi 1998, 521).

Stories draw upon subjective experiences and provide insights into concepts of identity and self (Smith 2000).

Narrative analysis examines how the story-teller interprets things (Bruner 1990). Narrative analysis We identified the following elements that could be applied to all vote choice narratives:

Scene setting: Introduction and/or background for the narrative;
Dilemma: a dilemma or complicating factor;
Turning point: event(s) important to heighten or resolve the dilemma(s);
Resolution: A resolution to the dilemma;
Justification: explanations or rationalization;
Outcome: the outcome of their narrative;
Reflections: further thoughts on the outcome
Coda: a short re-statement, may include a verbal link to the beginning or to the present. Narrative structure Original text
Diane: I didn’t know who I was going to vote for. I liked the Lib-Dems and thought -is it going to be a wasted vote? Then I saw the debate, which was here, and that made up my mind really who I did want to vote for which was Lib-Dem and I don’t think they could have asked for a better result really because they- there was no way they were going to get voted in anyway so for them that’s the best outcome.
 
Narrative analysis applied to text
Diane: [Dilemma] I didn’t know who I was going to vote for.
[Dilemma] I liked the Lib-Dems and thought -is it going to be a wasted vote?
[Turning point] Then I saw the debate, which was here,
[Resolution] and that made up my mind really who I did want to vote for which was Lib-Dem [Reflection] and I don’t think they could have asked for a better result really because they- there was no way they were going to get voted in anyway so for them that’s the best outcome. Qualitative data analysis Once organized with narrative analysis, the content was analysed employing a form of discourse analysis. We applied Gee’s (2008) principles to identify the common and unique content.

We analysed the ways participants
used language to make things significant (or not),
how they used language to enact identities,
the social goods they communicated in their stories, and
how they connected or disconnected things in their descriptions to make them relevant or irrelevant to each another (Gee 2008, 9-13). Discourse analysis Narrative and Discourse analysis applied to text

Diane:

[Dilemma: Undecided] I didn’t know who I was going to vote for.
[Dilemma: A wasted vote?] I liked the Lib-Dems and thought -is it going to be a wasted vote?
[Turning point: Saw debate] Then I saw the debate, which was here,
[Resolution: Will vote Lib Dem] and that made up my mind really who I did want to vote for which was Lib-Dem
[Reflections: Happy with result] and I don’t think they could have asked for a better result really because they- there was no way they were going to get voted in anyway so for them that’s the best outcome. Qualitative data analysis Narratives were examined for patterns in structures or language.
Differentiated by the elements of the story, how they were ordered, the values cited, and how dilemmas were resolved.
We create criteria of organization for vote choice typologies based upon
Dilemma or not, and
Content of the justifications. Higher order analysis Through this process we identified four typologies:

1) ‘Started loyal, stayed loyal’ voters,
2) ‘Dated Nick but it didn’t stick’* voters,
3) ‘Won-over’ voters, and
4) ‘Strategic’ voters.
The remaining 5 narratives were collected under the category ‘Other’.


*The ‘dated Nick’ category pays homage to the 2004 Democratic primary’s ‘Dated Dean, Married Kerry’. Four narrative types Three typologies are characterised by two factors:
where participants fell on partisanship (partisans, not partisans) and
vote choice (decided or undecided) .

‘Started loyal’ voters generally had preferred party or other values that underpinned their vote choice and did not waver in their vote choice.

‘Dated Nick’ voters expressed a prior preferred party but described their vote choice as a dilemma.

‘Won over’ voters did not express a preferred party or value and described their vote choice as a dilemma. (Limited to LD voters for this analysis) How they ‘hang’ together The fourth typology has unique dimensions that distinguish it from the other three.

‘Strategic’ voter is characterised by a common vote for the Liberal Democrats but their justifications are based in maximising personal value.
Our analysis identified three types of strategic voters:
Tactical- Stop another party
Satisficing - A viable party that is politically proximal
Principle/policy - Expressive voting for a principle or policy Strategic voters Started Loyal, Stayed Loyal These narratives lack dilemmas or any sense of drama. The narratives simply report voters doing what they intended to do.

Key lies in the justifications (J) given.

Non-Lib Dem voters: cite own values and linked to their chosen party
‘influenced through a trade unionist father’,
‘support my country’,
‘a more positive vote’.

Lib Dem voters: do not mention values or identity, both mention constituency dynamics in their narratives. Analysis of 'Stayed Loyal' voters ‘Dated Nick’ voters Recount and resolve the voter’s dilemma. Start with setting scene (Ss) or dilemma (D) - undecided.

Roger and Shirley report being undecided as they walked into the voting booth.

Insights are found in the justifications (J), and the resolutions (Res).
‘How will I feel when I see the results come in?’
‘…just something in me was just like ‘‘I’ve always voted that way.’ Analysis of Dated Nick voters For wavering QESB voters a sense of partisan identity overrode other considerations.

We cannot transfer the rationales from participants to survey respondents. However this provides an additional account for the over-estimation of Liberal Democrat support:

People may have sincerely thought they would vote Liberal Democrats but when faced with the reality of the ballot box they could not bring themselves to vote against their party. Identity is powerful We feel that this key evidence from people’s own experiences provides another piece to the puzzle as to why Cleggmania did not materialize.

Shirley and Roger are examples of persons who could have reported a Liberal Democrat voting intention until the day before the election, but on the day they cast their votes for the same party they always had.

The act of casting one’s vote carries a unique weight in that moment that cannot be captured by survey questionnaires or lab experiments. Elections are not surveys Won over to Lib Dem voters Concerns about casting a wasted vote, or their vote not meaning very much comes up in three of the four narratives.

These stories provide insights into the decisions of people without strong partisanship who used many pieces of information to arrive at a decision.

Cleggmania was one piece of information that helped shore up support with wavering Lib Dem voters. Analysis of Won over voters Tactical and Satisficing voters Principle/policy voters Each voter saw in the Liberal Democrats a way to give voice to their values

However, they do not express a sense of identification with the party as was observed in the Started Loyal or Dated Nick voting narratives. Strategic voters The QESB focus group transcripts shed new light on the Cleggmania puzzle.

Prior explanations pointed to misleading survey responses or mere media hype.
Our findings provide insight into the psychological obstacle of voting for another party in light of prior party identification.

We found previous Labour and Conservative voters who sincerely considered voting for the Liberal Democrats, some even until Election Day. However, when confronted with the ballot, their latent party identification made the act of voting for a different party uncomfortable. Conclusions Our analysis also found some participants were moved by Clegg’s performance and Cleggmania.

We provided data in the form of voters stories who report being won over to the Liberal Democrats.

For participants in the Qualitative Election Study of Britain there was a real effect of ‘Cleggmania’; however it was limited to strengthening the resolve of wavering or leaning Liberal Democrat voters. Conclusions cont. Quantitative analysis can estimate coefficients for vote choice models, but the vote stories people tell themselves and others draw upon both personal calculations and contextualised constraints.

Voters cited personal values, partisanship, and constituency dynamics in their stories.
The role of making a vote choice decision informed by the dynamics of their constituency is an area for future QESB analysis.

Voters’ thought processes cannot be fully captured in survey data, or through the artificial setting of a laboratory where simulated voting does not carry the same commitment as an actual vote in a real election. What have we learned? Part 1 David: I felt the two people who had more gravitas were Gordon Brown and Cameron yet Nick Clegg seemed to have all the answers. He knew how he was going to pay things off. You know they were talking about deficits, this, that, and the other. They seemed to have worked out the budget, how they were going to afford this whereas Labour and Conservative weren’t disclosing that.

Moderator: Yeah I saw heads nodding. Could you just put your hand up if you agree with that comment? {Ian’s, Cathy’s, Keith’s, Jane’s and Peter’s hands go up.} So, quite a lot of other people. Jane: I thought what was interesting in general was that you had Cameron and Brown going at each other and I wonder if it’s just this prospect of a hung Parliament or because they don’t take him seriously that neither of them were attacking Clegg as much and he was sort of agreeing with them and I don’t know if that’s just kind of manoeuvring or trying to say – Patricia: Actually I was really surprised about Nick Clegg. I thought he was the one who actually answered the questions more than anyone else did. He actually positively came out with what he was going to do, the numbers etc, whereas Cameron, really I was really looking forward to hearing him and he really disappointed me. I was very surprised.
Jane: I’m glad you said that ‘cause that was something I had forgotten but yes, he was definitely much more focused on the person who had asked the question and the question they had actually asked rather than just using it as an excuse to kind of say ‘ah, this is lovely but let me talk about health reform.’ Dr. Edzia Carvalho, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam
edziacarvalho@gmail.com
 
Dr. Kristi Winters, Qualitative Election Study Principal Investigator
Datenarchiv für Sozialwissenschaften, GESIS Leibniz Institutes for the Social Sciences
Kristi.Winters@gesis.org

This research was funded by the British Academy, grant number SG090860. Partisan/not
Decided/not Maximisers These narratives lack dilemmas or any sense of drama. The narratives simply report voters doing what they intended to do.

Key lies in the justifications (J) given.

Non-Lib Dem voters: cite own values and linked to their chosen party
‘influenced through a trade unionist father’,
‘support my country’,
‘a more positive vote’.

Lib Dem voters: do not mention values or identity, both mention constituency dynamics in their narratives (many LDV do). Started Loyal, Stayed Loyal voters

The BES currently asks 'People give different reasons for why they vote for one party rather than another. Which of the following best describes your reasons? (Clarke et al 2010a)

1 The party has the best policies.
2 The party has the best leader.
3 I really prefer another party but it stands no chance of winning in my constituency.
4 I vote tactically (volunteered).
5 Other reasons.
6 Don't know.

However, social scientists don't believe people's answers to direct questions as to their own behaviour so why are we wasting questionnaire space on questions that aren't accepted as credible?

Qualitative research provides space and human interactions that enable more complete and accurate insights into people’s complicated vote choice calculations. What have we learned? Part 2
Full transcript