With the General Election upon us, a University of Exeter study has analysed the growing length of party manifestos, highlighting their significance.
As of 27 November, it is too late to register to vote in the 2019 general election. A recent Exeter University study suggests that while many register, and many vote, relatively few members of the electorate read any of the party manifestos cover-to-cover. They are typically extremely lengthy and extensively reported on – the new study investigates this blossoming phenomenon, and the evolving role of the manifesto in British politics.
According to the study, manifestos have ballooned from Labour’s modest 150 words in the year 1900 – that’s smaller than this article – to an all time high main-party-total of 53,259 in 1992.
The study’s lead researchers, Professors David Thackeray and Richard Toye, ascribe this growth to a search for specificity.
In view of their ballooning length many people will ask themselves if politicians, having abandoned the search for the magic money tree, have instead located a magic typewriter.Professor Richard Toye
As parties strive to dispel myths and make bold, arresting claims, they build increasingly complex architectures of discourse. Manifestos become registers of accountability as well as intent: whilst reaffirming support, these documents offer black and white evidence of politicians’ ever-elusive promises. Many have argued that Brexit would not have happened had it not been for the 2015 Conservative manifesto referendum pledge.
Instead of a point of common access, the new study finds that manifestos are becoming the domain of experts, professionals and journalists. Professor Toye posits that, “having abandoned the magic money tree”, politicians “have instead located a magic typewriter”.
According to the researchers, many simply ignore this typescript and read manifestos summed up by third parties on Twitter threads.
Editors: Pete Syme and Emma Hussain