General Election 2020 – Reputation Inc Research

By Cormac Bradley

Our purpose in Reputation Inc is to ensure reputation guides better decision-making and we do this by providing our clients with intelligence, strategy and engagement programmes appropriate to their needs.

There’s an old truism that says it takes many good deeds to earn a good reputation but only one bad one to lose it. There’s a lesson in that for our main political parties and individual politicians as they face into the final few days of General Election 2020.

The key drivers of a strong and sustainable reputation are what you say you do, what you do and what others say about you. Creating a robust reputation can’t be left to chance - it takes work. To be truly successful you need to identify what reputation you wish to have, maintain and grow that reputation, and be ready to protect it when it is challenged.

This is particularly true for our politicians whose very livelihood depends on maintaining a positive reputation in the minds of their key stakeholders – particularly their constituents.

From January 24th through to February 1st last, in the week known as “moving week”, when many voters make up their minds about who to give their vote to, Reputation Inc gathered the views of the general public on what motivates them to vote the way they do.

Over 1,100 people took part in a nationally representative online survey. Of those surveyed, 67% indicated that they would “definitely vote” next Saturday, which is slightly up on the turnout of the last General Election which was 65%.

It’s noteworthy that, although this year’s election is on a Saturday (for the first time since 1918), only 39% of students said they would vote compared to 84% of retired people.

From a stakeholder management perspective, these levels of participation represent a significant opportunity and/or challenge for political parties and politicians, perhaps not in this Election, but for the future.

You can download the research here but overall a number of themes emerged from an analysis of the drivers of a positive reputation and how they influence voters’ intentions.

Experience

Ultimately, voting intentions are largely influenced by the trust people have in political parties, and individual politicians, to deliver on their promises.

Our research findings show that the key factor when it comes to influencing trust levels is the personal experience of voters in relation to the issues that are most important to them. This ranks well ahead of the influence that is brought to bear by what voters read in the newspaper or see on social media and is likely to continue to hold sway as we approach Saturday.  

Other key drivers of trust in a political party are perceptions of the standing of the party leader, the capabilities of senior party colleagues who are likely to be Government Ministers, followed by the perception of the quality of local party candidate.

Given that trust is such an important driver of voting intentions, we wanted to establish the most important attributes that party leaders need to possess to gain the trust of voters. The research identified integrity, honesty and experience as the most important attributes, with charisma, diligence and decisiveness as less important in the eyes of the voting public.

We know that, traditionally, as a profession, politics and politicians struggle to instil significant levels of trust in the general public and the research suggests that no party leader enjoys a high level of trust amongst the general public.

Competence

When it comes to assessing competence, those surveyed are attracted most to parties who have a clear plan for the future, are transparent in what they do, display good judgment, are efficient and effective and communicate well.

In what is an increasingly noisy arena, with many competing and conflicting voices vying for voters’ attention, those who can set a compelling vision, and communicate that vision in a clear and concise way will do well. As we approach end game however attention is likely to turn to the ability/capability of the parties to deliver on their vision.  Voters will increasingly distinguish between what they say they will do and whether they can do what they say. 

Linked to this is the issue of materiality – matching what is important to parties and politicians with what is important to individual voters. For example, recent polls might suggest that Sinn Féin has gained more from setting a vision on issues such as housing or homelessness than Fine Gael has on Brexit or Fianna Fail on healthcare.

Relatability

The general public closely align their own personal values and virtues with the political party they believe best mirrors those beliefs. By doing what the public see as right and positive for Irish society, political parties hold a stronger affiliation and will be perceived more positively among voters. However, while most politicians have found themselves in office based on a genuine desire to help improve their local community, they can sometimes struggle to communicate this effectively to voters.

Our research shows that the most important factors in making a party or candidate more relatable is a sense that they tend to do what is right (87%), make a positive contribution (85%), represent all the people of Ireland well (85%) and have policies that are easy-to-understand (82%).

On February 8th, if the recent polls are to be believed, we may be about to see a very different political landscape in Ireland. In the final weeks of this election we have seen some surprises, some missteps but, according to the polls, there appears an overwhelming desire for change. Those that enter office next week will naturally be under increased scrutiny. 

Continuing to view themselves through the eyes of their constituents, being seen to keep the promises they made to those that voted for them and setting and communicating a shared vision will help build stakeholder trust and reputation. Ensuring reputation guides better decision making might just make the task of returning to Dáil Éireann that little bit easier next time around...

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