Newark by-election

Yesterday was the Newark by-election, a relatively comfortable hold for the Conservatives over UKIP in second place. When the by-election was first announced there was an obvious risk for the Tories – it was taking place at a time when UKIP would be basking in the glory of a successful European election, there was always that chance that they could have pulled off a surprise victory. In the event it never happened.

I expect to see lots of comment today about what Newark tells us about the state of public opinion. I’ll make my usual post by-election comment that it doesn’t tell us much at all. By-elections are extremely strange beasts that bear very little resemblence to politics as usual. They take place in but one constituency (which may be extremely unrepresentative of the country as a whole), they have no direct bearing upon who runs the country, only on who the local MP is (voters in Newark knew that whoever won, the next morning there would still be a coalition government under David Cameron) and they experience an intensity of campaigning unlike any other contest. Essentally, if voters at a by-election perform pretty much in line with the national polls it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, if they behave in a different way then it’s likely because of the extremely unusual nature of by-election contests.

It doesn’t mean that by-elections don’t have an important effect on politics – they do. If UKIP had won or been a closer second it would have continued the “UKIP earthquake” narrative. As it is I think it might start playing into a “UKIP faltering” sort of narrative. That wouldn’t really be fair – it was, after all, a pretty safe Conservative seat and UKIP increased their vote by 22% – but politics is not always fair.

I’ve also seem some comment along the lines of why Labour weren’t in contention, and whether it was a bad night for them. Realistically by-elections do tend to end up becoming a two-horse race – people rapidly identify who the challenger party is and it normally becomes a fight between them and the incumbent; Labour were just a victim of that. Of course, in a different situation Labour could have been the challenger party – Labour would have needed a swing of 16% or so to win Newark, the sort of swing that the Conservatives got in Norwich North and Crewe & Nantwich. The fact is though that we knew anyway that Labour weren’t in that sort of position – they aren’t an opposition that’s tearing away into the sunset, they are an opposition holding onto a relatively modest poll lead. In the present political context, we shouldn’t expect them to be competitive in a seat like Newark.

Finally a brief word about the polling. Survation released a second by-election poll yesterday evening (conducted before the by-election, but released after polls closed), which was almost identical to Lord Ashcoft’s a few days earlier. Both polls had the Conservatives on 42%, both had UKIP on 27% and both were relatively close to the actual result of CON 45%, UKIP 26%. Worth noting in particular is that both polls got UKIP right this time, when previous by-election polling has tended to underestimate their support.


340 Responses to “Newark by-election”

1 2 3 7
  1. Congratulations to the pollsters.

  2. @ AW

    ‘Worth noting in particular is that both polls got UKIP right this time, when previous by-election polling has tended to underestimate their support.’

    Worth noting too that both underestimated the level of Tory support which has been a consistent theme of recent polling.

  3. Good summary from our host – can he have a word with Mr Curtice who seems to have got a bit over-excited.

  4. Thanks for the voice of sanity Mr Wells! The ‘disaster for labour’ narrative is being trumpeted for all its worth by the government and the media seem to be going along with it.

    I wonder weather this by-election might give the tories a false sense of security – as eastliegh did for the lib dems. However – this may help them by steadying their nerves in the run up to 2015.

    I am surprised in UKIPs choice of candidate – a proper bufton tufton buffoon guaranteed to alienate large swathes of voters – especially women. This contrasts sharply with Eastliegh where their candiadate was very effective and convincing.

    What does this say about UKIPs party managment? I thought they wanted to get away from the golfclub/retired tory major image and go more ‘peoples party’? I can imagine many trad working class voters running a mile from the likes of Roger Helmer.

  5. @ AW

    There is a great difference between your summary of the Newark election and John Curtice’s. His main theme was clear: “bad night for Labour, not on course to win GE” etc.
    Admittedly he is a academic psephologist while you are a professional pollster.

    PS. Interesting to see that the majority of young people neither know or have ever sung the National Anthem.
    No doubt Gove will respond by making daily renditions of it compulsory in schools while May, not to be outdone, will require those seeking citizenship to rattle it off by heart.

  6. Taking on board everything you say AW, I personally still believe that Labour had a very poor night. We know that Newark has become a reliable Tory bet since Labour lost it back in the day. But 11 months away from a GE, when there is a “massive cost of living crisis”, a half baked recovery that only helps those already well off, ect ect, does Labour’s performance look anywhere near good enough ? Furthermore, still substantial evidence that UKIP is hurting both of the big boys, not just us Tories.

  7. May I make the point on this board once again, Prof John Curtice, is no closet Tory. If he says the Labour party has done badly, he must believe it. There is no history of ardent Conservatism in his previous uttering’ s.

    Regarding youngsters singing the National Anthem every morning, what a BLOODY GOOD idea.

  8. The Tories won. The garrison of the Newark fortress was heavily reinforced to keep out a new attacking army, and I suspect significant numbers of its old opponents took refuge inside.
    UKIP gained 26% of a 51% turnout like 27% of 52% at Eastleigh. That shows they are able to retain their vote share of turnouts nearer to those expected in a general election. (Their Newark vote transferred unchanged into a 62% average GE turnout would be nearly 20%)
    I’d say that at Newark Labour lost least, but as they didn’t come near to winning in 2010 it hardly mattered. The Tories lost more, but as they started from a high point and put in a huge effort, again it didn’t matter. UKIP achieved a great deal, but not enough to win a safe Tory seat. That may well matter a lot in 2015.

  9. @roland haines –

    god no – tis a terrible dirge.
    As well a being a no-no for republicans and scots/welsh/cornish/irish nationalists.

  10. National anthem. Boring. Only those who are unsure of nationalities- such as Americans and tin-pot dictatorships – need to make such a fuss every day.

  11. I know you can’t really draw conclusions from by-lections going into the GE but I think what this election shows is that Labour will be squeezed into 3rd spot in Tory held seats.

    Also in Tory/Labour marginal seats I think UKIP will be heavily squeezed into 3rd because ex blue nose kippers I presume would rather see a Tory elected than end up with a Labour MP.

    However… “The result was another disaster for Nick Clegg, as the Lib Dem candidate finished a distant sixth with just 1,004 votes (2.59%)”.

    Oh dear what another fine mess the Libs have got themselves into.

  12. Jack

    National anthem. Boring. Only those who are unsure of nationalities- such as Americans and tin-pot dictatorships – need to make such a fuss every day
    ______

    100% with you on that.

  13. @ Roland haines
    “There is no history of ardent Conservatism in his previous uttering’ s.”

    Uttering is the criminal use of forged/false documents. I’m surprised ole Curtice is still at large.
    Did you mean utterance. I guess the apostrophe was just a freebie.

  14. @Roland Haines
    Which verses? 1, 3 and 4 are fine today. I’m not sure about 2, but 6 would ruffle a few feathers at the moment!
    http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/questions/anthem.html

  15. I sing the anthem that represents where I identify most with – Yorkshire and the song ‘On Ilkley Moor Bah Tat’.

    After that the labels such as English, British or European mean nothing to me.

    I am a citizen of Yorkshire first and then the world.

  16. The National Anthem Poll reminded me, tangentially, of a conversation I had with some friends’ 8-year-old boy [white, non-religious family] whom I was fetching from school.

    He asked me what the Bible was. I said it’s a religious book, etc. “Oh” he said “You mean like the Koran.”

  17. “‘On Ilkley Moor Bah Tat’.
    _____

    Looks like something a Clydebank Ned would shout to a Glasgow junkie.

  18. @Allan

    I can translate if you like :)

  19. Its quite likely that labour voters voted conservative to keep UKIP out. From comentarys i have heard there was a lot of churning in this contest

  20. The tune to the national anthem is pleasant enough but the way it’s sung turns it into a dull dirge. At least Heil Dir Im Siegerkranz had a bit of energy behind it.

    Why we haven’t gone for regional anthems and changed England’s to Jerusalem yet I have no idea. Australia also neglects the blindingly obvious choice by not having Waltzing Matilda (yes I know they voted for Advance Australia Fair!)

  21. CATMAJEFF

    No no it’s okay I’m quite content with Ace of Spades by Motorhead.

  22. Anthony;
    Many thanks for your analysis.

    More generally, I think we are in a tight two horse race

  23. @Anthony W

    A fair assessment and why I think Newark was a bit of a no score draw in by-election terms. The Tories had most to lose and the fact that they beat off the UKIP challenge and contained their vote share drop to 9% is a reasonable performance for them, especially bearing in mind where they currently are in the national opinion polls and how they fared on May 22nd. It was a decent night’s work for them with disaster avoided, but there’s nothing here to suggest that they’re on course to win the next General Election. This, after all, was their 44th safest seat.

    For UKIP, some disappointment that they didn’t get closer, but a 28% vote share and 10,000 votes in a Tory stronghold is not to be belittled and they’ll be plenty of encouragement for them in much more winnable battles to come.

    For Labour it looks like their vote was squeezed and I wonder if the earlier Survation poll showing a much closer race caused their vote to break two ways; go UKIP to beat the Tory, go Tory to keep UKIP out. As Anthony says, by-elections nearly always become two horse races. Accordingly, I wouldn’t read too much into what this means for Labour’s prospects in May 2015. They’re certainly not running away with it, but they’re still in with a very reasonable shout. No death certificates to be signed for anyone here, although the Lib Dems are croaking worryingly! :-)

  24. Mike Smithson has posted an interesting thing.

    Breakdown of Ukip voters from aggregate 2013-2014 Ipsos Mori polls:

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BpbtC8SCUAAaQs_.png

  25. CROSSBAT

    “For Labour it looks like their vote was squeezed and I wonder if the earlier Survation poll showing a much closer race caused their vote to break two ways; go UKIP to beat the Tory, go Tory to keep UKIP out”
    _____

    You have a point although Labour and the Lib’s are saying their vote went to the Tories to keep UKIP out.
    ………..
    “Ed Miliband’s Labour Party candidate came in third place with 6,852 votes (17.68%). The result was another disaster for Nick Clegg, as the Lib Dem candidate finished a distant sixth with just 1,004 votes (2.59%). Politicians from both parties suggested a significant number of their traditional supporters actually chose to tactically vote Tory in order to keep Ukip out.”

  26. @AW
    “In the present political context, we shouldn’t expect them to be competitive in a seat like Newark.”

    True, but go back two years to a political context similar to the time of the Corby by-election, and Labour would at least have been seen as the main contenders. So this confirms the change in the political context we’ve seen in 2014.

    On the other hand, I did expect UKIP to be competitive in a post-Euro honeymoon period and they fell well short of my expectations. So I think you may be right about the potential for a “UKIP faltering” narrative.

  27. Politicians from both parties suggested a significant number of their traditional supporters actually chose to tactically vote Tory in order to keep Ukip out.
    ————-
    As opposed to the frankly ridiculous rumour that Labour was suggesting their supporters voted UKIP to keep the Tories out.

    And, they also make it clear that some of their supporters chose to vote tactically; there is no likelihood whatsoever that the Parties made any recommendations other than vote for their own candidate.

  28. @Crossbat11

    Re UKIP Eastleigh was 27.8%

    Newark was 25.9%

  29. I suspect the success of the the pollsters with regard to UKIP and (slight) underestimation of the Conservatives may both be due to the comparatively high turnout. The extensive Conservative organisation presumably got out a few voters who would have been reluctant in polling. There may have been a slight ‘Lab to Con to keep out UKIP’ movement, especially among women voters[1].

    Labour probably did OK-ish to hold on to much of their vote. By-elections in safe Conservative seats are very rare[2] and in the past only vulnerable to Lib Dem attacks, so there is nothing to compare with. Not that that will stop the ultra-predictable attacks, but whatever.

    UKIP’s problem appears to be what we have seen before – they find it very easy to get into the upper 20s in elections, almost impossible to get over 30%.

    [1] Gary Gibbons says on his blog:
    Several Tories who worked on the party’s phone bank canvassing voters in Newark told me they came across the same phenomenon: voters who said they weren’t massive fans of the Conservatives but would vote Tory in the by-election to keep Ukip out.
    He also reports that way in which Conservative MPs were forced to campaign in Newark caused a lot of resentment – village gossip, but the fact that it was felt necessary is an indication of the lack of numbers on the ground in normal times.

    [2]In contrast to ones in safe Labour seats, often due to death in service. A small indication of the inequalities in health in the UK.

  30. shevii (fpt)

    … Plus I should add that in Eastleigh it felt like it was the other way around and Labour voters were voting UKIP to give the Tories a bloody nose.

    Except they didn’t. In Ashcroft’s post-election poll:

    http://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Eastleigh-callback-poll-tables.pdf#page=8

    from an admittedly tiny sample, more 2010 Labour votes went to Lib Dem (presumably to keep UKIP/Tories out) than to UKIP. Admittedly they were outnumbered by Lib Dems moving to Labour, but voters don’t have to be consistent. More of UKIP’s support came from 2010 Lib Dems than elsewhere.

  31. New Populus VI: Lab 35 (-2); Cons 34 (+2); LD 9 (-1); UKIP 14 (+1); Oth 9 (+1) Tables http://popu.lu/s_vi140606

  32. The only party to have any satisfaction from the result are the Conservatives, whom one should have the magnaminity to congratulate. The pollsters did OK too.

    UKIP were lucky to scrape into 5 figures.

    Labour cannot claim to have been overwhelmed by a protest vote as Labour and UKIP together got less than the Conservatives.

    The LIbDem result, coming behind both the Grrens and an Independent, was a disaster for them, but the Greens, who came nowhere near saving their deposit, cannot take much comfort from it.

    By-elections are peculiar things, as Anthony notes, but this result shows all the parties other than the Tories in disarray. Unless something happens meantime, the Tories ae on course for an easy win at the next General Election. In fact Cameron must be sorry he introduced fixed-term parliaments as if I were him I would want a September 2014 election, as I would be far from surprised if there is an economic crisis this Autumn.

  33. @Roger Mexico
    “UKIP’s problem appears to be what we have seen before – they find it very easy to get into the upper 20s in elections, almost impossible to get over 30%.”
    I think you will find that in the EU elections UKIP got over 30% in six out of nine English regions, with high twenties everywhere else except London and Scotland.

  34. @AW

    A good result for the Pollsters but AW a little generous in the analysis IMHO. Labour and Libs must also now be worried about the strength of UKIP in their vote core. I think that is the take away from this by-election.

  35. I feel fairly confident that UKIP have now seen the zenith of their support for this parliament. Barring some absurd Euro-Fiasco, it will be a steady decline for the next 11 months.

    All that matters is whether that is a decline to 14%, or a decline to 4%, and how the lost support breaks for other parties (or to non-voting).

    The Euros was never likely to be a springboard, more of a high diving platform. The only way is down.

  36. @ Rogermexico

    I take that back then!

    Looking forward to some non YouGov polls- I guess there will be an Observer one this weekend. It feels like Yougov has noticed an increased Lab lead but need to see if other polling companies show the same thing- maybe iCM and Mori next week as well?

  37. Greens getting more votes than LibDem?
    what does that say in a by-election?

  38. Neil A – spot on.

    I still reckon 5-6% but know I am in a minority.

    Re Populus – back in normal moe for 4 YG lead and 2% for them.

    I expect someone with access will advise if 2010 voters back to usual imbalance or more accurate like the last poll.

  39. The commentariat appear to have fallen into the same trap for the Tories performance at Newark as they did with the LibDems at Eastleigh.

    Take a safe seat. Pour every national resource you have into the seat. Every activist. Every MP. The PM 4 times and Clegg similar. Win the seat. Proclaim that this typifies your ability to win seats at the General Election.

    Indeed it does. What Newark shows us is that providing they have a massive majority in each seat and can simultaneously pour every activist they have into every seat they want to win at the same time and have the party grandees visit every seat repeatedly and simultaneously, then they will be fine.

    Anyone got a spare tardis they can borrow?

  40. ‘I personally still believe’
    Isn’t the ‘personally’ redundant here?
    Either one still believes something or one doesn’t .

  41. “God Save the Queen”
    The Sex Pistols’ version is pretty good.
    I had to pause and think about the apostrophe there. No doubt I’ll be told if I’m wrong.

  42. What would really set the cat amongst the pigeons now would be if a by-election arose in one of the Labour seats that the Conservatives are targetting. Would Ashcroft’s recent poll suggesting that Labour are ahead in these seats still hold?

  43. True. We’ve not had a by-election in a marginal seat since Corby and that was before UKIP had really taken off in a big way.

    I would think Labour would win that, though. They’re not foolish enough to let a marginal slip out of their grasp just before a general election. They’d employ every resource possible to hold it.

  44. Francois Mitterand’s PM is not best pleased with Britain’s attitude towards Europe (specifically DC’s). http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/06/french-message-britain-get-out-european-union?CMP=fb_gu

  45. Isn’t Corby one of the seats that is won by whichever party goes on to win the election or have I just concocted that in my own mind ?

  46. Dave

    I think you will find that in the EU elections UKIP got over 30% in six out of nine English regions

    Well I probably should have put in the obvious proviso about Euro elections[1], though even there they don’t get much above 30%. 34% was their best region (predictably Eastern) and in non-Euro elections they do have problems getting much above 30%, even in local by-elections. It does happen but not often enough to make a big difference.

    UKIP’s problem isn’t just the fact that they seem to have a natural ceiling, it’s the evenness of their vote. Apart from Scotland (10%) and London (17%) their votes in the regions were all in the range 27-34%. Even if they were to repeat that level of support in other elections, they may get treated in the same way as the SDP – always coming second to Parties with a similar VI but more concentrated support.

    The UKIP leadership are clearly aware of this problem and talk of targeting, but even in the sort of seats that a win could be possible, the polls don’t show them much ahead. In likely UKIP targets in the first batch of Ashcroft marginals:

    http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2014/05/conservative-labour-battleground/

    we saw results such as:

    Thanet South: Con 29%, Lab 31%, UKIP 28%

    Great Yarmouth: Con 31%, Lab 33%, UKIP 30%

    Thurrock: Con 26%, Lab 37%, UKIP 31%

    Dudley North: Con 23%, Lab 40%, UKIP 29%

    (I haven’t used Ashcroft’s adjustment for DK/Refusers, as it may be unfair to UKIP).

    These are some of UKIP’s best dozen or so prospects and indeed where they are in contention, but they are stuck at around 30% and they’re not actually winning in any of them. And ostensible targeting may actually make them harder to win if Anyone But UKIP influences some voters.

    [1] It’s worth pointing out that, despite all the guff about the ‘Northern’ White Working Class flocking to UKIP, North East and North West were the two regions apart from London who were under 30% and Yorks and Humber the next lowest.

  47. Bramley –

    Corby has been a bellwether since 1983. Best current bellwether is Dartford, which has gone with the winner since 1964.

  48. @ Neil Fodor

    “Greens getting more votes than LibDem?
    what does that say in a by-election?”

    By my reckoning, that the majority of that particular electorate no longer sees the Liberal Democrats as a valid protest vote. There is a reason why they’re polling in single digits after all. But of course, Newark isn’t Eastleigh, and thus there is a question as to whether National Vote share is going to be all that relevant in determining the result in 2015.

  49. Thanks Anthony

  50. All that writing and yet no mention of the disastrous outcome for the Lib Dems. The worst outcome in a by election since 1945 !

    It might be true that “By-elections are extremely strange beasts that bear very little resemblance to politics as usual.” But I think the result for the Lib Dems does bear scrutiny.

    It was said that Nu Labour stole the Tories clothes, and as the Tories have moved the centre left UKIP has risen to fill the gap left in the centre right, but all this is at the expense of the Lib Dems who have had the ground beneath their feet stolen.

    In the longer term, if the Tories fail to move back to their traditional place then the Lib Dems are likely to be completely squeezed out, and the Tories will take their place as the third party.

    All subject to the gift of second sight being correct of course !

1 2 3 7