Jay Leno said that "Politics is just show business for ugly people". But perhaps he was drawing a comparison with the wrong form of entertainment. According to our research the parallels between politics and football are far stronger. One of the most striking aspects of football is the loyalty of fans, with life-long allegiances being handed down from one generation to the next. Our research suggests this unswerving dedication is just as prevalent in politics.
ZenithOptimedia surveyed 1,004 nationally representative voters about their views on raising VAT by a penny to fund 10,000 extra nurses. The results were then split by political affiliation. The twist was that half the respondents were told it was a Conservative policy and half Labour.
When Labour supporters thought the policy came from Labour there was strong support: 14pc completely agreed. However, support plummeted to 3pc when it was described as a Conservative policy. Similarly, amongst Tories the policy was four times more popular when it was seen to come from their party.
The results show that voters interpret policies through a lens of their feelings for the party. If they dislike a party they'll interpret any policy through a negative filter. As can be seen from the scale of the effect this is not an insignificant factor: policy is far less influential than existing party affiliation.
The idea that our experience is clouded by existing feelings, sometimes known as confirmation bias, is supported by many experiments. Most famously the psychologists Hastorf and Cantril showed 324 Princeton and Dartmouth students footage of a bad tempered football game between their universities and asked them to count the number of fouls committed by each team. Students were twice as likely to see the opposition commit a foul as their own team. Once again events were seen through a prism of loyalty.
Confirmation bias therefore poses an interesting challenge for politicians as it suggests that simply broadcasting policies is ineffective at winning over rejecters. Politicians need alternative tactics. The simplest is to accept the strength of confirmation bias and focus resources on winning over floating voters. The second is to get respected independent voices to communicate the desired messages. Perhaps this is why editorial and celebrity endorsement is so valued.
However, the bravest strategy is to address voters' underlying emotional concerns. For the Conservatives the "shy Tory" phenomenon suggests that rejecters still see them, in Theresa May's words, as the "nasty party". Cameron's early focus on green policies and foreign aid could be seen as attempts to redress this. Perhaps, from a branding perspective he relented too quickly.
Since all brands have rejecters these tactics of tight targeting, emotional messaging and third party endorsement might be just as valuable.