We asked focus group members last week to sum up the election campaign with the most appropriate emoji; “Weeping” and “Scream” were the favourites.
As the campaign kicked off, voters were gloomier and more pessimistic than I have seen working on the past eight elections. Six weeks on, not much has changed.
The Tories got off to a tricky start.
The standout moment in the first week was Jacob Rees Mogg’s unguarded remark implying that the Grenfell Tower victims had lacked common sense in following the fire brigade’s advice to stay put in their flats. He was subsequently retired to his constituency.
Combined with Johnson’s somewhat tardy response to flooding in the North of England a few days later, this was hardly the launch the Tories had hoped for.
For a brief while, Labour seemed much more assured.
However, as the campaign unfolded, little seemed to register with voters. I asked focus groups what they recalled after a couple of weeks and was met with blank stares.
Week after week, a steady 40-odd per cent claimed to have noticed nothing at all, according to Lord Ashcroft’s tracker.
The only other campaign elements to warrant a mention were “the leaders’ debates” (15 per cent), “spending promises” (13 per cent), “free broadband” (12 per cent), “extra nurses” (12 per cent) – oh, and, of course, “lies”, at 17 per cent.
“Lies” seems particularly significant.
Trust, or rather the lack of it, has been the hallmark of this election. When asked to sum Boris Johnson up in a few words, “liar” was the most popular choice.
In the debates, when Johnson said that trust in politics was important, the studio audience burst into laughter.
Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto triggered a similarly raised eyebrow.
An undecided voter in Peterborough last week said: “Labour are offering us unicorns. Free wi-fi, cheap rail fares, whatever – it’s all just lies.”
Both Johnson and Corbyn are unpopular.
Asked what he would be if not a politician, voters said Johnson would be a used-car salesman.
What animal does Corbyn most resemble? A sloth – although one voter in Birmingham suggested he was “like a mermaid – a sort of fantasy creature that you want to believe is true”.
Small wonder that the election was summed up as “no longer about who you agree with most – instead, it’s about who you disagree with least – all the options are so terrible”.
The Tories began the campaign with a 10 per cent lead and, notwithstanding a few ups and downs, that appears to be where they still are as we reach polling day.
Johnson is also ahead on personal ratings, although his lead has declined.
On Monday we ran a workshop of 50 undecided voters in Crewe for the BBC.
Asked what campaign slogans they could remember, they all chanted at once: “Get Brexit done” – but they were unable to remember anything else.
For most, Leave or Remain, ‘Get Brexit done’ is the sentiment that they – sometimes reluctantly – most agree with.
One undecided voter from London summed it up: “I voted to Remain, but if there’s an overall majority and they can finally settle it and get the country back together then that’s great.”
Watch this space…
Deborah Mattinson is a former pollster for Gordon Brown and the founding partner of BritainThinks