A couple of weeks ago Angus Reid ran a poll that had a question asking about how people would vote in an electoral pact. At the time I said you needed to run a slightly more complex question to get a steer on it. Since then we’ve run a slightly more complex version to a YouGov sample.

At the simplest level, we asked a straight question on how people would vote if there was a pact between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, with the Conservatives standing down in seats where the Liberal Democrats were best placed to win, and the Liberal Democrats stand down in seats where the Conservatives are best placed to win. In this scenario, 40% of people would vote for a Coalition candidate and 46% would vote for Labour. If we compare this to our normal voting intention on the same day, which showed the Conservatives on 37%, Labour on 42% and the Liberal Democrats on 9%, a pact certainly doesn’t look like a good bet – the support for joint candidates is 6 points lower than the parties separately, and the Labour lead over the Coalition is bigger than over the Conservatives alone. This is pretty much the same finding as Angus Reid got.

However, if we look more closely at the figures it all gets a bit more complicated. As you might expect, people who would vote Labour in a normal election have little or no doubt that they’d still vote Labour if the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats entered a formal pact. However, the drop in Conservative and Liberal Democrat support isn’t down to defections to Labour or minor parties, overwhelmingly it is just that many Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters say they don’t know what they’d do – and well they might, since we don’t know what sort of platform this electoral pact would campaign on and who would fight which seats.

A Conservative in a safe Tory seat might very well be unsure what they’d do if suddenly faced with a ballot paper with just Labour and a Coalition Liberal on it. Equally a Liberal Democrat in a Lib Dem seat might be uncertain how they’d react if faced with a ballot paper showing just Labour and a Coalition Conservative. We can make some reasonable assumptions about which party will stand where though – the strongest Tory areas would have Tory candidates and the strongest Liberal Democrat areas would have Liberal Democrat candidates.

The core question then becomes how many Liberal Democrat supporters actually will transfer their support to the Tory candidate, and how many Conservative supporters actually will transfer their support to a Liberal Democrat.

To answer that, we asked the survey a second time and, based on people’s constituencies and the result in 2010, we gave them either a scenario of the Lib Dems standing down in favour of the Conservatives, or the Conservatives standing down in favour of the Liberal Democrats.

Even asked like this, the findings need to be laced with heavy caveats. Hypothetical questions are dubious at the best of times, but in this case we don’t know what platform a Conservative-LD pact would be fought upon and whether they would have a joint manifesto. We also don’t know what the repercussions would be of creating such a pact – it would probably change perceptions of the parties and politics in Britain and there is a fair chance it would lead to defections and party splits, further disrupting the political landscape. There’s probably also a good chance that none of this is ever going to come anywhere near happening so it’s an academic point. Still, with all that in mind though, here’s what we found.

In seats where the Conservatives beat the Liberal Democrats in 2010 – that is, the seats that are likely to be contested by the Conservatives in an electoral pact situation – 93% of Tory voters would still be happy to back the Coalition Conservative (the other 7% are presumably those Tories strongly opposed to such a deal, most of whom say they still don’t know how they’d react). However, of the current Liberal Democrat voters in these seats, 44% would give their vote to the Coalition Conservative, 15% would instead vote Labour with the rest not sure, not voting or giving their backing to minor parties.

Given how few Liberal Democrat supporters remain in these seats anyway these figures would pretty much even out, giving the Conservatives no obvious electoral benefit from the pact.

Now we turn to the seats that are likely to be contested by the Liberal Democrats in an electoral pact situation – those where the Lib Dems out polled the Conservatives in 2010. There are naturally far fewer of these – only 158 – so the sample size is much, much smaller, but the crude indications are that the Liberal Democrats would retain most of their current support, but would also gain 57% of the current Conservative support in those seats, with the rest going to minor parties, not voting or not sure.

Given the depths that Liberal Democrat support has fallen to, this would make a major difference to their level of support, transforming the chances of them holding a significant number of seats.

At best this can only ever be a straw in the wind given the political earthquake that any electoral pact risks producing, but my tentative conclusions are that the Liberal Democrats have much more to gain from an electoral pact than the Conservatives.

A slightly shorter version of this piece is on the YouGov website here. Full tabs are here and here (they went, I should emphasise, to discrete samples))


215 Responses to “What would happen in an electoral pact?”

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  1. @Robin
    I’d really like to believe that. So I will :)

  2. Guido’s blogging that Alex Belardinelli (a Special Adviser to Ed Balls) precipitated Johnson’s resignation by leaking details of Johnson’s private life to the Sunday Times.

    Would anybody like me to explain the implications?

    Regards, Martyn

  3. @Ann in Wales & NickP
    I am astonished that you find my post ‘partisan’, it was not meant to be. I paid tribute to 3 ‘non blue’ grand parliamentarians, who have reached the higher echelons of their respective careers through ‘doing a good job’, not shafting their colleagues & through being genuinely honourable human beings. Whilst I do think that AJ’s appointment as Shadow Chancellor was a weak one (showing EM’s inexperience), in view of the lack of financial background, he did a good job as Home Secretary & for someone who left school at 15, that was a magnificent achievement.
    You might call EB a hard hitter, my view is totally different. He is a bully & has no equivalent on the govt benches. In addition he a deficit denier; his answer to our problems is simply to get another credit card and send us the way of Greece & Ireland. He might be an economist and I do look forward to the contrasting stance he will take. He will confirm I am sure that Labour in fact has no regrets about their economic record. But most economists, industrialists & the Bof E, not to mention the IMF et al, generally agree that the route GO is taking is the right one, in order to restore our financial position.

    Your vitriolic responses to my post perhaps give a clue as to why there are hardly any blue comments on the site any more.(Not that you have ever made a partisan gloat have you Ann?) Regrettably it appears to have become the fiefdom of the left brigade, who don’t wish to hear any opposing views.
    Anthony I apologise if you think that my post was in any way partisan, it was not intended to be. However I will go the way of several before me and cease any further posts in the future.

  4. Martyn – as long as it stays as blogosphere gossip, the implications are none-at-all (well perhaps there would be in terms of the internal politics of the Parliamentary Labour party, but I never pretend to understand the internal politics of other parties, something I think is a good rule in life).

    If it becomes part of some great media narrative about internal ructions within the Labour party and a Brownite coup, etc, etc, etc then it would have implications. As yet, none of the media are even talking about the alleged details of Alan Johnson’s private life, let alone the details of how those details arrived at the press. It may well be far too much of a Westminster bubble story to ever trouble the press. It may well be bollocks!

  5. @Alec
    You might be correct although the timing would be incredibly tight. The post was by a Labour supporting guest contributor, not by Smithson (a Lib Dem).

  6. @Robert in France
    For the record, I didn’t find your post unduly partisan.

  7. @Anthony

    You said “…I never pretend to understand the internal politics of other parties, something I think is a good rule in life…”

    Amen to that

    Regards, Martyn

    (PS: it’s hit Twitter: http://twitter.com/Parsifal2 )

  8. I did find it partisan, like pretty much every one of his posts I’ve read, but no moreso than many lefties’/Labour supporters’ posts – including myself in that – so his charge of hypocrisy is well-grounded. Really, I don’t think people need to point of what are and aren’t partisan comments, AW will deal with them if he wishes.

  9. @ RobertinFrance

    “But most economists, industrialists & the Bof E, not to mention the IMF et al, generally agree that the route GO is taking is the right one, in order to restore our financial position.”

    Again these sorts of assessments need to be taken with a pinch of salt – these are the same economists who predicted that 2008 would be a good year for global growth and that the housing slump was a small blip that would correct itself.

    As for the IMF – well their specialism has been ruining countries social sectors through austerity programs, why change the winning formula now?

  10. Sorry.

    It was the shafting his brother comment that got me.

    I guess I’m back in moderation hell.

  11. @Nick P,
    I also!

  12. Latest YouGov/Sun results 20th Jan CON 36%, LAB 43%, LD 10%; APP -22 h ttp://twitter.com/YouGov

    Regards, Martyn

  13. So…

    Lab 43
    Con-Lib 46

    Getting closer to adding them together.

    I suspect that the Libs will recover a bit now as they establish some differences with Con. But I think Lab will be clawing votes from Con.

    But I am totally biased and it may be all wishful thinking.

  14. “It may well be bollocks!”

    It sounds like it is. Newsnight are busy reporting how AJ has wanted to leave for some time, and many people are saying that the immediate story was pretty widely known in Westminster.

  15. Guido does appear to have turned into the UK’s version of Drudge Report… Right a few times in the past, but doomed to get stuck in a rut, and fail to update with the times. Both in outlook, and web-design ;)

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