Segmentation: Lord Ashcroft tries a new approach

Whilst segmentation by traditional demographics tells us a lot it tends to focus on measuring how people behave. This data can be collected widely and all three main parties use it and other behavioural measures such as shopping habits to develop voter contact targeting. An example of this is Experian’s MOSAIC. However in order to look ahead it is also useful to seek to understand why people behave the way they do.

Lord Ashcroft, a leading funder of the UK Conservative Party, last week published a report on which groups that the party needed to reach out to. Instead of gender, ethnicity and occupational class, his report breaks down the electorate into 5 groups depending on the similarity of their outlook across a range of long-term attitudes. The aim being to understand political motivations. This has some similarities to values based segmentation which aims to cover the whole range of personal motivations.

In an article for a Conservative Party website he describes the 5 groups in the following way:

My research identifies five distinct segments within the voting public. Just under a third of the population are “Optimistic Individualists”. Broadly, they believe hard work rather than social factors determine success, want a limited role for the state, dislike redistribution, are optimistic for themselves and the country and value strong leadership over empathy. They account for two-thirds of current Tory support.

“Downbeat Dependants”, one in seven of the population, overwhelmingly vote Labour. In essence, they think their lives have got worse and will continue to do so, that success comes through connections not hard work, and that the government should meet people’s needs through higher taxes on the rich.

“Liberal Idealists”, another one in seven, also incline to Labour, and often describe themselves as working class, though many are university-educated professionals. Though personally optimistic, they tend to believe a person’s circumstances when young have as much influence as their talent on whether they will succeed. They have a positive view of immigration and want a more equal distribution of wealth.

The final two groups will decide the outcome of the election. The “Entitlement Anxiety” segment accounts for more than a quarter of the population. They often think they have a raw deal from an unfair system which rewards others but not them. They feel insecure, but think people who do not work seem to have an easier time than they do; they sometimes ask themselves why they bother. They fear for their children’s prospects, and often blame immigration for stagnant wages and lack of jobs.
They account for a third of Labour’s poll share, but just over a tenth of the Tories’.“Suspicious Strivers”, who make up 15% of the population, have many of the attitudes that Conservatives might think make them natural supporters. They might even be thought of as the natural successors to the C2 voters that Margaret Thatcher won from Labour in the 1980s. They tend to think people expect too much from government, oppose penalising top earners with very high taxes, and value flexible labour markets. But Suspicious Strivers are so-called because they are not sure their efforts will bring the rewards they should. They suspect that hard work counts for less than connections, and are sensitive to signals that striving goes unrewarded, or even counts against them, when they miss out on help which, as they see it, they would get if they worked less hard. They are the least likely of any group to identify with a political party, and have the highest UKIP vote – another symptom of their dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. The Tories won comfortably among Suspicious Strivers in 2010, but Labour are now ahead.

It is clear from the way this segmentation has been constructed, through, for example, choice of questions, that it is specifically focused on how the Conservative Party engages with voters, but it nevertheless illustrates the usefulness of seeking to understand people’s motivations.

Other examples of this are the Searchlight Educational Trust Fear and Hope report on identity and immigration and the Hansard Society work on participation profiles. TCC itself uses Values Modes as it has not been designed for any one project, but is aimed to understand people’s motivations and values across the public policy sphere.

Having laid down the gauntlet to his own and the other parties on the way to understand what drives people, it will be interesting to see how they now respond.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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