Friday, 13 May 2016

Where Have all the Tory Voters Gone?

While pundits last week were busy waiting for a Labour disaster that never came, they missed something that seemed to me quite clear - a moderate collapse in Conservative support.

This is how England's major parties did last week.

LABOUR    | 1326 councillors (-18) | 75 councils (n/c) | 31% PNS  

TORIES      | 842 councillors (-48)  | 38 councils (-1)   | 30% PNS

LIB DEMS | 328 councillors (+45) | 4 councils (+1)     | 15% PNS

UKIP          | 58 councillors (+28)   | 0 councils (n/c)    | 12% PNS

What was billed as a disastrous night for Labour turned out to be a fairly average night for everyone. All parties could claim victories in particular arenas, but would have to contend with losses in others. When it comes to vote share, however, the Conservatives may have some cause for concern. 

The BBC's in-house VR guru Jeremy Vine projected that a general election would yield a hung parliament based on these results. Journalists spent the next few days asking Labour MPs whether this was the sort of performance that would inspire confidence in winning a general election. The answer is certainly not

This is how the vote share has changed since the general election.

LABOUR    | 30% in May 2015 | 30% in September 2015 | 31% PNS in May 2016

TORIES     | 37% in May 2015 | 42% in September 2015 | 30% PNS in May 2016

Had these journalists bothered asking Conservative MPs the same question, the Tories would have been forced to concede they are in a much weaker position today than they were only last year, losing almost a fifth (18.9%) of their support. It's even worse when you consider their relative popularity as recently as September. 

So where has this support gone?

Labour's share has remained more or less exactly the same over the course of the last year. It's clear that party hasn't done enough to attract disaffected Conservative supporters, but if you take a look at how the share has changed for other two major parties, the picture becomes a little clearer. 

LIB DEMS | 8% in May 2015    | 7% in September 2015    | 15% PNS in May 2016

UKIP          | 13% in May 2015  | 13% in September 2015  | 12% PNS in May 2016

It seems that while UKIP, as with Labour, has also stagnated, the Lib Dems have more than doubled their vote share in a matter of months, seemingly soaking up the Tory disaffection. This is, of course, notwithstanding the wonderfully nuanced exchanges in support between these four major parties, and the others.

Some areas, especially the South West, are home to fierce Lib Dem/Tory battlegrounds. Could it be that a swathe of last year's Conservative voters have, with hindsight, begun to miss the stability of the coalition over what appears to be the volatility of a one-party government?

The Lib Dems had a good night last week, which makes for a refreshing change. They've had a long year in the wilderness. Perhaps it's time we took them a little more seriously going forwards.

You can see the full local election results on BBC News. The Britain Elects ward-by-ward results can be found here

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