What the academics say: 7-in-10 voters know the name of their MP – and 82% of Lib Dem MPs are local

Ballot boxWhat do MPs want from voters? Well, knowing the name of their man in Westminster would be a start. What do voters want from their MPs? To come from the area they represent is the single most important requirement – 80% want that, far more than wanting more female (50%) or more working class MPs (58%).

So both MPs and the public might be encouraged by the findings of two recent surveys.

Britain’s MPs are more local than you think (Demos)

Left-leaning think-tank Demos recently compiled data on all MPs – they were categorised as local if they satisfied one or more of these criteria: (1) They were born within 20km of their current constituency’s boundaries; (2) They went to school (primary or secondary) within 20km of their current constituency’s boundaries; and/or (3) They have lived within 20km of their current constituency’s boundaries for five years prior to seeking election.

And here’s what they found – keep your eyes on the pie-charts to the left, which have the proportions (rather than the bar-charts which show absolute numbers):

demos - local mps

On Demos’s categorisation, then, more than 8-in-10 Lib Dem MPs can be counted as local.

68% of voters ‘know’ the name of their MP (University of Nottingham)

It’s often said voters don’t know the names of their local MP: but what if they’re just hopeless at remembering names in general? That was the hypothesis Professor Philip Cowley and Rosie Campbell tested by looking at the figures from the current British Electoral Study.

Here’s what they found:

The BES asked their respondents: ‘which of the following people is the MP in your parliamentary constituency’? They presented respondents with five fake names (‘Mary Davies’, ‘Susan Stewart’, etc) along with the correct MP for that respondent . All six names were presented in a randomised order. Plus, there was also a Don’t Know and an Other option.

Rather than producing a correct figure down in the 20s or even 40s, some 68% of respondents now got the answer right.

Of course, with multiple choice questions like this, there will be some guessing going on – but the relatively low numbers plumping for each of the wrong options suggests this was not a major problem. Each of the five fake answers attracted fewer than 1% of respondents each, along with 2% who wrote in what they thought was the right answer, and a nice solid 27% who just admitted they did not know.

And, of course, multiple choice questions are easier to work out (as all TV quiz programmes show). But still, they are only easier to work out if you have some basic knowledge to begin with.

A potentially more serious problem is that this question, like the rest of the survey, was asked online – and so people could have cheated, by looking up the correct option. Astonishingly, this does go on…

But still, even allowing for some guessing and some cheating, I suspect this shows that background knowledge of MPs is higher than the ‘standard’ question reveals. There are a sizeable chunk of people who do know the right answer, but are just rubbish at remembering names.

So there you go: Voters, your MPs are more local than you think. MPs, your voters (mostly) know who you are. Everyone happy?

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Little Jackie Paper 14th Sep '14 - 3:13pm

    Interesting stuff – I’d make three observations.

    1) It does beg the question of so what? Even if the overwhelming majority of MPs are local (which is no bad thing) it doesn’t seem to have done much for the reputation of parliament.

    2) The Conservatives have an almost 50:50 split which is interesting. It may be that, ‘local connections,’ are less of a factor in selections but even so the ratio looks so even that it suggests something is happening there.

    3) ‘more working class MPs ‘ – This old chestnut…The working class is barely real any more, at least in the sense that my cotton-worker/mining grand-parents would have understood. More ‘coping class’ MPs – yes please. It’s not the same as the working class.

  • Actually, Caractatus – your idea of presenting other local MPs as the choice would be a much better (and harder!) test. Even more difficult than trying to remember how you’re spelling your online name! It could be argued that is then a question of electoral geography rather than MP identification….

    LJP What do you think is happening with the Tory 50/50 split? I am not sure the actual figures are anything other than coincidence, and it is what you would expect anyway. Although it is basically a good thing that Lib Dems have a higher %age of “locally connected” MPs, there are downsides of too much focus on this as a criterion in selection rather than other qualities.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Sep '14 - 6:53pm

    ” What do voters want from their MPs? To come from the area they represent is the single most important requirement ”

    Interesting that. Who’d have thought it. We live in a representative democracy where people vote for their individual local representative, NOT a government, and the vast majority of people want an MP with whom they can identify – where local connection is often a more important issue than others. But does that co-incide with the Lib Dems’ processes for shortlisting and selecting candidates? No – the Lib Dems ‘candidate geeks’ think that the most important issue in selections is being fair to candidates even though this (a) makes the vast majority of sub-Boris ‘outsiders waste their time in selection campaigns and (b) (in the days when we stood a chance of breaking through in new territory) sacrificing the Lib Dems’ chance of winning in order to make themselves feel good.

  • I think there’s more correlation between Lib Dem politics and the idea of “local” politics than with other parties, surely only locals are going to get that dog mess cleaned up, or get the streetlight repaired. The PPC here was parachuted in, and that was the straw that broke the camels back for myself and many local supporters. What I’ve learnt from this (and these statistics strengthen this idea), is that Lib Dems should value local representation above most (all?) other attributes. What’s the point of sending someone to Westminster to represent a community when they know hardly anything at all about what they seek to represent? Ridiculous, I’d rather have a “Local Halfwit” than an “Oxbridge Outsider” any day of the week!

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