I am writing this post on June 8th, General Election polling day in the UK. No Trajectory forecasts of the outcome will be found in the paragraphs below. You will know the result by the time you read this and perhaps the debates about the accuracy of opinion polling are already in full swing?! But this election has given those of us in the trends analysis and forecasting business plenty of food for thought.
Any General Election campaign provides a great opportunity to reflect on the State of the Nation. Debates at election time are an excellent lens through which to view the concerns and aspirations of the country. The 2017 campaign has arguably shed more light on our fears and hopes than any other in recent memory.
Two of Trajectory’s core themes for the last three years have been ‘polarisation’ and ‘fragmentation’. Polarisation and fragmentation of prospects for different groups of people and the resulting polarisation and fragmentation of opinion when it comes to identifying solutions to the nation’s problems. To our eyes these have been the key motifs of the campaign.
Billed as the ‘Brexit Election’, polarisation has manifested itself in terms of Leavers versus Remainers, of course. However, this election has not been dominated by Brexit alone.
Polarisation has manifested itself in many other ways. Inter-generational conflict, the subject of our most recent trends breakfast, was put centre stage by the Conservative Party manifesto and their policy to fund social care. This was presented in terms of generational fairness and balancing the polarised prospects of the young and old. We have also seen fragmentation in terms of the political debate in different parts of the country. Scotland continues to agonise over independence, old Labour heartlands debate immigration, whilst London worry about employment prospects and skills shortages in a post-Brexit world. Perhaps biggest point of polarisation is between those who vote and the predicted 30% to 40% of the electorate who are not expected to turn out (other people’s forecasts, not ours).
Even terrorism did not bring politics together in anything other than the predictable ‘support for British freedom and values’ sort of way. Less than 24 hours after the London Bridge attack one side was blaming cuts in police resources and with the other blaming big digital businesses and/or overly liberal human rights legislation. Even when confronted with terror we are politically divided.
The main implication of this for the trends analyst and forecaster is the apparent futility in trying to identify ‘national’ trends, a national mood or indeed, the ‘state of the nation’. We live in a polarised and fragmented nation where trends affect different groups (be they income bands, generations, regions) differently, and where attitudes and behaviours are determined by whether you experience the upside or downside of those trends.