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

by Stephen Tall on September 14, 2014

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 Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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