Here’s something interesting. Normally the best prediction (or at least, the least flawed prediction) of how votes translate into seats is a uniform swing projection – that is, if a party has increased it’s national share of the vote by 5 percentage points, you add five percentage points to the share it gets in each seat, and vice-versa if it loses support.

Broadly speaking, uniform national swing has been a pretty good predictor of elections – or at least, a good starting point to analyse elections and where parties have done better or worse than average. However, it is mathematically inelegant, particularly when it comes to the extremes. Say a party loses 5 percentage points in its national support – what happens in a seat where they only had 4% at the last election? On a UNS model they’d get minus 1% support, which is clearly impossible. Generally speaking though UNS doing odd things to parties with minimal support doesn’t matter, as it is all about the marginal seats and predicting overall seat numbers, how well it models changes in support in safe seats is irrelevant.

However, it has been playing on my mind how it will work with the Liberal Democrats at the next election if they maintain their present low levels of support. How would it cope with a drastic collapse in support for a party? It varies from pollster to pollster, but roughly speaking the Lib Dems have lost about half their 2010 vote, about 12 points or so. To start with there were 57 seats where the Lib Dems got less than 12% support in 2010, they can’t lose 12% in those. Equally, if their vote did collapse to what extent would their sitting MPs be insulated from the fall?

The Scottish Parliamentary election gives us a chance to see. Below is a scatter chart of the Lib Dem performance in 2011 – plotting the change in the Lib Dem share of the vote in each seat against the share of the vote they recieved in 2007. Gold dots are those seats that were notionally or actually held by the Lib Dems in 2007, blue dots are non-LD seats.

The green line is what we would expect to see if there was a uniform swing – the Lib Dem vote falling by 8% in each seat. The red line is what we’d get if the Lib Dem vote fell proportionally to their support in 2007 – basically if they lost half their support in each seat. The actual distribution of dots is clearly closer to the proportional line than the uniform swing. If this was repeated at a GB general election then the Liberal Democrats would do even worse than a uniform swing would predict.

On the other hand, look at the distribution of the blue and gold dots – in seats where the Lib Dems had incumbency the Lib Dems did better than a proportional loss would have suggested (and they do worse than than this in seats without incumbency) – while the Lib Dems did end up losing all their mainland seats in Scotland, they did actually perform somewhat better in the seats they held… just not by enough to save them.

I wouldn’t presume to make models or predictions about what would happen to the Lib Dems at a general election on this basis… just that UNS national swing may not be a very good predictor if the Lib Dem vote does remain in dire straights at the next general election.


183 Responses to “The Lib Dem collapse in Scotland”

1 2 3 4
  1. @Billy Bob

    “Danny Gabay of Fathom Consulting said the UK was already back in recession if exceptional items were stripped out of the Office for National Statistics’ revised GDP figures.”

    Yes, and he then goes on to say: “And indeed, as far as the domestic economy is concerned, it is already there”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/may/25/slump-in-household-spending-raises-fears-for-recovery

    Sobering reading.

  2. @ Roger Mexico

    “The latter is mainly an exercise is humiliation for Bush.”

    Wouldn’t be the first time. I’m only sorry that Brits saw through him far more quickly than Americans did. :(

  3. Calum/Oldnat/others “I wonder how likely it would be for the SNP to actually control EVERY constituency seat in the Scottish Parliament?”…

    Not so sure it is that unlikely-I believe the SNP won 70 out of the 73 list/regional/ “second” votes by constituency :-)

  4. @Robin

    that article is very sobering reading indeed.

    Backs up a lot of what @Alec and @Lazlo are explaining.

  5. @Lazlo

    “I think it will mean that the SNP adminstration will have to increase taxes and/or will have to cut expenditure and they will have to deal with a much more adversarial UK government. The Scottish economy is dependent on oil/gas and public expenditure more than the rest of the UK (except for NI).”

    Very interesting analysis.

  6. @ Amber Star

    “President Obama is something of a star here. If some of that stardust doesn’t rub off on David Cameron than he is in trouble, IMO.”

    As evidenced by the large crowds that came to see him. But even with his star power, I don’t see how that rubs off on Cameron unless somehow Obama is seen as endorsing Cameron’s policies.

    I have a completely unrelated question for you. If taking a train between England and Scotland, do you reccomend taking first class or standard class?

  7. @ Rob

    I don’t want to go into it simply because of the complexities involved. Yes, when you look at the transfers Scotland is more or less neutral vis-a-vis the rest of the UK financially (or maybe even net contributor). Once you include the strange division of labour that exists, Scotland is a net recipent of funds and at a quite major scale compared to the notional Scottish GDP. It does not mean anything to the independence, but it has major ramifications for the current situation. If Scotland does not get fiscal autonomy, it will suffer more than England and perhaps more than North of England.

    If miracles don’t happen (and occasionally they do), SNP will be in a horrible economic situation very soon (I don’t see repeating the 1990s’ attraction of US investment again) and I don’t see them being prepared for it (but it could be because of the distance between Liverpool and Scotland).

  8. SoCalLiberal

    The important thing with trains in Britain is the book in advance. If you don’t mind tying yourself down to a particular time (you have to travel on the train you book) then you not only make savings but can book a seat with the facilities you might like (eg at a table). It varies, but booking a couple of months in advance is probably best – it’s a bit like the airline model.

    For example for the cheapest time of day (usually mid-afternoon) in August I found a fare of GBP 28.50 (or GBP 53.35 for 1st Class) for London to Edinburgh – the corresponding walk-on fares would be GBP 146.00 and GBP 192.00 (it’s often cheaper to fly). If you’re making that kind of saving you may decide to treat yourself to First Class, but the exact facilities will vary between companies and trains, so you’re best checking the website of the appropriate company.

    The cheapest fare will vary across the day (avoid rush hour times), but of course that also gives an indication of which trains will be less crowded as well.

  9. I have a completely unrelated question for you. If taking a train between England and Scotland, do you reccomend taking first class or standard class?
    ——————————————–
    Standard class is okay, if you buy a ticket that reserves a specific seat for you. Trying to find an empty seat, or even standing, is not fun on a long journey.

    1st class, very nice, if you can afford it – book as much time in advance as possible to get the best discount.
    8-)

  10. @ Rob Sheffield, Laszlo

    I do agree, if Osborne is struggling to achieve his deficit target, the Tories won’t be in the mood to give away anything to AS.

    The SNP being forced to implement austerity by Westminster… SNP supporters think this will be good for their independence agenda i.e. AS will be able to say: This is why we need independence; Scotland would be wealthy, if it kept its own revenues.

    But I think people may become weary of AS blaming everything on Westminster…. we shall see. 8-)

  11. @ Roger Mexico

    “The important thing with trains in Britain is the book in advance. If you don’t mind tying yourself down to a particular time (you have to travel on the train you book) then you not only make savings but can book a seat with the facilities you might like (eg at a table). It varies, but booking a couple of months in advance is probably best – it’s a bit like the airline model.

    For example for the cheapest time of day (usually mid-afternoon) in August I found a fare of GBP 28.50 (or GBP 53.35 for 1st Class) for London to Edinburgh – the corresponding walk-on fares would be GBP 146.00 and GBP 192.00 (it’s often cheaper to fly). If you’re making that kind of saving you may decide to treat yourself to First Class, but the exact facilities will vary between companies and trains, so you’re best checking the website of the appropriate company.

    The cheapest fare will vary across the day (avoid rush hour times), but of course that also gives an indication of which trains will be less crowded as well.”

    Thanks. I booked first class. I just hope there’s an actual difference in the trains and class. I couldn’t reserve any seats. But whenever I take the Acela on the east coast, I book the business class which doesn’t allow for reserving seats either and it’s fine. Acela unfortunately doesn’t have any high speed rail (except for a short stretch between New York and Boston) but it’s still faster than other trains becasue of fewer stops and it’s worth the money because the trains are kept extremely clean and comfortable (as opposed to others which look like prison convey trains) and the seats are bigger and more roomy.

  12. @ Amber Star

    “The SNP being forced to implement austerity by Westminster… SNP supporters think this will be good for their independence agenda i.e. AS will be able to say: This is why we need independence; Scotland would be wealthy, if it kept its own revenues.”

    Two thoughts.

    1. What do you think of the possibility of having mixed economic control where Scotland would control its local economy and levy its own taxes, create its own budgets, and pay for most of its services, while Scots would still pay personal income taxes, capital gains taxes, and possibly estate and gift taxes to Westminster. Under this division of power, Westminster would maintain control of national economic policies like trade policies, minimum wage, interest rates, currency, and other items. But Scotland would handle its own taxation in other areas and control its economic policy development.

    2. Wouldn’t Scotland have already been forced to implement an austerity budget already by Westminster? And is Westminster bound by any particular percentage of revenues they must give to Scotland? I think all this “austerity” business is bad economic policy. After last night’s special election in NY-26, I’m starting to think it may become bad politics when taken too far.

  13. @ Amber Star

    “Standard class is okay, if you buy a ticket that reserves a specific seat for you. Trying to find an empty seat, or even standing, is not fun on a long journey.

    1st class, very nice, if you can afford it – book as much time in advance as possible to get the best discount.”

    Yeah, train travel is expensive. Do you have to stand though on a train if you’ve purchased a ticket? Even if you don’t get a desirable seat, shouldn’t there be at least one seat available for every ticketed passenger? And if not, is first class any different?

    Thank you for the advice.

    Btw, did you notice that for his visit, Obama wore a dark red tie? Do you think he’s trying to send a subliminal message? :)

  14. Btw, I just caught this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGf4pjAPsRw

    I thought it was funny and yet sweet.

    h ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp85zRg2cwg

    This was the whole speech in case you haven’t seen it.

  15. So I just watched all of Obama’s address to Parliament. I thought it was very good. I think he had little bits in his speech that both managed to greatly please and tick off all the parties in the Commons.

    I would imagine that Labour didn’t like hearing about the greatness of Adam Smith and the superiority of a market I system, the Tories didn’t like hearing about how the 2008 financial crisis and resulting Great Recession and massive deficits was caused by us (and not Gordon Brown and Ed Balls) and the need for economic growth, and the Nats were probably unhappy with the fact that Obama didn’t mention the Declaration of Arbroath. Can’t think of anything the Lib Dems would have been unhappy with.

    Here’s what I found kinda funny. I haven’t finished reading Gordon Brown’s book yet but much of Obama’s speech about global market regulations, global cooperations on economic measures, and the importance of economic growth and of societal safety nets seemed to be an endorsement of Brown’s world economic vision. And whenever the camera flashed on Cameron during this point, he sat absolutely stonefaced. Even when Obama mentioned debt, he had to look over at Cameron and Clegg and note that solutions would be different in different countries (the only off moment of his speech).

    But when Obama talked about foreign policy, I noticed that Cameron was nodding approvingly in agreement whenever the camera flashed on him. Maybe I’m misinterpreting or misreading (I can do that) but is it just me or at the end when the 4 Prime Ministers and lone Deputy Prime Minister stood up to applaud, that none of them seemed at all happy except for Clegg. Brown had a giant frown, Blair had a totally feigned smile, Cameron also had a feigned smile but looked uncomfortable, and Major looked like he was rolling his eyes at Cameron. Only Clegg looked genuinely pleased (and of course John Bercow looked like this was the happiest moment of his life). Maybe that’s just their natural facial expressions though.

    For anyone who watched, who was that woman who spoke at the end after Obama’s speech was over? I didn’t recognize her.

  16. John B Dick,

    – “If it is Argyll, that would account for it being an outlier. SNP are certain to win the UK seat from low profile LibDem in 2015.”

    Duly noted. I hope Victor Chandler are not reading this! ;)

  17. To get back the the original point of this thread.

    I suspect the reason why the LDs exhibit such behaviour closer to proportionate swing if their lack of a solid base.

    In theory if every voter was equally likely to “swing” all parties would exhibit this behaviour, however for both Labour and the Conservatives there are a greater proportion of people less likely to swing, as well as a block of votes that never swings. Yes there will be a continuum from “very likely to change vote”, to “would never consider voting for anyone but x”. I suspect that there would be a disproportionate amount of people at the far end of this scale.

    If you removed this block vote (theorectically, at least) and looked at the behaviour of the swing voters, I wouldn’t be surprised so see behavior closer to proportionate swing. However because the size of the block votes dominate the electorate most swings are tied to a very narrow band and the UNS model is generally more accurate in most cases.

    The trouble is; the distribution of these “block voters” won’t be equal around the country so I don’t believe even trying to measure this “block vote” would produce a better model.

    If the Lib Dems do have a core of steadfast support, it is certainly either very small or concentrated in regions in the southwest. I think in general the average LD voter is less likely to suck it up and vote LD again than a Labour or Conservative voter who are unhappy with their party. At worst they won’t vote and be “half a swung vote”

    However trying to predict an election is always full of uncertainties, personalities and surprises which is why people on this board love them. Is UNS an accurate model? Probably not, is there anything substantially better? Unlikely, it’d be interesting to see similar plots for the main three parties at the last GE to see if there is ANY correlation with %age of vote and swing.

  18. @Socalliberal – “… who was that woman who spoke at the end after Obama’s speech was over?

    Baroness Helene Hayman, speaker (HoL); John Bercow, speaker (HoC) made the introductory remarks.

  19. @ Billy Bob

    “Baroness Helene Hayman, speaker (HoL); John Bercow, speaker (HoC) made the introductory remarks.”

    Thank you. I really liked her. She had a tough act to follow but she spoke very eloquently.

    Bercow was excellent too. I love him in the PMQs where he basically plays the comedic “straight man” in the comedy act. And his constant reminders that the House needs to quiet down are almost like the Buddy Rich bootleg tapes (or a British version).

  20. I have to say DC and GO have had extraordinary luck. Another bit of bad news (ie the revised ONS figures for Qtr 1) are buried by the Obama visit.

    “Were it not for the sharp decline in imports, due to some erratic items, the UK would now officially be back in recession. And indeed, as far as the domestic economy is concerned, it is already there,”

    Wasn’t there some expectation s that the figures would be revised upward e.g. to take account of some aberration in the construction industry returns?

    Oh, and while I think of it…what purpose does the OBR serve? It’s forecast of growth this year may have to be revised down yet again – for the fourth time! It increasingly looks to me as the OBR is nothing more than a rubber stamp for GO’s economic dreams.

  21. AW

    You asked for me to let you know – cross-site scripting message appeared just after I posted my previous comment.

  22. And again

  23. Looks like it happens after I post

  24. “If the Lib Dems do have a core of steadfast support, it is certainly either very small or concentrated in regions in the southwest.”
    Not even sure that’s true anymore.
    GE vs March polling (Lab 43, Con 36, Lib 10 – so close enough to now)
    South West at GE – 35%
    March – 15%
    Loss of 20%, Loss of 60% of voters.
    Compare to Labour – 34% March, 15% at GE.
    South East at GE – 26%
    March – 11%
    Loss of 15%, Loss of almost 60% of voters.
    Compare to Labour – 31% March, 16% GE.

    “is there anything substantially better? Unlikely”
    Regional swings?
    I haven’t gone through actual data, but I have noticed that conservative parties across Europe/North America tend to do better in rural areas and Labour/Socialist/Social Democrat/Liberal parties tend to do better in urban/suburban areas. (Excluding extremely wealthy urban areas, where conservatives seem to do better).
    So I think that those factors would probably have to be put in to the model too.

  25. @Socalliberal – Liked your description of the 4 PMs… it must be a torture for them to have to sit together. Ken Clarke was reported to have bee snoring “like a punctured euphonium” during parts of the speech.

  26. @ Tinged Fringe

    “I haven’t gone through actual data, but I have noticed that conservative parties across Europe/North America tend to do better in rural areas and Labour/Socialist/Social Democrat/Liberal parties tend to do better in urban/suburban areas. (Excluding extremely wealthy urban areas, where conservatives seem to do better).”

    I’ve noticed that too. Only thing I’ll note is that in the United States, extremely wealthy urban areas vote heavily Democratic (and usually have more left-wing Democrats representing them, not moderates or Blue Dogs). And this is reflected in precinct data too of specific wealthy neighborhoods and zip codes within larger districts (I point this out because there seem to be some UK constituencies that are represented by Labour or are marginals that have extremely wealthy neighborhoods that vote Tory but are surrounded by low income housing that votes Labour). Not sure if Canada has (or had) a similar dynamic with the Liberals.

  27. @ Billy Bob

    “Liked your description of the 4 PMs… it must be a torture for them to have to sit together. Ken Clarke was reported to have bee snoring “like a punctured euphonium” during parts of the speech.”

    Thanks (glad I’m not the only one who picked up on this). I don’t understand why they would be so uncomfortable sitting together. You would think that they’d like each other, enjoy each other’s rare company, and have a sense of camaraderie just based on their membership in the elite PM club.

  28. Cheers Mike.

    Was worried you migt have been looking at an older page that had had nefarious code inserted into it – but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with this page.

    Wonder if the other times you had it were commenting on posts with images in…

  29. @Alan
    That’s a very perceptive post. I’m persuaded by the idea that while UNS may remain the better model for Con and Lab, proportional swing better suits the LDs because of the lack of a substantive LD core vote.

    The evidence from Scotland is extremely persuasive for the proportional model for LDs, when you look at the blue dots in the graph alone. It shows an extremely strong straight line correlation. These are seats where vote change is “pure” i.e. not distorted by local incumbancy effects.

    We need to note though that in Scotland the Cons are not in contention. In an England GE the greater incidence of tactical voting will complicate matters. I suspect that the proportional model will apply in LD-Lab contests given that most of the LD loss is from left-inclined supporters. In LD-Con contests the persistance of some (very) reluctant tactical voting from left-inclined voters against the Cons could see the LD vote hold up a bit better where Lab is still not viewed as being in contention.

  30. AW

    Strange thing is the message hadn’t appeared since I brought it to your attention several weeks ago but then it suddenly restarts.

    It’s one of those situations where ‘ignoring’ it is so much easier and quicker than starting to investigate what needs to be done to put it right or eradicate it – and months later you think how much time have I spent reading the messages and clicking the button to clear it and you wonder whether it would have been better and quicker to put it right at the outset.

    I’ll let you know if the message persist/desist, and any relevant identifiable circumstances.

  31. AW
    No message!

    [Hmm. Not something to do with articles with pictures in them. Any particular adverts showing when it happens? – AW]

  32. TingedFringe

    We already know about the divide between Urban/Rural areas, but are they likely to swing more or less than a national average? That is the question that should be asked if you wanted to improve the model from a simple UNS.

    However in seats where the incumbant is so safe it doesn’t matter two figs if the swing is 4% above the national average, (apart from the fact that somewhere else perhaps more important the swing will be less than the national average.) UNS is probably inappropriate in the seats, but it doesn’t affect the predicted result.

    Building a model to take into account historical willingness to swing would be a highly complex (and controversial due to everyone having their own opinion about which factors to take into account) process, but the point made at the start, it probably won’t matter too much in predicting ACTUAL election results as the amount of seats within a few % of the predicted national swing will be small and normally for every seat won with a larger than expected swing, one will be lost with a smaller than expected swing.

    I’m sure political strategists would be very quick on the uptake if there was a way to identify voters that would be more amenable to change in marginal seats so they could be targeted. After all, why waste time and breath on someone who already has made up their mind before any arguments have been presented? Far better to fight a winnable war.

  33. AW
    Sorry, just spotted your comment to my last post here.

    The message has also been popping up when I hit the refresh button.

    The fact that no one else seems to be encountering anything similar suggests to me its down to the settings on my pc and IE.

    When I find time I’ll check out the settings and adjust them to see the effect.

    But doesn’t seem to be anything serious.

    Thanks

1 2 3 4