Can the Euros bring it home for Sunak?

UG Social policy with quantitative research methods student, Isabella Oats, discusses key findings from her UG dissertation on the link between subjective well-being and political action with reference to the upcoming UK elections and how the Euros might impact the result.

Ballot box in Union Jack colours filled with footballs and a sign saying General Election
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My research discusses the relationship between subjective well-being and political action, and how this varies by economic development in European countries. This study is particularly topical with the UK approaching a general election this week.

In my study I find that how happy and satisfied people feel has a correlation to if and how they vote in general elections. The current polls suggest a Labour victory, largely in disappointment to the broadly unpopular Conservative government’s 14-year record (Pew, 2024; YouGov, 2024). Whilst my dissertation did not delve into what impacts subjective well-being, previous research found non-political events such as sporting fixtures have the potential to inflate happiness and sway polls.

This blog discusses whether the shock snap election may have been perfectly timed to cast the ballot at a particularly inflated point of collective national pride and joy, and begs the question, can the Euros save Sunak?

My dissertation findings

My research finds that an increase in subjective well-being correlates to increased voter turnout and increases the likelihood to vote for a central or right wing position compared to left wing. A one unit increase in life satisfaction predicts an 11.9% increase in the propensity to vote. Similarly, a one unit increase in happiness predicts a 12.7% increase in the propensity to vote. Therefore, happier and more satisfied individuals are expected to be more likely to vote in this election. The analysis of how people vote on a left-right 10-point scale reveals that happiness increases the likelihood of voting towards the right by 11%. Life satisfaction held a similar influence, with a 15% shift towards the right along the left/right nexus. These results are statistically significant (p<0.001). This relationship proved to be stronger at lower levels of economic development, measured by GDP per capita. Considering that, since the pandemic, the UK’s economic recovery has been slower than its European counterparts and other G7 countries (UK parliament, 2024), it is plausible to wonder how this may affect the relationship between subjective well-being and voting in tomorrow’s election.

The socio-political climate in the UK

Several reports have highlighted an increase in economic dissatisfaction linked to a deterioration of living standards and increase in inequality (IFS, 2024). A 2024 Joseph Rowntree Foundation report highlighted unacceptable levels of poverty in the UK, reaching 14.2 million individuals (22%) living in poverty in 21/22. Nearly 3 in 10 were children (JFR, 2024). The number of people using foodbanks has increased from 26,000 to 2.56 million since 2008 (Trussell Trust, 2024). Satisfaction with the NHS is the lowest since records began (Kings Trust, 2023), and 6.33 million people on NHS waiting lists with a median waiting time for treatment of 13.9 weeks – almost double the pre-COVID median wait of 7.2 weeks in April 2019 (BMA, 2024).

My data in 2020 found the UK to sit around 7 out of 10 score for happiness and life satisfaction, similar to other European countries. More recent data from the ONS (2023) finds happiness and life satisfaction to have decreased from 2022, and anxiety to have increased. These factors point to poor collective subjective well-being in the UK.  Based upon my research this would predict lower turnout and a slight move to the left, in line with the ‘withdrawal hypothesis’ (Rosenstone, 1982) which posits that voters struggling with economic hardship prioritise their time and resources on their essentials rather than voting and are distanced from politics. These well-being factors also align with the poll predictions of a Labour victory as lower subjective well-being scores are associated with left of centre political positions.

Can football save the Tories?

While the country was surprised by the snap election unveiling by the Prime Minister, setting the date months prior to the end of the government’s deadline, I query whether the government predicted a window of hope and a temporary happiness spike with the quadrennial UEFA European Championships, in which the UK came second at the last tournament. Previous research into the influence of happiness and voting behaviour found that non-political events can influence the vote.  For example, a 2010 US study found that successful college football fixtures inflated happiness and increased incumbent support in the polls by 1.6%. This effect was even more significant for teams with larger fan bases and was consistent at the state, governor, and presidential level. A Hungarian study found voters aligned their assessment of the government’s success with the success of the national football team.

Could the Lions bring it home for Sunak? Or are the scales too tipped against them? This will be revealed soon. Regardless of the outcome, subjective well-being will have played a role.


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