System1 Politics: Who Is Theresa May’s Biggest Threat?

Theresa May’s first conference speech as British Prime Minister will dominate the newspapers tomorrow. But how strong is her overall position? Back in August we used our System1 Politics techniques to assess the strengths of several leading UK politicians.

System1 Politics – which is nominated for an award at December’s MRS Awards – takes the tools we use to track and predict the commercial success of brands and applies them to politicians and parties. We look at three baseline heuristics that drive decision-making at a fast, System 1 level.

Fame – how rapidly a politician comes to mind

Feeling – how good people feel about them

Fluency – how distinctive and recognisable they are to the public.

The 3 Fs are combined into a single star rating which gives a one-stop ‘meter reading’ of a politician’s current standing.

Here are selected topline figures for the UK.

uk-s1p-slide

What does this tell us?

On a very basic level it tells us that Theresa May enjoys a strong position: the public quickly accepted the post-Brexit “regime change” and accept May as the leading politician in the country.

What’s more interesting, though, is where the challenges to May might be coming from. The 3Fs model is also designed to give an impression of how strong their opposition is – not just the official opposition but their internal political rivals. And the biggest threat to May isn’t Jeremy Corbyn – who sits well behind her in the 3-Star category – but Boris Johnson.

While commentators largely wrote Johnson off after his disastrous post-Brexit leadership bid, the 3 Fs model confirms that he is still a very famous, well-liked and distinctive politician. Whatever his mishaps this Summer, the Foreign Secretary is still the Conservative politician best placed to challenge Theresa May if things go wrong.

As for the official opposition, Corbyn may be well behind May, but he is by some distance the highest-scoring Labour politician on the System1 Politics model. His own challengers will have serious Fame, Feeling and Fluency gaps to deal with, even if they do ever manage to unseat him.

There’s one partial exception – the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who scores quite well on Feeling and Fluency but as a regional politician suffers badly from a Fame gap. (Which is why, like the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, he’s low on our chart).

May has another key strength, though, not reflected on this chart. She is the only politician to get strong ratings among both Leave and Remain voters. If the two voting blocs were split into two nations, Theresa May would have a battle on her hands against Johnson in Leaveland (with UKIP’s Nigel Farage also a powerful figure). And she might find herself vying for popularity with Khan in Remainia. But she would still score well in both.

That’s why it makes such good sense for Theresa May to talk about one nation politics. As the System1 Politics model shows, she is the only one nation politician around.

System1 Politics is currently focused on the US presidential election, and is updated with weekly data. And watch this webinar for more on using Fame, Feeling and Fluency as paths to brand growth!

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