The British Election Study held an event today showcasing some of their latest research. It seems to have provoked another round of the familiar discussion of “does the rise of UKIP hurt Labour or the Conservatives more?”. What should perhaps be a bit of an academic question has become a bit of contentious one – perhaps because of the implications for internal party politics (if the rise of UKIP hurts the Conservatives, is it something that is in Labour’s strategic interests to give tacit support to, or is it a threat to them, and what policy implications does that have?). I shall not seek to offer any such advice, but will have my go at the question.

On the face of it, it seems a reasonable assumption that UKIP are more a threat to the Conservatives. There are several very sensible and straightforward reasons for this. The policies that most define UKIP (hostility towards immigration and Britain’s membership of the European Union) are associated with the right of the Conservative party and might be expected to appeal to their voters. Their broader manifesto at the last general election could also be reasonably characterised as being right wing. Politically the party’s roots are clearly within the Conservative family, many of their high profile members are former Conservatives, two Conservative MPs have defected to them and others have been speculated about and more Conservative councillors have defected to them. Looking at it this way, it would make sense if the party was more of a threat to the Conservatives.

The “worse for the Tories” school of thought also relies strongly upon current voting intention data. People who currently tell pollsters that they would support UKIP are disproportionately made up of people who voted Conservative in 2010. It would be wrong to say that the majority of UKIP support comes from the Tories (it tends to be around 40-45%), but former Tories make up the largest single chunk of that support, the rest gathered from smaller groups of former Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or other supporters or previous non-voters. Finally it is worth considering the pattern of UKIP support at the European election and local election. There has been a concentration of UKIP support in seats along the Eastern coast of England – and below Teeside all but two of these seats (Grimsby and North Norfolk) are held by the Conservative party. With the exception of Great Grimsby, the seats discussed as potential UKIP gains tend to be Conservative ones.

Taken together this seems like a pretty convincing case for UKIP damaging the Conservatives more, but as ever things are a little bit more complicated than that. Here are the reasons why:

First, 2010 is not necessarily a good baseline for judging where support has come from or would otherwise be. Just because people voted Conservative in 2010 and UKIP now, it does not follow that if they weren’t voting UKIP they would jump back to the Tories. Perhaps as a rival opposition party UKIP are picking up anti-government feeling that would otherwise have naturally gone to Labour as the main opposition. Perhaps the people who voted Conservative in 2010 and UKIP now are not dyed in the wool Tories, but people who switched from Lab to Con in 2010 and might have otherwise switched back. The point is it is wrong to assume how people voted in 2010 is a good guide to how they have voted previous to that, or what their voting intention would otherwise be.

If we look at polls over the last couple of years it is clear that Labour have steadily lost support while UKIP have gained it. This is not necessarily evidence that people have switched from one to the other, but it is certainly a possibility. The British Election Study website has an article by Jon Mellon and Geoff Evans looking at the BES data on how current UKIP voters voted in 2010 and how they voted in 2005. Their findings show, as expected, that by far the biggest chunk of current UKIP supported voted Tory in 2010 (about 40%, compared to about 11% for Labour). In 2005 though the picture is somewhat more even – former Tories are still the biggest chunk (about a third), but there are about about twice as many UKIP supporters who voted Labour in 2005 than did in 2010 (about 20%). UKIP are taking former Labour voters, it’s just those voters have taken two elections to make the journey.

Second is the demographics of UKIP support. While UKIP have taken more support from the Conservatives, their support doesn’t resemble that of the Conservative party that much. UKIP support tends to be very white and is disproportionately from older generations (like that of the Conservative party), but unlike the Conservative party it is also strongly working class. This is the core message of Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin’s Revolt on the Right and one that is now quite widely recognised – UKIP voters are not retired Tory colonels, but are working class, older men. This is not incompatible with UKIP drawing their support from working-class Tories of course, but the potential risk to the Labour party should be clear: there is a significant body of working class Labour support that is hostile towards immigration and receptive to the sort of message that UKIP are offering, UKIP may not have taken full advantage of it yet, but they show every sign of attempting to do so in the future. There is already some sign of that shift – Peter Kellner’s analysis last month based on recent YouGov polls suggest that the balance of the voters UKIP are picking up is changing, and that amongst more recent UKIP recruits the proportion of former Labour voters is growing.

There lies the third issue – timing. A lot of the discussion around who UKIP hurts seems to fall back upon who people think they’ll hurt come next year’s election. Those arguing that there is a problem for Labour are often looking beyond that to what happens in the future, meaning they are often arguing past each other a little. Personally I would think in particular of what happens in a scenario when we have a Labour government and it runs into the unpopularity that inevitably arrives for all governments sooner or later. If UKIP have positioned themselves as an effective protest vehicle in Labour areas (particularly in Labour’s Northern heartlands where the Conservatives are already extinct and the Lib Dems may become so very soon), UKIP could do very well indeed. Part of the reason that UKIP’s current support comes largely from the Tories is probably because the Tories are the government and they are the party people are protesting against… it will not always be so.

Finally there is the issue of geography. Even if at a national level UKIP are picking up more 2010 Conservative voters than Labour voters this is not necessarily uniform across the country. UKIP may draw support from different groups in different areas, so while they may damage Conservative hopes in some parts of the country, elsewhere there is the potential for them to hurt Labour. Marcus Roberts, Rob Ford and Ian Warren wrote a paper for the Fabians earlier this year, based on Mosiac groups and identifying seats in both groups – areas where UKIP is helping and hurting Labour. There is an opportunity cost here too – the list of seats that UKIP could potentially do well in or win may be dominated by seats that are currently held by the Conservative party, but seats like Thurrock, South Thanet, Great Yarmouth and Waveney were all held by Labour until 2010. By definition, if they are won by UKIP it means they are not being regained by Labour.

In an attempt to tie things up, it is clear that UKIP are currently taking more 2010 support from the Conservatives than Labour, and in that sense they are hurting the Tories more. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are hurting just the Conservatives. While it is a good thing for Labour when the Tories lose a vote… it is an opportunity lost if that vote goes to a party other than Labour, especially when it is a voter who might have considered Labour earlier this Parliament or might have voted Labour prior to the 2010 election. There’s also a longer term view – who UKIP are able to appeal to now, with a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in power, is not necessarily a good guide to who they might be able to draw support from in a different political landscape.

Monday is the busiest day each week for polling results, though today we have just the three regulars – YouGov’s daily poll, Populus’s twice weekly poll and Ashcroft’s weekly poll. Topline figures are:

Populus – CON 33%, LAB 36%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15%, GRN 4% (tabs)
Ashcroft – CON 30%, LAB 31%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 19%, GRN 5% (tabs)
YouGov/Sun – CON 34%, LAB 33%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%

There are some methodological differences between the pollsters meaning there are some consistent “house effects” (Populus, for example, tend to consistently show higher shares for Labour and Conservative than Lord Ashcroft’s polls do), but all three are showing figures pretty much in line with their own recent polling: Ashcroft an extremely narrow Labour lead, Populus a Labour lead of a few points, YouGov pretty much neck-and-neck.


This week’s YouGov/Sunday Times poll is now up here. Topline figures are CON 32%, LAB 32%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 17%, GRN 7%. With Labour and the Conservatives still neck-and-neck this is very much in line with the YouGov polling before the Autumn Statement. Note the level of Green support though, YouGov and Lord Ashcroft have both shown the occassional one-off poll with the Greens ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the past, but YouGov have now produced three polls in a row with the Greens in fourth place ahead of the Lib Dems.

The rest of the YouGov poll had some questions on school nativity plays, free schools (still unpopular) and childbirth which I don’t plan on writing about today, and a few questions on the Autumn statement and stamp duty. Cameron & Osborne have a solid lead on the deficit – 41% trust them compared to 22% who trust Miliband & Balls. However, asked what the government’s policy should be on the deficit people’s views are significantly out of line with the Conservatives’. Only 20% think cutting the deficit mainly through spending cuts should be the priority, 19% think it should be cut mainly through tax increases, 36% think the government should not prioritise the deficit at all and should instead spend more or tax less to try and encourage growth. A reminder, perhaps, that people’s perceptions of who they trust on the economy or the deficit is not necessarily based on what their policies are.

By 77% to 8% people think that George Osborne’s changes to stamp duty are a good idea, and 73% think it is a fair way to increase the tax paid by the better off. Asked the same questions about Labour’s proposed mansion tax by 63% to 23% people think it is a good idea, and by 61% to 25% people think it is a fair way of increasing taxes for the better off. Asked to pick between the two, the stamp duty changes are marginally preferred – 45% think it is a better way of increasing taxes on people with expensive homes, 33% prefer the idea of the mansion tax (as you’d expect, this is largely a partisan affair – Tory voters prefer the stamp duty changes, Labour voters the mansion tax. I suspect had the Conservatives announced a mansion tax and Labour promised the changes to stamp duty the answers would be the other way around).

Opinium also had their fortnightly poll in the Observer, which had topline figures of CON 29%(-1), LAB 34%(+1), LDEM 6%(-1), UKIP 19%(nc), GRN 6%(+2) (tabs here) – there is no significant changes from a fortnight ago. There was also a new Populus poll yesterday which showed a two point Labour lead, wholly inline with the three point average Labour lead the company showed in November. With three companies now having conducted polls since the Autumn Statement there is no obvious short term impact on voting intention… which is very much as we’d would expect!

A couple of interesting YouGov findings in yesterday’s Sun and this morning’s Times. Both had questions about perceptions of the state of the economy, and both showed a stark decline since earlier in the year. Regular readers will remember that there had been a pattern of the public still being pessimistic about their personal finances, but becoming more optimistic about the state of the economy as a whole. That appears to have changed.

In the YouGov Sun poll poll yesterday 25% of people expected the economy to get better in the year ahead, down from 39% in March. 32% expected it to get worse, up from 23% (tabs here.)

A similar poll for the Times RedBox done a day later found the proportion of people thinking the economy was either on the way to recovery or showing signs of recovery was down to 40% from 50% in August, and the percentage of people thinking the economy was getting worse was up from 13% to 22% (tabs here.)

Both questions were run prior to the government’s Autumn Statement, and while I doubt many people actually watch it the media coverage of the economy over the last few days may yet make a difference – either positive or negative. Beyond that, as with most political events, I wouldn’t expect the Autumn Statement to make much difference.

We have our regular glut of Monday polls today, with new figures from YouGov, Populus, Ashcroft and ComRes. Topline figures are:

Populus – CON 32%, LAB 35%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 14%, GRN 5% (tabs)
Ashcroft – CON 30%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6% (tabs)
YouGov/Sun – CON 32%, LAB 32%, LD 8%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%
ComRes/Indy – CON 28%, LAB 31%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 18%, GRN 7% (tabs)

A week ago we had a clutch of polls showing an increased Labour lead following Rochester and Strood. Populus had a couple of polls with 5 point leads, as did Lord Ashcroft, YouGov’s poll on the same day produced a four point Labour lead. This week they’ve all gone back to more typical numbers – it was either a short term effect, or just pure co-incidence. We will never know.

Note that there is a change in ComRes’s methodology. As with their online and constituency polling, they have introducing UKIP into the main voting intention prompt. UKIP are down one point since the previous ComRes poll so this does not appear to have had any radical effect.