General Election 2017: What's in the manifestos?

Many political pundits have picked through recent manifesto offerings. Far from leaving just bare bones, much of their analysis has failed to provide a comprehensive sense of where political parties differ on the big topics defining the 2017 General Election.

This blog features analysis from the University of Sheffield using the Political Futures Tracker, a text analysis tool that we first developed for the 2015 Election. We use ground breaking Natural Language Processing methods to delve into these daunting documents and clearly outline the big issues they discuss.

It’s worth bearing in mind that there is no 'template' for manifestos

When we look across parties and through past election campaigns, we see that they vary considerably in length, scope, and format – and trivial though it may seem, even the length of a manifesto can indicate a number of intriguing details.

We know from 2015, that the Green Party manifesto was extremely lengthy, at just over 60,000 words – their offering this time around was about 20 times shorter, at close to 3000 words. 

If we think back to 2015, the top topics were consistently Immigration, Europe and the UK economy. In 2017, the political landscape has shifted and the change has been truly seismic since we last went to the polls to decide on our government.

Now, public health, business and enterprise and schools regularly feature in the top five topics discussed in party manifestos across the political spectrum - important in 2015, but not top of the charts.

The drop off in mentions of immigration and Europe are not necessarily surprising – Brexit is happening, and we've had our say on membership of the EU, which enveloped many discussions around the openess of our borders and freedom of movement for foreign nationals.

We still see mentions of Brexit cropping up, but to all intents and purposes, it appears that politicians have moved on.

However, parties may be continuing to use Brexit as a catch all term for some of the perceived issues with EU membership , as well as the process of exiting the European Union.

On the one hand, the reduction in mentions of Europe may reflect a cross party re-focus on addressing national opportunities, as well as challenges with forthcoming EU negotiations. 

On the other hand, it may simply signpost that the public are becoming immune and apathetic to absorbing well-rehearsed arguments on the EU.

As always, there are some outliers - SNP and UKIP continue to mention Europe in their manifestos - as can be seen from the charts below. Again, this is not unexpected - as Nicola Sturgeon mentioned at the launch of their manifesto yesterday morning, this fall firmly within the context of deciding whether Scotland will continue to be part of the United Kingdom (#indyref2). 


Over the next few days, running up to the election on 8 June, we will be comparing these seven manifestos on a number of levels - from the attitude they take to big issues, to future thinking and foresight about the policy areas that will influence the public vote. Stay tuned...


George Windsor

George Windsor

George Windsor

Senior Policy Researcher

George was a Senior Policy Researcher in the Creative and Digital Economy team.

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Dr Mark A Greenwood

Dr Greenwood is a Research Associate in the Natural Language Processing Group at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Diana Maynard

Dr Diana Maynard is a Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, and holds a PhD in Automatic Term Recognition.