Asymmetry in leader image effects and the implications for leadership positioning in the 2010 British general election

Roger Mortimore

Ipsos MORI/King's College London

Paul Baines and Ian Crawford

Cranfield School of Management

Robert Worcester

Ipsos MORI/King's College London

Andrew Zelin

BUPA Health Funding

Introduction

The 2010 British general election differed from previous British general elections. The campaign focused untypically around the party leaders, and the public believed their attitudes to the leaders were more influential on their vote compared to policy issues than previously. Taking national polling data on voters’ perceptions of party leaders, we use logistic regression analysis to explore the association between specific image attributes and overall satisfaction with each leader. We find that attribute-satisfaction relationships differ somewhat between the three main party leaders. This is important because it demonstrates that leader image effects need not be symmetrical across all leaders, that public perceptions that are good for one leader may not be equally good for another and that leaders may not even be evaluated on the same dimensions. We also find evidence that negative perceptions have a more powerful effect on satisfaction than positive ones. We discuss the implications of these findings for party political campaign planning in leader-focused elections.