Can we ever change political perceptions?

The ‘Shy Tory’ is a concept which has plagued pollsters since the 1992 election and last Thursday we saw it return with a vengeance. This concept is based on the idea that many voters are reluctant to admit they vote for the Conservatives and therefore mislead the polls. Why, because the Tories are still viewed as the nasty party and voters are scared of being associated with them, even if in reality they will vote for them.

This matters because in an open society people should be encouraged in expressing what they believe, including the political party which they support. Politics is surely at its best when a spectrum of different opinions are discussed and debated. This does not go for just the commentariat but for the general public as a whole. If people are scared to say what they really believe then politics and arguably society is the loser.

If this is to change and political debate is to become more open, then long held perceptions of political parties need to change. Political parties on all sides of the spectrum struggle with certain labels, often regardless of the reality. Labour have traditionally struggled to gain trust on the economy whereas the Tories have traditionally struggled to gain trust on the NHS. For a long time both parties have attempted to change these perceptions, but with very limited success. Therefore it is perfectly valid to ask whether these views can ever be changed.

Entrenched political views and ideas can be hard to change, but this is no reason to simply give up. The responsibility rests on us all, political parties, the media and the general public regardless of political views or persuasion to be less partisan and judge policies fairly rather than lazily judging based on political stereotypes which only further embeds long held perceptions.  Perhaps the biggest challenge will be for all political parties to stop using labels as a way of alienating the public from an opposition party.

This will inevitably be a long process we one that we ought to start now. Our country prides itself on freedom of speech and the freedom of expression and if people do not feel comfortable declaring who they will vote for, we have freedom of expression in word only. That is why the ‘Shy Tory’ voter should concern everyone interested in politics.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – The Political Studies Association

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