This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Shorter, fairer, more polluted? The Lib Dem manifeso compared

"At worst, the government has provided too much and voters will actively want less. Either way, other parties can make gains..."

Following on from the previous comparison of the Conservative and Labour manifestos, what about the Liberal Democrat manifesto?

The first thing to note is the comparative difference in size. Whilst the Conservative manifesto was nearly 29,000 words long, and Labour’s over 30,000 words, the Lib Dems come in at a relatively svelte 21,668 words.

Another striking difference is the massive disparity in the number of times the word ‘fair’ (or ‘fairness’, ‘fairer’, ‘fairest’) was mentioned in the manifestos. In the Lib Dem manifesto this was mentioned 99 times, compared to 64 for the Labour manifesto, and just 12 for the Conservative manifesto.

Given that the Lib Dem manifesto was nearly a third shorter than the Conservative manifesto, this makes the difference even starker.

In their manifesto, the Conservatives used the word polluting only once, whilst the Lib Dems mentioned pollution 14 times. This suggests a qualitatively difference in each parties’ perception of environmental issues. It may be the case that this is a result of the Conservatives making aspirational (perhaps utopian) appeals about the environment, whilst the Lib Dems are focusing upon an existing problem that needs to be managed.

Labour made no references at all to pollution. This may be a result of their focus upon a ‘green recovery’ (largely in economic terms) rather than a more dedicated ‘environmentalism’.

More generally, the Lib Dems were far less likely to use imagery relating to ascending (‘rise’, ‘rising’, etc.; 110% less uses) or height (‘higher’, ‘grow’, etc.; 54% less uses) than Labour. In this respect, the Lib Dems were similar to the Conservatives, between who there were no significant differences.

This is consistent with a relatively less positive vision of the UK in measurable areas (notably the economy) of both past performance and future prospects.

Again similarly to the Conservatives, the Lib Dems are less likely to use words relating to time (‘past’, ‘decade’, ‘time’, etc.) than Labour (34% less uses). Also similarly to the Conservatives, the Lib Dems are more likely to invoke ‘abstract thought’ imagery (‘belief’, ‘choice’, ‘plan’, etc.) than Labour (37% more uses).

This is probably a result of Labour attempting to play upon their past reputation for governing, whilst the Lib Dems (who have no recent governing experience) attempt to suggest alternate prospects.

Interestingly, this is a dangerous strategy for Labour. Recent scholarly work has shown that voters can have a ‘thermostatic’ perception of issues (discussed in more detail here). They vote for a party because the party offers them something that they want; once that want has been met other wants and needs come to the fore.

At best, the government has successfully given people what they wanted and they have ceased to want more. Playing on this in an election risks isolating voters by reminding them that you are no longer offering to fulfil new ‘wants’.

At worst, the government has provided too much and voters will actively want less. Either way, other parties can make gains. Attempting to trade on past performance – by looking back at the wants you have met in the past – may bring less reward than some in the party might hope.

All differences noted are significant at the 95% level, unless explicitly stated, and all percentage comparisons are corrected for relative differences in size. Absolute word usage numbers are uncorrected.

Jonathan Rose

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