People have different views about this country and about Prime Ministers. For each of these pairs of statements, please tell me which one comes closest to your ideal:
- I would prefer a Prime Minister who mainly trusts his own judgement and experience to make decisions
- I would prefer a Prime Minister who mainly acts on the views and opinions of the general public to make decisions
The result: 32% wanted a PM to make his own mind up, 64% wanted a weathervane.
The demographic breakdown offers a few more details:
- Men favour the weathervane by 56 to 40, women by 71 to 25.
- 18-34-year-olds favour a weathervane by 76 to 20, 35-54s by 62 to 34, those 55+ by 56 to 40.
- ABC1s favour a weathervane by 56 to 39, C2DEs by 73 to 23.
- Tabloid readers favour a weathervane by 74 to 23, but broadsheet readers favour an independent decision-maker by 50 to 46.
Now, of course, this question may well have been understood by the respondents in the context of an unpopular PM whom many of them find deeply unresponsive, but I doubt that accounts for very much of the result. Unfortunately, Ipsos MORI doesn’t give a breakdown of answers to this question by voting intention.
Another thought is that there’s a difference between politicians’ doing what I say and their doing what the public says – but I also suspect that most people think that their own views are pretty widely held. Certainly all those who argue that ‘the party can regain popularity only by adopting my own favourite policies’ must think this; and that letters-page standby ‘Am I alone in thinking…’ is always rhetorical.
A hint of evidence on this comes from another recent poll, by Populus, which asked voters to place themselves on a political scale from 1 (very left-wing) to 10 (very right-wing). All of 52% gave themselves a 5, and another 14% 4 or 6. There must be a world of disagreement within that 52%, but people tend to think of themselves as being in the middle ground – presumably in much the same place as most others. Sadly, while Populus did ask people to place the main parties and their leaders on this same scale, there was no question on where ‘the average voter’ or ‘the typical voter’ or ‘most people’ would be placed. But do you doubt the answer’s mostly going to be 5 as well?
But regardless of this, I’d expect a very strong correlation between thinking one’s own views are in the majority and wanting government to follow public opinion.
Those politicians who chase polls will, of course, take heart from this and redouble their efforts. Those who make up their own minds regardless of popularity will, bless them, ignore this – but they’ll be fighting a strong populist tide.