The 2013 British Values Survey is still being crunched but already we know both main political party’s nerves should be jangling. The headline party support figures are similar to national polls but it’s the values shifts that tell the story.
For those of you not familiar with the Values Modes segmentation you can divide any population into three groups based on dominant motivations. Settlers are socially conservative, driven by a desire to belong and more focused on security and safety. Prospector’s psychology can best be understood as aspirant. They can be either socially conservative or socially liberal. Pioneers are more socially tolerant or liberal, more altruistic and more focused on society and self-discovery.
The values story of post war Britain is of the decline of the Settler from 56 per cent of the population in 1973 right down to 25 per cent in 2005, before their re-emergence in this recession. Until recently Settler decline was matched largely by a growth in the number of Pioneers, with the number of Prospectors oscillating slightly depending on the economic winds.
But after 2008 two things happened. First, the number of Settlers grew and then shrank again, and second, the consensual centre (made of those from all three values groups whose values are more subtle) shrank.
The 2013 British Values Survey shows an unexpected decline in the number of Pioneers to just 32 per cent of the population and a growth in the number of Prospectors to 37 per cent, with Settlers holding steady at 31 per cent. The consensual centre remains more thinly populated compared with pre 2008 surveys. Particularly stark is the growth of the socially conservative Prospectors, who at 15.3% now represent the largest values sub group.
So what does all of this mean for the main political parties?
The Conservative’s historic failure to reach the Pioneer, temporary mitigated by Cameron’s compassionate Conservative rhetoric, but renewed with Lynton Crosby’s three pronged tough on welfare, immigration and the deficit strategy, matters less than it might have done, but it still means its base camp is too far down the mountain to ensure victory.
Labour’s inability to reconnect with Settler supporters it haemorrhaged under the last Labour government leaves it too in the low altitude zone and this is compounded by the shrinkage of the Pioneer values group, where its flag is currently planted to mop up Liberal Democrat deserters.
The Tories hope that they will win back some Settlers from UKIP and they may well do, but the real battle ground will now be for the Prospector, and particularly the socially conservative Prospector. Both parties forced to fight for these aspirant voters because the narrowness of their messaging has boxed them in.
Prospectors are pragmatists. They look for the party that will make them better off and they are also more likely to swing late behind the winner. Labour’s cost of living campaign gels with many Prospectors but the Tories still hold most of the cards. The economy is now reaching escape velocity, they decide what is in the budget, and negative campaigns targeted at Labour’s economic competence will hurt, not like in 92, but they will hurt.
Labour will have to fight hard to win the mantle of economic trust but it is always harder to win this fight from opposition than it is from government. If they fail they will rue their strategic decision not to build outwards from their base.
Today’s headline polls don’t tell us the full story. Whoever Prospectors say they will vote for, either now or even 24 hours before the polls close, some will change their minds. The fight remains finely balanced but this polling hints at how the Conservatives can reach escape velocity.
Nick Pecorelli is an Associate Director at The Campaign Company. To take the values survey please click here.