Some Interesting Data on Party Leaders

As many of you will have noticed, the number of published opinion polls is rising steadily as we approach the general election. Among those polls very recently published was a Britain-wide one by Survation; apparently the first in a series that they will be running for Mirror group newspapers.

As with most polls, there was plenty of interest in Survation’s new offering. (For detailed results, and an explanation of the internet-based method used by Survation, see here). Of particular interest were a series of questions they ran about party leaders. The questions probed both levels of knowledge and attitudes. (The attitudes questions focussed only on the four ’main’ party leaders. As well as asking for ratings of which leader would make the best Prime Minister; and how well they were each performing in their current jobs; there were some other, engagingly eccentric, questions. Respondents were asked which party leader they would ‘most trust to pay you back if you lent them a tenner’, who they would most like to have to their house for dinner, and which one would be most likely to help with the washing up. If the Liberal Democrats can make helping with the washing-up a core electoral issue, Nick Clegg promises to be a real asset to them…).

I’m going to focus more, though, on the knowledge questions. These were done in a very interesting way. To quote Survation’s own explanation:

“[R]espondents where shown a picture of political party leaders taken from their respective Wikipedia pages. Respondents were initially asked “Do you recognise this political figure?” and those who answered “Yes” were then asked to choose who they thought that person was from a list of eight options. Those who initially responded “No” are displayed as Don’t Knows in the tables”.

Got that?

Here are the figures for Messrs Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage:


Leader % Correct % Wrong % Don’t Know
David Cameron 93.5 3.0 3.5
Ed Miliband 77.4 12.1 10.5
Nick Clegg 73.5 6.3 20.2
Nigel Farage 77.4 3.3 19.3


Producing polling evidence to show up public ignorance of politics has long been the political science equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Still, readers may find some of these figures slightly disturbing – particularly given that online opinion poll panels have generally been estimated to be slightly above average for political knowledge and interest. Eight Survation respondents thought that David Cameron’s photo was actually one of Ed Miliband… Meanwhile a full 9.0% of the Survation poll thought that Ed Miliband’s photo actually depicted his brother David… And more than one quarter failed to recognise the deputy Prime Minister.

Still, at least most of the respondents correctly identified who all these political leaders were. Things got a bit more interesting when the poll probed further by asking about three leaders who might not be so well-known to many people across Britain: the leaders of the (England and Wales) Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

First, Natalie Bennett. Her levels of recognition were much lower than for the four leaders discussed above. When shown her photo, a full 85.0% of respondents immediately acknowledged that they didn’t know who she was. Of the remainder, however, fewer than half (7.0%) actually identified her correctly, with slightly more respondents choosing someone else from the list of alternative female leaders offered by Survation. (The full list of female figures was: Natalie Bennett, Caroline Lucas, Harriet Harman, Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May, Dianne Abbott and Sarah Teather. Readers may be mildly amused that 1.8% of Survation respondents thought that Natalie Bennett’s photo was of Theresa May, while 1.6% thought that it was a photo of Dianne Abbott…). Perhaps less surprising is that Bennett’s recognition levels were lowest in Scotland (which has its own Green party, with a separate leadership team) of all the nations and regions polled.

Nicola Sturgeon’s figures are very interesting. Right across Britain she scored much more strongly than Natalie Bennett: some 39.4% of Survation respondents identified her correctly. OK, that means that over 60% of them did not identify her, but that is still quite a healthy score for the leader of a Scotland-only party. This doubtless reflects the high profile accorded to Sturgeon by the Scottish referendum and her recent accession to the SNP leadership. Almost certainly of more importance to Nicola Sturgeon, however, would be her rating in Scotland: there, a full 95.5% of respondents correctly identified her – a higher figure than for any other leader among the Scottish sub-sample except for David Cameron, and more than 20 percentage points higher than for Ed Miliband. Given that profile at home I would imagine that she could cope with being correctly recognised by fewer than 30% of respondents in London.

Finally, and of most interest to us in Wales perhaps, Leanne Wood. (Sadly, no other Welsh leaders were mentioned in the poll). It is probably unsurprising that Leanne’s recognition figures across the Britain-wide sample were very low, at a mere 3.4%, while 86.7% of respondents acknowledged immediately that they didn’t know who she was. (Somewhat bizarrely, a full 2.5% of respondents thought that her picture was of Caroline Lucas). Of more interest and importance, perhaps, is what the Welsh sub-sample thought. Here we must be cautious, because we are dealing with a small group of respondents (50 in total). However, as with the slightly larger Scottish sub-sample and Nicola Sturgeon, the basic message that comes through here is so clear that we can expect that it would remain robust to a much larger sample. That message is that most respondents even in Wales did not know who Leanne Wood was: some 75.5% of respondents immediately chose Don’t Know, while only 13.3% of them correctly identified her.

The immediate implications of this finding would seem to be pretty negative for Plaid Cymru. Just over three months before a general election, the substantial majority of the Welsh public seem to have little idea who the Plaid Cymru leader is. That can hardly be a good thing for the party. It suggests that the party needs to seriously up its game in promoting Leanne Wood. However, there may be a more potentially positive message for Plaid in this data as well. We know from several YouGov surveys in Wales that Leanne scores quite positively among those who offer an opinion about her, and indeed that those ratings have been slowly rising. The general impact of the election campaign should raise her profile; and were the TV debates to go ahead with Leanne Wood representing Plaid in them, then that would provide a considerable boost for her visibility. Plaid have a leader who seems to go down quite well with most people when they are aware of her; a main task for her party is to make sure that many more people come to know who she is.


  • J.Jones

    I was polled for Plaid yesterday. The person on the phone asked me what the most important issue was for me and my family…..I answered “Education”. She asked me how I voted last GE and I answered “Labour”. She asked me how I intended to vote at the coming election and I answered “Labour”. She hung up!

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