Ed Miliband may have got The Big Mo

Momentum seems to be with the Labour leader, and looks to be an important force in the outcome of #GE2015

In the US they talk a lot about ‘the Big Mo’; that invaluable, if somewhat intangible, sense of large scale momentum that propels candidates forward, and has an inexplicably large effect on their chances of presidency.

Recent discoveries by economists and scientists suggest that momentum exerts a far stronger influence on our world than previously assumed.

In 2007, researchers from London Business School observed that momentum appears to have “an inordinate and unexplained impact on the behaviour of investment markets”,  helping propel investments markets, particularly future markets forward, without any rational underpinning. In sport, the ‘Big Mo’ is viewed as critical to the success of the team. Capturing the momentum during the game is said to be as important as good preparation.

Lately you’d be forgiven for thinking Ed Miliband has successfully captured the momentum around the General Election campaign.   After the first leaders’ debate a poll was released showing the Labour leader had a better approval rating than David Cameron (the first time this has happened since his matriculation to Labour leadership). This produced a string of media bulletins announcing Miliband was winning ground faster than the Tories. In short, the swing was with him, Labour was snowballing towards victory.

Miliband himself is a big fan of the Big Mo. Rafael Behr, Political Columnist at The Guardian, recounts an awkward phone conversation he had with Ed in 2010 following rumours the Observer was planning to run an editorial endorsing his brother David for the Labour leadership. “Miliband wanted to persuade me that we were wrong. He assured me he was going to win: ‘We’ve got the Big Mo’” recounts Behr.

Anthony Wells (from UK blog Polling Report) believes the Labour leader may be starting to secure the Mo. He has analysed net ratings for David Cameron and Ed Miliband from the last six months. Although there is quite a lot of variation between pollsters, the trends are clear. Ed Miliband’s ratings have improved over the course of the campaign, although on most pollsters’ measures he still remains significantly behind David Cameron.


Source: UK Polling report, 2015

With less than a week and a half to go, many voters have made up their minds (or in the case of postal voters) already voted. But, for that all-important pool of undecided voters in marginal seats, the Big Mo may yet be a deciding factor in which leader to vote for.

Humans are prone to vote with the herd, as previous Weber Shandwick research on the ‘Science of Engagement’ attests. We like to follow others, and if we feel there is a consensus gathering around an individual we are prone to soften to that individual as well.

People follow the crowd, adhere to social norms and take subconscious leads from others. Herd behaviour can either be the spark that captures engagement, or the tool that builds it.

– Weber Shandwick, Science of Engagement

With such a close race, the politician who can prove as election night looms that he/she is winning hearts, rather than losing them, could unlock a key group of undecided voters. As George H. W. Bush, the man who coined the ‘Big Mo’ phrase in politics, would say, they will have voters, “howling and yowling” at “their heels”.