The problem of opinion polls being wrong because the right wing vote is often under estimated has blighted polling for many a year. Voting for right wing parties can often be socially unacceptable so some folks don’t admit to doing it.
If you live in a rock solid Labour area which has returned Labour MP’s and councillors for as long as anyone can remember are you going to admit that you’ve just gone out and voted for another/different tribe? I use the word tribe deliberately as that’s what politics in some areas is like and I’ve commented on political tribalism before of course. People don’t like standing out from the crowd, they don’t like being unpopular they want to be seen to be following their friends, family and fashion. But it goes even deeper than that sadly. In my 40 years of active politics in the cause of liberalism I’ve met folks on the doorstep who are trying and sometimes failing to vote the way they want because of family pressure.
I recall calling at an elderly lady’s bungalow a few years ago now having got the Council to sort out a street lamp that had been bust for ages. She said she wanted to vote for me but in the conversation which followed it became very clear she was more than a little worried about her family finding out she’d voted against a Labour candidate as voting Labour was compulsory in her family. I had to promise her I’d not tell anyone what she was intending to do in the ballot box and reassure her that no one could find out from her ballot paper!
Right wing populists, like Johnson or Trump or anyone of their ilk, have an advantage in that they are prepared to say anything to gain support, in Trump’s case literally anything it seems. They are also very good at playing to voters prejudices sending out messages they will want to hear. Johnson is just a populist entertainer who is utterly out of this depth in responsible politics, Trump well beyond that, way, way beyond it……
There have always been populists in politics, it attracts attention seekers of all kinds, but it seems of recent years the attention seekers now have no boundaries at all. They’ve also realised that often their supporters are not interested in facts; they don’t care if much of what their political hero says is nonsense or lies. If the message is what they want to hear then it’s well received. The poorly educated, easily influenced and those who don’t have enquiring minds can be manipulated and they certainly are.
On the left the populists are generally more subtle, like bandwagon jumpers following the crowd their objective is to be saying the right thing at the right time. However, like with the far right the far left has its own brand of fantasists with their own set of conspiracy theories which they like to peddle to the easily influenced.
The problem progressive politicians have is how to counter the simple messaging of the populist conspiracy fantasists. Facts don’t cut it as they’re often long and boring explanations which whilst true will be dismissed by folks who want to blame whatever their ills are on immigrants, refugees, idlers etc. etc. But then you look at the leaders of supposedly progressive parties in the UK and most of them are totally uninspiring, no fire in their belly, grey middle aged men in grey suits. How on earth are they going to cut through?
There’ll always be voters who say one thing and do the opposite thereby misleading pollsters and let’s not forget that some voters will deliberately lie to pollsters. But my point here in bring in the kind of politicians we have, particularly in progressive politics, is that without inspiring alternative messaging the Johnson’s & Trump’s of this world will continue to flourish. What’s more some voters will not be brave enough to say that they voted for the populist right as doing so is just not socially acceptable.