Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Political gaffes 'remembered more'

Lord Ashcroft warned political parties that voters will remember what may seem 'petty things'

Voters are more likely to remember "trivial" political stories about gaffes and mishaps than major government announcements and economic developments, a private poll conducted for Tory donor Lord Ashcroft suggested.

Asked to name recent political events, more recalled reading about the "plebgate" row over former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell swearing at police and Chancellor George Osborne's rail ticket upgrade than were able to remember the decision to strip child benefit from wealthy families or the cut in the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p.

Interestingly, some 14% of the 1,700 people questioned for the survey claimed to remember a story about Labour MP Audrey Cockburn using union campaign funds to redecorate her home and 11% to have heard about Tory MP David Williams having a gay affair - even though both of the MPs are fictitious and there were no such stories in the press.

And 41% of those questioned were unable to name a single political event from recent weeks until they were presented with a list to jog their memories, which included the fake stories.

Those questioned said that they regarded stories about gaffes as less important that those about policy issues. But Lord Ashcroft warned that this did not mean politicians could assume that the supposedly trivial stories do not affect the way people vote.

Writing on the website ConservativeHome, he said: "Whatever the apparent disparity between what people notice and what they think matters, it would be a mistake to assume that the stories people regard as unimportant have no impact on them politically.

"The findings, especially of the unprompted question, show that people do register the petty things. They may protest that these incidents are irrelevant, but their view of a government or party can only be shaped by the things they hear about."

The "plebgate" row, which led to Mr Mitchell's resignation last month, was by far the story most likely to be remembered unprompted, followed by the occasion when Mr Osborne got in a first-class rail carriage with a standard class ticket. No other political story was spontaneously recalled by more than 10% of those questioned.

When presented with the list of stories, some 88% remembered plebgate, 83% David Cameron leaving one of his children in a pub, and 76% Mr Osborne's difficulties with his train ticket, compared to 75% who had heard about the UK economy leaving recession, 73% the cuts in child benefit, 63% plans for a cap on welfare payments and 55% the 45p tax rate.

Some policy issues made an impact, including the row over the "pasty tax" on takeaway food, recalled by 86%, and the botched award of the West Coast rail franchise, remembered by 84%. But Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's apology for promising not to raise tuition fees and Ed Miliband's attempt to claim the One Nation mantle for Labour - both of which made a big stir in Westminster - were remembered by only 68% and 53% respectively.

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