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”

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  1. The Populus figures seem more in line with recent voting than YouGov. I have probably missed it, but what is the thinking on why Populus generally shows lower leads?

  2. Origimbo,
    Yes, what one would consider relevant statistics is probably a tough question. Personally I would use age profile, ethnicity and median income as a starter for 10, but plenty of options to pick from to find such a representative constituency.

    Indeed, a representative constituency up here (North West) could be something supposedly safe like Denton. I’m guessing there will something of a correlation with marginals, but it won’t be perfect.

  3. Rosieanddaisie

    “Re John Curtice – in the only, brief interview in which I heard him banging on about Labour and the fact they should have won by historical bye-election precedent [despite the fact that even ole Daisie could have told him that – historically – UKIP weren’t around then] – said “in truth” 73 times.
    Yet he was talking bol*ocks.”

    That of course is just your opinion. Mark Ferguson on Labour List (not a well known Tory site) disagrees with you and agrees with Professor Curtice.

  4. @Valerie
    Any case so was Dave’s Grand Pater, so there!

  5. If I could magically force a by election to satisfy my own interest, it would probably be Reading East at a point during the University term. The seat isn’t hugely representative of the country as a whole, but it is the sort of seat the Conservatives probably need to hold in order to remain the largest party, and which Labour ought to be winning if the Lib Dem collapse narrative is correct.

  6. My by-election of choice would be Loughborough.

  7. Giving me flashbacks to Reading West 2010 now. Bad, bad memories.
    We’ve had elections where we have barely done the minimum and won, and others we threw the kitchen sink and got spanked. That was the latter.

    A terrible candidate didn’t help.

  8. @ NewForestRadical,

    I have probably missed it, but what is the thinking on why Populus generally shows lower leads?

    The 2010 election result, according to the weighing in today’s Populus:

    Con: 37.8%
    Lab: 26.9%
    LD: 25.6%

    (And that’s rather a good weighing for them- they only inflated the Tory lead by 3.5% this time.)

    In polls like Monday’s where their weighing produces a reasonable past recall distribution, their results are in line with YouGov’s.

  9. I tried to respond to a populous poll today. It had voter ID interspersed with other questions. After 45 minutes, when I was still only about 60% through, I had to go out so gave up. (And I am normally quick at this kind of thing). Maybe that has something to do with the responses they get. You need stamina and time. And you can’t do them on a smartphone.

    Re:Newark. I think what it shows is the importance of turnout on UKIP success. This has obvious implications for election strategy in 2015. The Tories threw everything at this election, but they are unlikely to have the manpower to fight every seat in a general. Labour, likewise, concentrates on key seats which don’t include ‘safe’ seats. Mainy of those ‘safe’ Labour and Tory seats are safe against each other, but might not be be nearly as safe against UKIP.

  10. TOH

    Hmm a bit of selective quoting there and taken out of context

    The article itself is much more nuanced

    Essentially saying, as we all know, that 2015 is not a 1997 and no-one has ever suggested it will be.

  11. BCrombie

    Of course, I was just pointing out to R&D that not all Labour supporters agree with his view, which is perfectly clear from the article.

  12. Ferguson is concerned in general (specifically, by the local election results), but not about Newark.

  13. Sieger
    I suppose the three ways are possible candidates for bellwether, rather than straightforward marginals. In three ways, you have the have-nots, the have-a-littles and the haves. Yes, the celtic fringes are an irrelevance to this approach, as are the ethnically skewed.

  14. TOH

    Someone who supports a political party has a different view from someone else who supports the same party shock!

    I am not sure all Tory supporters agree with the views set out by other Tory members – in fact not every member of the Cabinet seems to agree with other members…..

    There is a certain journalist who pretends to be a member of the Labour Party but seems to be to the right of the Great Khan! Also, there are plenty of rent-a-quote Blairites who will be only too keen to rubbish Miliband

    At the end of the day though this navel gazing by parties and their memberships is of no great import. It is the voter that matters and, in that respect, the members of this site are as important as all the wonks in the individual parties.

    I kept trying to point out on LDV that the members belief in Clegg was all very touching but they seems to have forgotten the people who voted for them


    The trouble with your last post is that Mark Ferguson is not alone. There are a good number of Labour and other left of center commentators who are not happy with the way things are going, if you care to search for them. However if you wish to be complacent about Labour’s current performance then it’s not for me to persuade you otherwise.

  16. @TOH

    There are always a good number of Labour and other left of centre commentators who are not happy with the way things are going. I wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise…

  17. toh

    “Of course, I was just pointing out to R&D that not all Labour supporters agree with his view, which is perfectly clear from the article.”

    Ta for that Howard.

    [Not that I remember claiming otherwise and anyway it was just a small jest about Curtice’s constant use of the redundant “in truth”, as though he was trying to convince us he was telling porkies for a laugh.]]

    However, I shall in future always add:

    “The above views are those simply of the author and his pups and – to be fair – they don’t really give a toss.”


    The above views are those simply of the author and his pups and – to be fair – they don’t really give a toss.

  18. The problem with extrapolating from this or any other election in this Parliament is that we don’t really know whether the electorate behave the same way they did in the 1980s. The lack of Tory -> Lab switching and the emergence of Ukip make the overall picture very confusing, and there has only been one Parliament that led up to a change of government from Tory to Labour in the past thirty-five years. 1997 was obviously an exceptional case, so we wouldn’t expect results in line with those from 1992-1997, and that leaves us without any meaningful basis for comparison at all.

    It’s clear that Labour are not being a very effective opposition (in the sense of uniting opposition to the Government behind them; they’ve been fairly successful at shifting government policy). What neither we nor Curtice can know at this point is what this signifies for the general election.

  19. missis minty

    “What neither we nor Curtice can know at this point is what this signifies for the general election.”

    In truth, Mr Curtice DOES know.

  20. Spearmint We’ve had lots of examples of oppositions failing to win elections – Foot, Kinnock x 2, Hague, Howard. In each case they won a few council seats did OK here and there but never looked like storming through. Kinnock got close, closer in my mind than Milliband is now.

    To me this pattern is being repeated. The UKIP rise is much smaller than the LibDems (under various names) in the 1980s, I believe just as permenant but less significant. We’ll see.

  21. @Chatterclass: I agree on “the importance of turnout on UKIP success” and in the past I’ve spent some effort to show that high UKIP %s in low turnout elections (especially very low council elections) did in fact fit with poll VIs around 12% if the UKIP vote is roughly constant and UKIP get no more actual votes in a general election, even if all their voters turned out, while the big parties have a reservoir only tapped on the big occasions.
    The two 50+% turnout by-elections don’t fit this. 27% of a 52% turnout translates to 22%+ in a 21st century average GE turnout of 62%. No poll is predicting that at the moment, I think, although the figures have gone up quite a bit on the usual UKIP 10 – 12% some months ago – but there were one or two Survation 22%s this time last year after the County Council elections.
    Back in 2012 UKIP VI was usually polled in single figures, while in 2011 around 10% was quite common. so ideas that UKIP has peaked may be a bit premature.

  22. @chatterclass
    I tend to agree with your later point “Labour and Tory seats are safe against each other, but might not be be nearly as safe against UKIP.”
    I’m of the view that UKIP may be beaten off in their chief and obvious target seats, but could well win a few in the next circle out, where that is not expected. But they will do well to get double figures.
    UKIP with a dozen seats and half a dozen women MPs, but Farage not in the HoC is IMHO not that unlikely. That would be interesting. Some of their women would have BBC interviewers for breakfast.

  23. @ Jaime

    When I look at vote share (both in the last couple of elections and the polled voting intention) I start think we may be heading for a situation most comparable to the 1920s. In some ways it would be best for the country if the electorate told the members of our political parties to all stand in the middle and pick teams again.

    Actually, something I’ve noticed in various places is individuals saying things like “The country won’t stand for another coalition, they want clear leadership.” Does anyone know of any evidence that this actually affects voting intention?

  24. @Dave

    I think your analysis makes a lot of sense, but one thing I’d point out is that Newark, like many tory seats, tends to have a highish turnout. 2010 turnout in Newark was 71.4%, and 25.9×52.8/71.4 is 19.2%. Since Newark was a bit more purple than GB as a whole in 2010, on a UNS this would equate to (off the top of my head) 18.5% nationally… Which is a bit on the high side compared to most polls, but not as far off. The rest of the difference is probably down to the recency of the Euros and UKIP probably tapping more of the pool of 2010 non-voters in a byelection than they would normally.

    So I think your logic is sound.

    On turnout more generally it matters what result is expected… 2001 was expected to be a nother landslide, and while 2005 was only a 66 seat Lab majority, the polls going in were pointing to more like 100… So I think 2010 is a better benchmark than a 21st century average.

  25. Normally meaning in a GE

  26. I thought the Ukip woman on the BBC on election night was very effective. Made a change from the usual old buffer.

  27. Ladbrokes’ view: “Newark – a bad night for UKIP”.

  28. origimbo

    Yes Indeed LOL.

    Ultimately our system favours two party politics as the LibDems are finding out. But we seem to have different two parties in different areas – Scotland, the cities and the South/countryside. Will UKIP become the challengers in these areas? (not scotland).

  29. So, we all agree that Newark pointed to – nothing.

  30. @TOH

    I wouldn’t take LabourList as an authoritative source. Not only is what gets posted there generally well to the Right of the views of the rank and file membership (as shown by the surveys they do) but they’ve been posting cringeworthy hand-wringing nonsense about Labour’s chances for the last couple of months now.

  31. Howard

    Pretty much…yeah

  32. I think Anthony is going to have to try harder if he ever wants to be a TV pundit. Can’t have David Dimbleby turning to him saying ‘Ok Anthony what does this tell us about the GE?’ Anthony: ‘Nothing’. That is not going to fill up the hours and hours of election night program.

  33. Been reading a bit about the Mongol invasions and conquests and it sort of puts UKIP’s mini conquest of England into perspective.

    Also at least two of the great wars within China had a higher casualty rate than WW2 although the actual figures are disputed.

    They Mongol’s even got as far as present day Kiev.

  34. @ howard

    “So, we all agree that Newark pointed to – nothing.”

    Not really. I think it shows that if you are a Tory it was great news and the Conservatives are now definitely on course to win the next GE.; if you are Labour it was great news and the Labour Party is now definitely on course to win the next GE; if you are a Kipper, it was great news and UKIP are now definitely on course to win anything up to 20 seats at the next GE and make a breakthrough; if you are Green it was great news and the Greens are now definitely on course to win more seats than the LibDems at the next GE; if you are a LibDem…Oh dear….

    Oh, ok, Howard, perhaps you’re right!

  35. @numbercruncher
    Yes, I didn’t use the actual Newark %s, which brings the GE figure down a bit as you say. I did this because the Newark 2010 turnout of 71.5 was 6% higher than the national average (65.1% in 2010) and I was aiming at results generally, so used an average turnout. I wasn’t trying to predict Newark 2015.
    Newark’s 2001 and 2005 turnouts were 63.5 and 63.2%, compared to national averages of 59.4 and 61.4, not all that high. 2010 might be a better benchmark than the 21st century average 62%, but I think the 2010 average 65% better than the Newark 71.5%. In any case, the differences in my figures due to using different average turnouts are about the same as the errors due to sampling in polls.
    What I would really like to see is a prediction of the 2015 GE turnout, but I’m not hazarding a guess at that. The 2014 EU turnout (34.2%) was much the same as 2009 (34.7%) despite predictions that it would be higher because of the interest, or lower because of voters being disillusioned with Europe, and people quoting the 43% 2009 average for Europe as a whole as the base, as though it applied to UK.
    The irony is that UKIP claim to be attracting voters who have not voted for 20 years, which would push turnout up, but UKIP does better in elections with low turnout. UKIP known to be targeting a seat might well push turnout up further by dragging out some anti-UKIP voters. The 52% turnouts at the two by-elections they have contested were high for by-elections.
    But it is a long time to May 2015, and much may happen in the meantime.

  36. nice one Couper

  37. @ Allan Christie Very true.
    Your link says “The Mongols invaded and destroyed Volga Bulgaria and Kievan Rus’, before invading Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, and others. ”
    “The Mongols brought terror to Europe on a scale not seen again until the twentieth century.”

  38. “They Mongol’s even got as far as present day Kiev.”

    Allan, its THEM Mongols or YON Mongols.

    Them is better as the Ms meet in a very satisfying manner.

    [please note: all the above IMO only and I don’t really care SFO.]

  39. Bit late responding to comments on limits of UKIP vote share, but further to Norbold’s reference to Tendring (48+% in Euros), there were actually about 20 or so more council areas (not all directly equating to GE constituencies, but often roughly the same size) where they topped 40%. Mostly in Norfolk and Essex, but a few elsewhere like Cambs.

  40. Sorry, that was 20 or so council areas in the East Anglia region alone. No doubt UKIP racked up 40% in various other parts of the country as well.

  41. There is one interesting aspect of all these elections which is especially noticeable with Newark. It seems that shy Tories are still out there but there is no such thing as a shy UKIP supporter.

  42. @RMJ1,

    I have a suspicion that “Shy Tories” were by and large the sort of people that were embarrassed to be associated with the sort of people that have now left the Conservative Party for UKIP….

  43. Good Evening all, after a chess triumph in 75 moves.

    I think it will be like 1950 or 1964.
    Tiny Lab majority.

  44. Trade figures out today for April – and once again it’s not great, with falling exports and a widening deficit.

    A spokesperson for the manufacturers organisation the EEF said “While we’ve seen some welcome signs of a pick-up in export orders coming through from business surveys, it’s getting more important to see these materialising.”

    Translated, this means ‘all those highly positive PMI surveys aren’t being replicated in real export figures’. Oops.

  45. Chrislane1945

    “I think it will be like 1950 or 1964.”

    So where will the UK be fighting – Korea or Arabia?

  46. I suppose the significance of this election will be found in how many people are talking abou Newark on Monday (perhaps tomorrow even). My guess is … no I’ll leave it to you.

  47. @ Spearmint

    ‘In polls like Monday’s where their weighing produces a reasonable past recall distribution, their results are in line with YouGov’s.’

    Thanks, that’s helpful!

  48. @Howard

    “So, we all agree that Newark pointed to – nothing.”

    Indeed, and it would appear that the news media have taken the same view. Admittedly, most stories would have been overshadowed by the D Day 70th anniversary commemorations today, but the Newark by-election rated about fifth or sixth item on the evening news bulletins and, even then, got pretty cursory treatment. Potentially, if UKIP had stormed the citadel, it would have been a big political story, but as it turned out it was an uneventful by-election of almost zero significance. Tory hold in their 44th safest seat with halved majority and 9% drop in vote share. They averted disaster and UKIP disappointed a shade. Lib Dems bombed and Labour were squeezed in a seat they have no chance of winning in a General Election.

    A fairly boring no score draw with the limited significance, if any, confined to what didn’t happen. It told us virtually nothing about next year’s general election, although I don’t doubt that the result has bolstered Tory morale.

    I usually enjoy the rough and tumble of by-elections and their capacity to rock the political boat but, in box office terms, Newark was an absolute stinker.

  49. Interestingly there are some reports that Jean-Claude Juncker is to drop his candidacy for the EU commission presidency, clearing the way for a compromise candidate to emerge. That can count as a success for Cameron who seems to have led a group of leaders that have persuaded Merkel that Juncker isn’t sufficiently reforming.

  50. I don’t think Newark has no significance. The UKIP phenomenon & the LD vote share changes are significant in magnitude.

    It’s just that we don’t know what the significance for 2015 will be.

    As for testing Newark’s significance by media coverage. On today & ensuing days-of all days-this is a measure which cannot be used.
    The media’s interest is where it should be-on events of massive significance to us all.

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