The mayoral election is only a day away and recent polls show a consistent, albeit variable lead for Boris Johnson of between 4 and 12 percentage points. At the same time, Ipsos MORI’s research for London Elects suggests that around a third of Londoners are most likely to vote after 6 in the evening, so there’s still time for people to make up their minds on the day of the election itself. But what will be deciding how people make up their minds – policies or personalities?
At the end of March we carried out a poll for BBC London which may have some of the answers. This reveals that the top three most important issues facing London are public transport (35%), jobs/unemployment/the economy (33%) and crime/policing (32%). When asked directly about which issues would help them decide who to vote for, the most popular choices are creating jobs/economic growth (59%), tackling crime (49%), improving public transport (38%) and building more affordable housing (37%).
The most decisive issues for Londoners have, broadly speaking, remained fairly consistent from 2008. Crime, transport and the cost of living all figure prominently when the same question was asked in 2008. It is understandable given the persistent and long term economic struggles that the country faces, that this has become the leading issue, while issues such as transport and crime have been perennial concerns for Londoners.
Indeed, going back to 2000, the year of Ken Livingstone’s first victory, an Ipsos MORI survey found that 70% of those asked put ‘improving public transport’ as their number one priority for the mayor, while dealing with crime was second. The cost of living is also a longstanding worry for Londoners, although given greater emphasis in the current harsh climate.
On many of the issues that Londoners think will be most decisive in terms of their vote, there was little to choose between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone. When it comes to creating jobs and growth in London, around a quarter (27%) think Boris has the best ideas on the issue, the same for Ken; 40%, however, do not know who they think has the better ideas. On crime, Boris Johnson has a small lead (26% compared with 22%) but a large proportion (39%) are, again, yet to make up their minds. Boris Johnson holds a small lead on the other important issue of transport, with 36% thinking that Boris has the ideas compared with 31% for Ken.
Transport issues, in particular, have received substantial amounts of press coverage, with the two leading candidates taking divergent strategies on how to win over the public. Ken Livingstone has pledged to cut the cost of travel fares, across London, whilst Boris Johnson has criticised this cuts as unsustainable and suggests that though fares may increase in the short term, the introduction of driverless trains will see prices fall again in the future.
Interestingly, even though the overwhelming majority (82%) of people surveyed agreed that they support the cutting of fares by 7%, a marginally larger proportion (36%) think that Boris Johnson has better ideas on transport issues than Ken Livingstone (31%). There is, here, a divide between residents of inner and outer London, with Ken Livingstone having a clear lead over Boris in inner London (36% vs. 33%) and Boris holding a lead in outer London (37% vs. 28%), which could reflect the different transport priorities for residents in these different parts of London
With not much to separate preferences for the two candidates’ policies, their personalities could persuade the public to give them their vote and here there are much more obvious differences. Boris is considered the more likeable (43% like him more) and a greater proportion believe that he would make the better ambassador for London (47% compared to Ken’s 32%). This feeling is particularly high amongst the older portion of the electorate, with 59% of those who are 65+ thinking this, compared with just 41% of 18-24 year olds.
Ken Livingstone has sought to deal with Boris’s greater likeability by conveying himself as the ‘policies man’ and this certainly seems to be reflected in how the electorate see him. More think that he ‘has the better grasp of details’ (44% vs. 28%); ‘most understands the concerns of ordinary Londoners (49% vs. 26%) and ‘would be the best in a crisis’ (43% vs. 32%), perhaps reflecting his leadership during the London terrorist attacks in 2005. So, in the final reckoning tomorrow, it could be whose personality most appeals, rather than the detailed policies, that really makes the difference.