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Expert Reaction: What influences our voting decisions?

Posted on 24 May 2017

Dr Peter Bull discusses the importance of leadership and public responsiveness as we head towards the polling stations in the general election 2017:


Research suggests that perceived competence in a leader is very important

Dr Bull, from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “There are two big issues to consider when thinking about voter behaviours; one is what voters perceive as the competency of the different parties.  Do you think this person is fit to run the country? Teresa May has made this a focus of her campaign. 

“The second issue is the politician’s responsiveness to people’s needs.  In this aspect you can see the very radical programme that Jeremy Corben is introducing – a party that responds to people’s needs in terms of education, social welfare, and health.

“It becomes a competition between the parties on these two issues.  The Conservatives party-line will be to claim a plan is impractical based on their expert knowledge, but the Labour party will claim it has to work in order to respond to people’s needs.

Personality over policy

“The big question of course is whether policy ultimately influences the way people vote, or whether leadership and personality wins out. 

“Research suggests that ultimately perceived competence is very important in voter decision making, but we are in unchartered territory here with quite a dramatic social policy manifesto by the Labour party, so it is difficult to see at this stage what impact that will have.

“Questions of leadership have become increasingly important over time, particularly in recent years where we have shifted election campaigning to a more presidential style, where personalities are played out through the media in a way that hasn’t historically been done before.”

Further information:

Dr Bull was speaking at the University of York's 'Behind the Election Headlines' event and can also be heard discussing leadership in the elections on BBC Radio Sheffield. 

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