Compare and contrast – Atul Hatwal writes that a Labour victory from the current position would be unprecedented, Dan Hodges writes that a Tory victory is still the most likely outcome of the election. On the other side of the political fence Paul Goodman writes that a Conservative victory is impossible and Matthew D’Ancona that Cameron is perilously close to blowing it. Peter Kellner has also written a scenario as to how David Cameron could win here, though I think he’s done it more as devil’s advocate than as a prediction!

They aren’t of course necessarily contradictory, it is not a given that somebody has to get a majority. I think the essential problem is that there are significant obstacles facing both main parties and, if you want to spin it that way, significant reasons why both sides “can’t win”. Equally, there are ways both sides could clamber over those obstacles with a bit of luck on their side. You may, at this point, want to get a cup of tea – writing about the problems of both sides, and why they might not be problems may take some time….

…Back with me?

To start with the Conservatives, Paul Goodman does a good job of identifying some of up the problems that currently stand in their way of winning an election. Firstly, there are several social groups where the Conservatives particularly struggle, putting a cap on their potential support – Paul mentions the failure of the Conservatives to win support from ethnic minority voters who demographically or attitudinally might be expected to vote Conservative but don’t, but one could equally well point to the fact that people in the north are less likely to vote Conservative, or the party’s collapse in Scotland. This is, in many ways a problem with the failure of the Conservative party’s modernisation. It’s hard and takes a long time with little in the way of immediate returns. Past Tory leaders have repeatedly been forced into appealing to their own core votes, decisions that were probably tactically correct in the short term, but which in the long term further entrenched negative views of the Conservative party that prevent them widening their support. To give a current example, I suspect the cut in the 50p tax rate probably didn’t do as much short term harm as people think (my guess is the budget damage came much more from the granny tax and the appearance of incompetence) because the majority of people already think the Conservatives favour the rich above normal people. It did, however, further entrench that view and makes it more difficult for the Tories to change it in the future.

If the Conservatives first problem is the limited upside to their support because they are still toxic to much of the electorate, Goodman’s second issue is UKIP – the availability of an alternative party on the right. I’ve written about UKIP’s support in more detail here. In short UKIP support does come disproportionately (though not exclusively) from the Conservatives and isn’t just, or indeed even mainly, about Europe. It is about immigration and general dissatisfaction with government performance or modern Britain. The biggest increase in UKIP support came as a result not of anything related to Europe, but as a result of the budget and the omnishambles period. In one sense I think Paul worries too much about UKIP here, in the absence of UKIP those voters would still be disillusioned and unhappy, they’d just find other outlets to register their dissatisfaction. Where UKIP’s presence does make it more of a problem is that, as Matt D`Ancona writes, it provides a gravitational pull on the right, meaning the Conservatives have to be wary of leaving too much space to their rear lest UKIP prosper too much. I do also ponder exactly how the Parliamentary Conservative party will react if UKIP come top in the European election next year and the inevitable spike in normal opinion polls that will follow a strong European election performance… especially if the election debates are being negotiated at the time. Having lost an election to Cleggmania David Cameron probably won’t want to risk Faragemania, but in the event that UKIP are ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the polls it may be difficult to argue that Farage should not be included in the debates.

The biggest problem for the Conservatives though is simply the high bar they need to get over to manage an overall majority. On a pure uniform swing the Conservatives need an ELEVEN point lead to get an overall majority. The more commonly cited seven point lead is based on a (reasonable enough) assumption that Liberal Democrat support will be down at the next election which reduces the sort of lead the Conservatives need.

Seven percent, however, is still a formidable lead to achieve to get a majority of just one. Tony Blair in 2005, Thatcher in 1979, Wilson in 1964, 1966 and Oct 1974, Heath in 1970, MacMillan in 1959, Eden in 1955, Churchill in 1951 and Attlee in 1950 all got overall majorities with lower leads than the seven percent Cameron achieved in 2010. The main reason the Conservatives didn’t win in 2010 is not the proportion of the votes they got, but how those votes translated into seats. Given the likely failure of the boundary changes, the situation will probably be the same at the next election.

I particularly dislike arguments based on “this has never happened before therefore it can’t happen” (beautifully parodied here), so the common argument you hear of “no government party has ever increased their share of the vote so the Conservatives can’t win” should carry little weight. There have only been 18 elections since WW2, and in 3 of them the governing party has increased their share of the vote. Those were special cases of course – they were short Parliaments, so they don’t count. If the Conservatives do increase their share of the vote then I expect this case would also be dismissed as a special case, because it was a hung Parliament, or because the third party’s support collapsed or whatever excuse people come up to make the data fit their rule. Nevertheless, it does go to underline the sheer difficulty of what the Conservatives need to achieve in order to win a majority.

Those then are the obstacles facing the Conservatives – they need an increased lead over Labour to win, yet the potential to gain new support is limited by the party’s toxic image and their existing support is being nibbled away by UKIP to their rear. How can they win from there?

First there is the question of whether the Conservatives really would need a lead of 7 points. Peter Kellner floated this idea in his piece this week, suggesting the Tories could win with a 4 point lead.

There are a couple of reasons why the Conservatives could outperform UNS in a election that was otherwise quite static. The first is that while one of the reasons for the perceived bias in the electoral system, smaller electorates in Labour seats, will remain at the next electon, another reason may diminish. One of the reasons the Conservatives win fewer seats than Labour on the same shares of the vote is that Labour and Lib Dem voters have historically been much more likely to vote tactically for each other. This means that in seats where the Conservatives get between 35-40% of the vote they normally fail to win the seat due to tactical voting against them, while Labour will often win the seat on the same share of the vote because their opposition is split between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. In 2010 there were 66 seats where the Conservatives got between 35% and 40%, they won 30 of them (a hit rate of 45%), there were 78 seats where Labour got between 35% and 40% and they won 47 of them (a hit rate of 60%).

We already know that the 2010 Lib Dem voters who are least likely to have stuck with the party are those who actually identified most with the Labour party, and who were presumably voting Lib Dem for tactical or protest reasons. Now, I am sure when push comes to shove some of those will end up holding their noses and voting tactically for the Lib Dems anyway – but some won’t, and if Labour identifiers are less likely to tactically vote Liberal Democrat at the next election than they were at the last election the Liberal Democrats will be losing votes where they need them the most and Labour will be gaining votes in seats where those votes are of no use to them… the effect would be to reduce the anti-Conservative skew in the system and deliver a Conservative victory on a smaller lead. We cannot tell if this will happen, it is practically impossible to predict tactical voting decisions in advance when people themselves probably won’t make sure decisions until very close to the election.

A second factor is the incumbency bonus. The Conservatives gained a large number of seats from Labour at the last election and in those seats they will have the benefit of a “double incumbency” bonus – that is, in most cases Labour will have lost the incumbency bonus their former MPs enjoyed at the 2010 election, while the new Conservative incumbents will have built up their own personal vote. In a largely static election or an election with a small swing against the Conservatives that will provide an extra buffer for Conservative MPs. A good example of this is the 2001 election. The election produced a 1.75% swing from Labour to Conservative, which should have resulted in the Conservatives retaking 15 seats from Labour, but because those new Labour MPs benefited from incumbency and the Conservatives had lost it they only took 5 (and managed to lose one the other way).

These factors mean the bar for the Conservatives may not be quite as high in practice as it appears in theory, but that is not much good if you are 10 points behind. To win the Conservatives need to retain the level of support they got at the last election and probably (assuming Labour gain at least some support – I’ll come to them later) gain some more on top of that. There are two reservoirs of potential extra votes for the Conservatives – people who voted Conservative in 2010 but no longer say they would and people who did not vote Conservative in 2010, but would consider it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming the Conservatives in 2010 were at their maximum level of support in 2010 and ignoring that second group – they are very real indeed. Looking at the big Lord Ashcroft poll from November, 16% of people currently saying they’d vote Conservative are people who did NOT vote Conservative last time round.

Not only is it possible for the Conservatives to get extra votes they didn’t get last time round, they are actually doing it. That 16% of current Tory voters is about 5% of people voting. Those voters come mostly from the Liberal Democrats and from 2010 non-voters, though there are also some people who voted Labour in 2010 who would now vote Tory. As to why the Conservative party has picked up these voters, back in July Lord Ashcroft did another big survey that segmented out the people the Conservatives had lost, gained and kept. The biggest defining factor for these “Joiners” as he called them were people who trusted the Conservatives more than Labour on the economy, or at least, trusted Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls. Ashcroft found a similar pattern amongst those who said they would consider becoming joiners (or “Considers” in his parlance) – their defining characteristic was that they trusted Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls.

So while the Conservatives undoubtedly do have a cap on their potential support due to their toxic reputation with some groups, the extra support is there to be won, and can be won on the basis of the economy and people’s preference for Cameron over Miliband. Other research by Ashcroft shows these Conservative joiners are also more socially liberal, more likely to be the sort of people who are attracted by Conservative support for things like gay marriage and, at this point, we come into conflict with the other side of the equation, the 2010 Conservative voters who the party has lost.

The Conservatives got 37% at the last election. Currently they are around about 31% in polls. Looking again at Lord Ashcroft’s poll from November, the two biggest chunks have gone to don’t know, won’t vote or won’t say or UKIP. Looking at Ashcroft’s segmentation, these voters tend to be people who don’t think David Cameron has performed well in government or don’t think the Conservatives share their values, yet who also have negative opinions of Labour and the Liberal Democrats and normally prefer the Conservatives to Labour. Ashcroft’s polling suggests the most powerful message to these lost Conservatives will be a tactical one – that voting UKIP would risk letting in Labour and Ed Miliband. While UKIP support is not mainly driven by the European issue, if David Cameron does come out with a strong message on renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe I suspect it could speak to their values and help them believe the Conservatives understand people like them, though I am conscious that allowing doubt over Britain’s future membership of the European Union to fester could be an extremely high risk strategy for the Conservatives.

Turning to Labour (and for those of you starting to flag, we are two-thirds through!) the arguments about the difficulties they face boil down to two. First there is the question of whether their mid term lead in the polls is really of the sort of scale that a successful opposition should be achieving. Secondly is whether their undoubted lead in voting intention polls is undermined by more lacklustre figures on things like Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister or economic trust (the latter is often tied up with lots of internal Labour party politics and positioning which I won’t get into!)

The general pattern for opposition parties is for them to gain support during the middle of a Parliament as people are disappointed or angered by the government and want to register a protest, either by telling pollsters they’d vote elsewhere or by registering protest votes in elections that they don’t see as mattering that much. As the election approaches incumbent governments tend to do more crowd pleasing things to win back support, and people tend to think of their vote more as a choice between alternative governments, rather than just a way of protesting against the incumbent, and almost always this results in some degree of swing back towards the governing party. This pattern was largely broken in the 1997-2001 and 2001-2005 Parliaments, given that Labour remained pretty popular throughout both and there were never big opposition leads to begin with. It re-established itself to a degree in 2005-2010.

Now, if we look back through history oppositions that have gone on to win the next election have normally enjoyed mid-term leads of 20 points or more, oppositions with lower leads mid-terms have generally ended up losing. By that yardstick, Labour isn’t doing well enough to win, this is not the sort of lead that winning oppositions tend to mark up mid-term. Just as with the “no government has increased its vote” thing I discarded earlier, just because no opposition has even gone on to win the election without getting their mid-term lead up to 20+ points, doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done. This time could be different, I’ve written about this at much more length here but there are two main things to consider. Firstly, the arguments about Labour not being far enough ahead assume they are not going to get further ahead in the future. Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives weren’t miles ahead at this stage either, it was the winter of discontent that did that and pushed them over the top.

That’s an argument about events coming along in the future though, and they can cut both ways. A more interesting consideration is whether these are mid term blues at all or whether we are seeing a more substantial and permanent realignment of support. The vast majority of Labour’s increased support since the general election is not from people switching from the Conservatives, it is from people who either did not vote at the last election, or people who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. I think the problem for the Liberal Democrats is much more serious than mid-term blues and the support that has moved from the Lib Dems to Labour may be a lot “stickier” than mid term support has been in the past. I wouldn’t, therefore, spare too much worry to the “Labour need to be further ahead” argument. In normal circumstances they would, but these aren’t necessarily normal circumstances.

What I think should be more worrying for Labour are the underlying figures on Ed Miliband and on economic trust. People’s preference for Prime Minister normally goes hand-in-hand with their voting intention. If you graph the two questions side by side they move pretty much in parallel, with the governing party normally doing a little better on the PM question as it is, after all, easier to look Prime Ministerial when you actually are Prime Minister. When IDS was Conservative leader the Labour lead in voting intention was, on average, 16 points less than Blair’s lead over IDS as best PM. When Michael Howard became Tory leader the gap between his performance as best PM and the Conservative VI lead fell to seven points. That shrunk to 5 point when David Cameron took over and once Gordon Brown replaced Blair the Conservative lead in voting intention was almost identical to the Conservative lead as best Prime Minister. With Ed Miliband that small difference has become a vast gulf, when I wrote about this last year the average gap was 18 points. Since then Labour’s lead in the polls has inched up a bit, but Miliband’s rating as best PM hasn’t. In recent month’s the gap between preferred party and preferred PM has been 20 points.

There is a similar but smaller gap on economic policy. There are all sorts of different ways that economic trust is asked – a straight question on which party people trust the most shows them neck-and-neck, whereas questions asking if people trust Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls show a lead for Cameron & Osborne. Either way, it is the same pattern of Labour leading in voting intention but doing less one on important underlying questions.

The question is whether this matters? Clearly, at the moment, people think Cameron would make a better Prime Minister and either prefer the Conservatives or rate the parties equally on the economy… yet Labour have a substantial polling lead. Clearly it isn’t a deal breaker! On the other hand, it could become more important and influential as the election approaches and voting decisions become more of a choice between alternatives than just a way of signalling dissatisfaction with cuts and austerity. Once again, we don’t know what will happen, and the present polling cannot tell us.

In closing both the Conservatives and Labour face obstacles, but neither’s are insurmountable. It is perfectly possible to come up with plausible scenarios where either side win – or to spin the figures to claim the other side cannot possibly win. Personally I am happy to admit I don’t know what will happen, there are too many big unanswered questions about the economy, the Eurozone, the debates, the European elections, how the end of the coalition pans out, and how public opinion evolves as the election approaches that it is impossible to make an informed prediction without. With some honorable exceptions, I suspect in many cases people’s predictions this early say a lot more about their own personal preferences or what political axes they have to grind against their party leaderships than what is likely to happen at the next election.


313 Responses to “Well, SOMEBODY has to win”

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  1. Excellent piece as always AW. Certainly food for thought after a very pleasant day out……………..not actually raining today!

  2. I agree that the Lib Dems are in a very tough situation, but as I have often said, all they need to do to get into the mid to high teens is to recover their don’t knows plus some Greens and Tory defectors. If they manage to get some Labour defectors back – which they probably will among people in areas where there is a sitting Lib Dem MP and the only realistic alternative is a Tory – then they could find themselves keeping the bulk of their MPs.

    Labour may be a shoo-in, but that does not necessarily mean the Lib Dems will not retain a substantial number of MPs and live – under a new leader – to fight another day.

  3. I believe that at least some of the incumbent advantage comes from choosing, & knowing ahead of your opponents, when the election will be.

    Gordon Brown didn’t have this advantage because everybody pretty much knew it’d be May 2010 because of the economic circumstances.

    And David Cameron won’t have this timing/ knowledge advantage because of the fixed term parliament.

    So that’s something else to consider vis-à-vis incumbency.

  4. Amazing work AW, the wash has only just raised this subject on the last thread and in a half hour you have written the definitive answer, either you are an office whizz kid or have clairvoyant powers

  5. Anthony

    A very interesting thread, thank you.

    A lot of these questions could be easier to answer if the sub-samples within polls were stratified by type of parliamentary seats – e.g. controlling for the right proportion of the sample in safe Con seats, Lab seats, Con-Lab marginals, LD-Con marginals, LD-Lab marginals. Also, under FPTP the tactical choices facing the elector are I think a very important determinant of voting behaviour, arguably more so than many of the demographic and social characteristics that are weighted within standard polls. So I suspect that alternative weightings of this sort might both contribute to improved polling accuracy, and also allow more conclusions to be drawn (subject to aggregating successive polls to get sub-samples of sufficient size to be meaningful).. Have YouGov considered applying some alternative weightings of this nature to their polls, and comparing the results with your standard weightings? (I’m assuming that you have some method of allocating members of your panel to the correct type of parliamentary constituency, which is obviously a pre-requisite. Postcodes perhaps?).

    The only similar(ish) polls that come to mind are those exclusively of marginal constituencies by Lord Ashcroft, split by Con-Lab and Con-LD marginals. But I’m pretty sure that they didn’t support the notion that Labour was failing to make ground in its key marginal constituencies, or that in general the Conservatives were outperforming what could be expected under UNS.

  6. Whoa, I should have got a packed lunch plus tea..

  7. A very fine article

  8. Great analysis.

  9. Excellent piece Anthony – a pint mugs worth.

    The PMs lead over EM worries me little as other than GB and JM (I think) at the end the incumbent always has the advantage and there is no point thinking about it, other than how it might be narrowed, as EM is now unassailable through to the GE.

    As ToH likes to remind us the Economic competence and trust question is more significant.
    Has anyone being able to measure how much the Cons are trusted more by those that do?

    My sense (no evidence hence my question) is that the Cons advantage has declined on this in that those preferring DC/GO over EM/EB are doing so with less certainty.

    If you like they think DC/GO are less crap that the Lab team, on preference questions a rating of 6-5 is the same as 8-5.

  10. If its economic competence and trust that decides elections, how will DC/GO do in that respect:

    a) if the UK loses its AAA rating that GO laid such store by and

    b) after all the cuts have hit this year ?

    I would expect to see Labours lead increasing as this year progresses as more people are either directly affected by the cuts (benefit claimant for example) or that the services provided by their councils (library and bus services for example) are cut.

  11. Incumbency is a disadvantage in an anti-incumbent election cycle. As Labour found out in 2010.

    Polling and economic indicators all suggest another anti-incumbent election cycle.

  12. Superb piece Anthony!

    I would have to agree with so much of it because in the last parliament I felt these points very strongly in the face of so many around me, and on the net, absolutely assured the Conservatives were going to win a large majority.

  13. @AW

    EPIC!

    :-)

  14. @ Phil Haines

    “A lot of these questions could be easier to answer if the sub-samples within polls were stratified by type of parliamentary seats – e.g. controlling for the right proportion of the sample in safe Con seats, Lab seats, Con-Lab marginals, LD-Con marginals, LD-Lab marginals. Also, under FPTP the tactical choices facing the elector are I think a very important determinant of voting behaviour, arguably more so than many of the demographic and social characteristics that are weighted within standard polls. So I suspect that alternative weightings of this sort might both contribute to improved polling accuracy, and also allow more conclusions to be drawn (subject to aggregating successive polls to get sub-samples of sufficient size to be meaningful).. Have YouGov considered applying some alternative weightings of this nature to their polls, and comparing the results with your standard weightings? (I’m assuming that you have some method of allocating members of your panel to the correct type of parliamentary constituency, which is obviously a pre-requisite. Postcodes perhaps?).”

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    Come the night of the GE the TV companies will probably call the seat count correctly (to within 5) as soon as the clock strikes 10 as they have done in the past 2 elections. The reason they are so accurate is they have done a precise exit poll from all the relevant constituencies.

    It is immensely frustrating that the polling companies don’t try to do something similar throughout the parliament because it may well be that VI percentages (and even up and down movements) don’t actually tell us anything thats very much worth knowing.

    For example take the LDs. If they have lost the 10-12 percentage points they has in 2010 evenly across the board it will be bad for them. If they have lost it unevenly in places where it matters to them it will be catastrophic for them. However if they have lost it unevenly in places where it does not matter for them then it might not be anywhere near as bad as it seems.

    Incidentally it would be the reversal of what might have been seen in 2010 where a soaring VI could not bring them many additional seats. Indeed with proper constituency polling “Cleggmania” could have been totally ignored.

  15. more @ Phil

    “Also, under FPTP the tactical choices facing the elector are I think a very important determinant of voting behaviour, arguably more so than many of the demographic and social characteristics that are weighted within standard polls.”

    Sorry I wanted to pull this out again because I think this in particular relates to AW comments in the intro:

    “We already know that the 2010 Lib Dem voters who are least likely to have stuck with the party are those who actually identified most with the Labour party, and who were presumably voting Lib Dem for tactical or protest reasons. Now, I am sure when push comes to shove some of those will end up holding their noses and voting tactically for the Lib Dems anyway – but some won’t, and if Labour identifiers are less likely to tactically vote Liberal Democrat at the next election than they were at the last election the Liberal Democrats will be losing votes where they need them the most and Labour will be gaining votes in seats where those votes are of no use to them… the effect would be to reduce the anti-Conservative skew in the system and deliver a Conservative victory on a smaller lead. We cannot tell if this will happen, it is practically impossible to predict tactical voting decisions in advance when people themselves probably won’t make sure decisions until very close to the election.”

    I think this is extremely unlikely. It was the basis of Peter Kelner’s argument as well. However it flies in the face of Phil’s point (and one I heavily subscribe to) about what determines voter intention in a FPTP system.

    Its basically assuming that the relevant voters will vote in a manner that produces a result entirely to the opposite of what they want to see happen. And I just dont the electorate is that foolish, and indeed in past elections have seen to much evidence where in fact the converse has been true.

  16. A fair article as always and nothing in the content that I disagree with other than marginally in the final paragraph where there are ‘big unanswered questions about the economy’. There are certainly unanswered questions about the economy in 2 years but I think this only comes down to small growth/small positives rather than massive turnaround.

    I think it is already possible to work out balance of probabilities and that those balance of probabilities do not favour the Tories. Yes it is possible to work out a genuine scenario where the Tories win and it is possible- but just more likely not to be!

  17. Goodness what a thorough post!

    Overall.. it looks like we might or might not have another coalition after the next GE.

    So the LibDems… possibly or possibly not reduced to a rump… WILL possibly or perhaps not… still be in power.

    But with whom?

  18. Perhaps someone can help me here re: Lib Dems. They never get a fair share of MPs due to our FPTP system, and they have different spreads with Lab and Con. Last time even though they did well in vote count, they lost seats. So Lib Dem outcomes in terms of MPs is not easy to predict.

    I would put it that they can afford to lose a lot of votes, and yet could still gain seats at the expense of the Tories due to our slanted system. Can anyone advise?

    Finally while I of course want a thumping outright Lab majority – how can anyone predict anything with 2.5 years to go. The economy could turn around by 2014, with falls in unemployment, and increasing real take-home pay. In which case Osborne will get the credit (even if it is all down to the Eurozone booming, and Obama’s tax hike for wealthy Americans).

    Whilst I enjoyed the analysis – the GE is a long way off and anything could happen. After all no-one predicted the Banking Crisis of 2009

  19. But the odds favour Labour.

    To be the largest party at the next GE, currently William Hill have Labour as 4/9 favourites (implied probability approx 70%) and Tory at 13/8 against (implied probability 38%). Lib Dems are 125/1 (effectively no chance at all).

    As at today’s date, Labour is approximately twice as likely as the Tories to win the next election.

  20. @Eric Goodyer

    I’ve said this before here, but an economic turn around in 2014 is too late. It won’t bring sufficient improvements to standards of living, which are currently decreasing for the middle-class, by May of 2015.

    “The Economy” is abstract, personal hardships are not. Those are what make up people’s minds, and “Economic Recovery” does not lead to immediate improvements in individual circumstances. For instance, reduced unemployment has failed to influence popular opinion. This is in great part because the measure isn’t reflecting a huge scope of under-employment that is just as toxic.

    The current narrative is “We gave the conservatives a chance, look what they’ve done with it” and it is at the moment the overwhelming narrative that will carry through till 2015.

    The economic turn around needs to be this quarter. It does not appear to be happening. And consumer confidence is still very low.

  21. I also note that the OBR’s current predictions, on which GO’s pretty gloomy accounts and budget have been based and on which austerity was extended beyond this parliament… Assume an economic turn around in 2014. So the OBR 2014 turn around prediction, which many assume is hugely optimistic, is in fact the status quo and does not improve the outlook at all.

  22. Brilliant piece. Any party strategist not reading this should be sacked immediately.

  23. Fantastic piece of analysis there. I am interested to know what would happen if Scotland votes “Yes” for independence. if memory serves this would remove 60 seats from Parliament of which 59 are not Conservative. That would make things very interesting.

  24. Excellent article.

    How will the state of the economy affect the election in 2015?

    Nate Silver and many others have persuasively argued that per capita GDP growth before an election is a strong predictor of electoral outcomes in the US. Does a similar relationship hold in the UK?

    Since May 2010 the economic performance of the UK has been dismal:

    1) Annual real GDP growth has averaged 0.47%.
    2) Real weekly earnings have on average fallen by 1.4% a year.
    3) Seasonally adjusted ILO unemployment is unchanged at 8.0%.

    Most models suggest that GDP growth close to the election matters far more than growth early in an administrations term. However, currently the OBR forecasts between 2012 and 2015 are almost as dismal as the economic indicators above:

    1) annual real GDP growth of 1.4% a year,
    2) real weekly earnings to rise by 0.5% a year,
    3) ILO unemployment to remain unchanged at 8.0%.

    The OBR forecasts are likely to be wrong, but how wrong do they have to be for a Nate Silver style economic-electoral model to predict a Conservative majority?

  25. @ Andrew Myers

    I am interested to know what would happen if Scotland votes “Yes” for independence.
    —————-
    Scotland isn’t voting for immediate independence. The vote, if it is a ‘yes’, is to give the Scottish Parliament approval to negotiate terms of separation with the UK. Unless the separation deal was done in a ridiculously short time, voters in Scotland will have a vote in the 2015 GE.

  26. Enjoyed the magnum opus AW, thank you, but I dare to suggest you are suffering from that you accuse the partisans here, albeit subconsciously.

    The ‘I don’t know’ at the end is self evidently true but what a prediction amounts to, is one that says, ‘I think this will happen (based on)’.

    At present, the only thing we know is the state of the polls, how long they have been at this state, and how the economy is doing.

    They all point to a big loss of LD seats (albeit many to Con, and a few to Labour), and a huge loss of Con seats to Labour.

    Only a mammoth ‘event’ or series of them can change this state. We all agree on that unless we are hopelessly biased.

  27. person whose name is just a full stop –

    I’m about to go and get myself some dinner, but have a google for David Sanders’s work around about the 1997, 2001, 2005 elections for a model predicting elections factoring in economic performance.

  28. Incredible , superb piece of work Anthony.

    Read every word, where my eyes have glazed over at a hundred posts of the “this cannot happen” kind.

    Thank you-This is why most of us come here I suspect-though the chat in between times can be diverting :-)

    Enjoy your dinner-have a glass or three.

  29. Excellent piece. You touch on what could be the decisive issue of the next GE, regionalisation of the vote, that is where by regardless of political views voters will not vote for a party which they feel is out of sympathy with their region. The Tories in the North, (Labour in the South) could very well go the same way as in Scotland, where their vote just disappears.

  30. Labour Target List for the next election which I’ve constructed over the last few days. Includes links to the full result and Wikipedia page:

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0At91c3wX1Wu5dDRiT1FSRTF2bjVYRThSTnRaNzFXMlE#gid=0

  31. Interesting to note that the following changes on a uniform swing produces a Labour overall majority of one seat:

    Lab +6%, LD -6%
    UKIP +3.5%, Con -3.5%

    The national shares would be Lab 35.7%, Con 33.5%, LD 17.6%, UKIP 6.7% The Labour lead would be 2.2%.

  32. AW
    Thanks for the tip about David Sanders’ work (even though it wasn’t directed at me) – his 1999 paper, about how actual macroeconomic indicators don’t affect party affiliation but *perceptions* of those indicators affecting it, has peaked my interest.
    Especially the part about how Labour and Conservative governments are affected by different indicators and inversely – with Con governments punished for poor unemployment record and Lab punished for poor inflation record.

    Of course, that’s 1999 research, I suppose I should find more recent for New Labour..

  33. @Anthony wells

    Any polls on how popular members of the Shadow Cabinet / prominent members of the Labour Party / trade unions are?

  34. Wolf – nope, apart from Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman not enough people will have heard of any of them to get any meaningful data from a nat rep sample.

  35. The best recent polling information we do have at the moment is Ashcroft’s poll of 20066 voters from a few weeks back. It doesn’t split the sample by type of constituency, but it does give a split by GO region (Table 80). So it’s possible to test Peter Kellner’s scenario, as summarised by AW, at a very broad regional level, namely that “Labour will be gaining votes in seats where those votes are of no use to them”.

    Comparing the change in % of current and 2010 voting intention as a proportion of the total sample in each region gives an average swing from Con to Lab of 6.43%. This figure would be higher if non-voters were excluded, but such regional totals aren’t available, so the 6.43% figure is the best available as a mean for reference purposes.

    Anyway, the same figure broken down by region shows swings from Con to Lab ranked in order of magnitude as follows:
    Scotland 1.83%
    Wales 3.76%
    E Midlands 5.58%
    South E 6.29%
    South W 6.78%
    Y&H 7.01%
    North W 7.15%
    East 7.21%
    London 7.27%
    W Midlands 8.05%
    NE 9.26%

    If someone would like to calculate the % of seats in each region that would fall to Labour on a number of different scenarios of Con to Lab swings (say 2%, 5% etc) and do a correlation with the above figures on each, we would get an idea whether there’s anything behind Peter Kellner’s argument at a regional level at least. i.e. An answer to the hypothesis – is Labour achieving the biggest swings in the regions with the lowest proportion of Con-Lab marginals? Anyone fancy a go? (I haven’t got the necessary databases readily to hand).

  36. is Labour achieving the biggest swings in the regions with the lowest proportion of Con-Lab marginals? Anyone fancy a go? (I haven’t got the necessary databases readily to hand).

    Well clearly not… to judge by your figures.

    London and the West Midlands have the highest swings (almost) and plenty of marginals.

    East and NW are important too.

  37. Working on what the electorate “say” as a collective I feel the main question they will be addressing in 2015 is on the lines of:

    “You weren’t sure about the Tories in 2010: now you’ve seen what they are like in Govt, with the Lib Dems acting as some sort of counter-balance, d’you fancy giving them a go all on their own now?”

    I think the collective answer will be:

    “No, we don’t.”

    I base that on recent voting history and common sense.

  38. AW’s piece was clearly brilliant. I would like to focus on one key element of it, the abiding perception that labour can’t be trusted with the economy.

    Two things seem to me to contribute to this: first, the very widespread assumption that Gordon Brown (and by extension his ally Balls) were almost single-handedly responsible for our economic mess and second the corresponding assumption that the key thing on which we need to focus is the deficit. The short-hand version of this is that we have maxed out on our credit card, there is no more money and it is all Gordon’s fault.

    I imagine there are very few people on this site who would not think that things are a lot more complicated than this. However, good or bad Gordon Brown may have been as chancellor he can hardly have single handedly engineered a crisis that has apparently engulfed the Western World. Similarly deficits, for all their admitted importance, can not be the be-all and end-all of economics. There are other economic indicators like employment, inflation, balance of payments, money supply, household debt, growth and so on and so on. If the deficit is of such over-riding importance how come that Spain whose fiscal performance prior to the crash was exemplary is currently in such trouble?

    So my puzzle is twofold. First, how is it that labour has allowed the debate to be cast so much in terms of the deficit (rather than say, investment or growth that might be more favourable to it)? And second why is it that it so rarely mounts any kind of defense of its past economic record? My suspicion is that it either thinks its critics are actually right or it believes that right or not the public has damned Gordon Brown and that they themselves must on not on any account appear to defend him.

  39. Charles:

    I think the latter is the more likely. Its all stupidly political in the worst sense. Perhaps if they don’t mention the crash they feel they are more entitled to blame Osborne for what’s happened since, rather than continuing world events.

  40. CHARLES

    In early 2011 EM said a number of things on Marr’s tv programme, about their financial record when in government:-

    “I think we should take our responsibility for not having regulated the banks sufficiently, along with governments around the world,”

    “I think the British economy was too exposed to the crash in financial services because we were so reliant on that as an industry to support us.”

    “We should have acknowledged earlier, after the financial crisis happened, that eventually there would have to be cuts under Labour,”

    “Our plans involved cuts and we should have acknowledged that. The problem we faced was that we sometimes looked like we were pretending there weren’t going to be cuts under Labour, when there were.”

    “”Clearly, we should not have said there would be no boom and bust. That was clearly a mistake.”

    So….once you have made these admissions….that UK’s apparently never ending growth was in fact a “boom” of the kind that you had claimed to eradicate ; that it was over-reliant on one sector-financial services; that banking regulation failed to correct the credit / asset value bubble in that sector ; and that you pretended to the public that the subsequent catastrophic collapse of tax revenue would not require spending cuts……..it seems difficult to envisage a defence of any other part of that economic record which might sound credible.

    Perhaps this is why EM has not offered one-he cannot both apologise for it’s failure & claim it’s success.

  41. CHARLES

    There are plenty of excellent online resources on the background to the financial crisis in Spain-including a Wikipedia on the subject.

  42. @Colin

    Of those five points, the only ones that matter are the first two – the remaining three are issues of presentation that had no bearing on actual economic outcomes.

    Miliband cannot offer a defence of the previous government’s record on those first two points, but the fact is that neither can the then Conservative opposition. Cameron and Osborne were essentially advocating a similar course of action and at times pushing the government to go further in terms of deregulation. And did the then opposition really warn about the UK’s overreliance on the financial sector and advocate radical measures to curb reliance on the City and rebalance the UK economy? I think not.

  43. I just cannot see the Tories winning a 2015 GE, unless there has been a massive turnaround in the economy. The amount of borrowing required is much more than hoped and austerity measures keep on being advanced further into the future. The chances are that in May 2015, the UK economy will still be pretty stagnant, with an overall debt of £1.5 trillion. If the financial troubles in the Eurozone get worse and UK trade is affected as a result, then we could see further periods of recession.

    The other problem for the Tories, is that they don’t currently have the trust of most of the UK, outside of the south of England. Surely they can’t win a majority, unless they win more seats in the north of England.

  44. @Charles

    I am similarly puzzled. After 1992 I thought that Labour had learnt the lesson that damaging economic myths need to be confronted rather than avoided, but I’m beginning to think that that lesson has been forgotten.

  45. AW.

    A thought.

    You comment on the fact that Thatcher bucked the trend by winning in 79 despite never gaining the 20+% lead in mid-term.

    So, a propos your later comments on the leader effect, it’s worth looking at what was happening back then.

    The Ipsos-Mori archive is very useful on that score.
    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2437/Political-Monitor-Satisfaction-Ratings-19771987.aspx?view=wide

    So, as late as Nov 78, Thatcher’s net approval trailed Callaghan’s in a similar way to how EM’s current;y trails DC’s.

    I’ve posted at length before on the similarities between the then-and-now personality contests (the weird looking/sounding 2nd/3rd/4th choice minor politician of a party floundering for a raison d’etre after a humbling defeat, against the man who just LOOKS the part – the confident, nay, arrogant bruiser with a condescendingly witty one-liner riposte when challenged).

    The thing was that in the late 70s, the confident one had back an economic horse that wasn’t going to put him in a position to offer the country some goodies before the Election. He had driven through a policy that he thought the outside world demanded, but which had stored up massive resentment for him and his party. It had signally failed to pull us out of the slough that he inherited.

    Meanwhile, the weird one had sniffed the political wind and positioned herself to reap the dividend when the incumbent’s policy collapsed.

    Plus ca change as they say in Maggie’s least favourite country.

  46. PS:

    There is another big point that those Ipsos-Mori archive polls show.

    Ignore the celebrity issue of the Leader for a mo: concentrate on the GOVERNMENT approval.

    The kind of Govt approval that has been pretty much hardwired in for the last couple of years (net minus 25-40%) are comparable with the Callaghan Govt’s figures a few months after the IMF humiliation, and a few weeks after the WoD nadir.

    So the Cameron Govt’s default standing for two years is on a par with those of the Callaghan Govt immediately after receiving two legendary haymakers.

    If this were a boxing match…

  47. Charles.

    The “maxed-out credit card” motif and the “deficit-denier” slur will be seen by future historians as examples of politicking-par excellence by Osborne, but as disastrous for us as a country.

    They won (sic) the Election for the Tories and they have clearly become the defining issues in public consciousness. But their very success has now hamstrung Osborne, and with him, the country as a whole. He is now being told by everyone left of the IEA to ease up on the deficit and run a stimulate growth.

    But he can’t do it. He’d be destroyed if he admitted that the “deficit denier” tag was just so much puff.

    And so, we as a country are facing a growth gap that will take 30 years to pull round. And Osborne as a Chancellor is facing oblivion anyway.

    Hubris and Nemesis. Shakepeare would have had a field day with this as material.

  48. Err…”run a bigger deficit to stimulate growth”.

  49. AW
    Alpha +. and I liked the prose.
    Re the policies don’t affect VI argument, has there ever been so great a call for opposition leadership to provide radical management of policy and to undertake institutional reform of economic, financial, social security and educational systems, of the kind EM has to embark on? And have there been in the past similar conditions for the process to affect perceptions of an opposition leader”s competence, personality and potential as PM?

  50. Actually, Mr Wells, there have been four elections since the war where the governing party gained vote share, not three.

    I think you’ve forgotten 1951, when Atlee lost the election, even though Labour gained 2.7%. The Tories gained more than Labour from the collapse of the Liberals (there was some LibCon collusion as well). The reverse could happen in 2015 but I’m not stocking up on champagne just yet.

    PS I’m glad to see that you think Simon Kellner’s new year message was tongue in cheek, that was my impression too. Michael White in the Guardian seems not to have spotted the joke.

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