Ukip voters will not ‘go home’ to old parties in general election pollsters say
Numbers suggest 50% of Ukip voters last week will stick with party in 2015, enough to profoundly alter electoral arithmetic across UK.
The function of experts on big news days is very often to calm journalists down by drawing on long memories to put things in a bit of perspective.
But after the Euro elections, even the most hardened number-crunchers are disinclined to dismiss the Ukip insurgency as a flash in the pan that will be forgotten by the general election. Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde, who has been at the pinnacle of British psephology for a third of a century, says the old parties can “whistle in the wind if they want to”, but the reality is that they are now up against “a completely different phenomenon” from protest votes of the past.
Outtside of the distinctive ecology of Scotland (where Ukip climbed by just five percentage points on 2009), and Britain’s “other country” in London (Ukip up five percentage points), the surge that took Nigel Farage to the top of the poll was fairly uniform across the regions, in low-to-mid double digits everywhere. The range of the Ukip rise varied from 10 points in the West Midlands up to a maximum of 16 points in the neighbouring East Midlands region, with everywhere else in the north and the south somewhere between the two. This rise took the party’s total share of the poll to a winning 27%.
If you want to play fantasy politics with the results, imagine Scotland leaving the union after a yes vote and you would be left with Farage measuring the curtains for No 10. This won’t happen, of course, because European contests for a parliament of anonymous legislators tasked with obscure work are a very different matter from a general election to settle who runs the country. In repeated electoral cycles, Ukip – like other protest parties before it – has done far better in the European vote than in the subsequent general election.
That will happen again this time, too. The big question is to what extent? Fortunately, there is quite a bit of evidence with which to answer.
First, there are the local elections which took place on the same day, which reveal the current disposition of English voters when faced with a choice concerning not some faraway assembly in Brussels and Strasbourg but their own town hall. These elections did not take place everywhere, but if they had – the BBC’s projection says – Ukip would have been on 17%, compared with the 27% notched up in the Euros.
Second, there are the regular opinion polls, very many of which (and not the most excitable of the surveys either) have registered Ukip in a 10-15 point range in the Westminster stakes for over a year. Add in a third piece of evidence, Lord Ashcroft’s weekend survey of people who had just voted Ukip in the Euros, which found that almost exactly half (51%) say they plan to stick with Farage next year, and these polls look increasingly solid. The British Election Study’s analysis of likely Ukip voters had previously suggested a somewhat higher figure.
The evidence points to about half of those who have plumped for Ukip last week intending to stick by them for 2015, implying a vote share of 13%-14%, 10-11 points up on the 3% Farage achieved in 2010. This is a big enough increase to profoundly alter the electoral arithmetic across the country, and tip the balance in all sorts of marginal seats.
- The Guardian,