Tomorrow we have some actual proper elections to look at – three by-elections, the new Police and Crime Commissioners across Wales and most of England, plus the Bristol mayoral election and the normal local government by-elections.
The three Parliamentary by-elections are the two caused by the resignation of veteran Labour MPs to contest the police elections (Alun Michael in Cardiff South and Penarth and Tony Lloyd in Manchester Central) and one in Corby caused by the resignation of Louise Mensch to go and live in the USA. The first two are safe Labour seats that promise little of interest – there is no obvious prospect of any upset and both will be easily held by Labour. The Corby by-election is more interesting, but just as easily predictable – the Conservative majority at the last election was only 3.6%, so with current national opinion polls showing a swing to Labour of around 9% they will win Corby at a stroll. If Corby behaves in line with national polling Labour should win with a majority of around 15%, in fact the polling of the seat commissioned by Lord Ashcroft suggests they will do even better than that, showing a Labour lead of 22 points.
The police elections are far less predictable. The elections take place in all English and Welsh police forces outside London, with each force electing a Police and Crime Commissioner using the Supplemental vote system (the same system used in the London mayoral election – you get a first and a second preference vote, if no candidate gets 50% on the first round all but the top two candidates are eliminated and the second preferences of people who voted for eliminated candidates are redistributed).
As I write there has not been any substantial polling of voting intentions in the police elections – there was a MORI poll that briefly asked about it, but given only around 150 people in the sample said they were certain to vote it won’t tell us much. Under normal circumstances we should expect Labour to do very well in the elections – it is a mid-term vote for positions that people don’t really understand, a perfect opportunity for a protest vote. On Thursday we have several unknowns – first is the extent to which people vote on the issue of crime, where the Conservatives have a traditional advantage. Second is the impact of the Liberal Democrats only contesting some seats. Third is the impact of independent candidates – you regularly get polls showing people like the idea of independent candidates, but in Parliamentary elections they invariably don’t vote for them. We shall see if people do end up voting in substantial numbers for non-party candidates.
Finally, there is the issue of turnout – both how it affects the results, and on the turnout figure itself. A lot of the media discussion in advance of the elections has been about how low turnout will be, whether it will be lower than the 23% recorded in the 1999 European elections, whether it will be as low as the 18% the Electoral Reform Society predicted. There have been a couple of polls asking whether people are likely to vote which have shown between 15% and 28% of people saying they are certain to vote, but don’t pay too much attention to that: turnout is remarkably difficult to predict from opinion polls (partly because the registers they use to work out turnout are not accurate in themselves, mostly because people tend to grossly overestimate their likelihood to vote – responses to the British Election Study are cross-checked against the marked electoral register to see if people actually did vote, and even amongst those people who say they are 10/10 certain to vote a good twenty percent don’t seem to actually do so.
Only Wiltshire police commissioner and the two safe Labour by-elections are counting overnight. Corby and all the other police elections are counting during the day on Friday, with the first results expected to turn up around lunchtime.