Local Elections Forecast May 2017

At Political Betting Harry Hayfield has produced a forecast for the County Council elections in May 2017, just six weeks away. I have long followed this blog, though I neither bet nor follow the politics of the blog propriotor Mike Smithson (Lib-Dem & Pro-Remain on Brexit). However, it is the very differences that provide an alternative perspective. Harry Hayfield’s basic assumptions County Council elections in England are:-

In the local by-elections, areas that voted REMAIN saw the following change:
Con -9%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +12%, UKIP -12%, Greens 0%, Ind -10%, Others +23%
Where as areas that voted to LEAVE saw the following change:
Con +4%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +7%, UKIP -9%, Greens +1%, Ind +4%, Others -3%

With any forecast there is a lot of work involved in converting these into seats. Any baseline, when compared to the actual results will help develop an understanding of both of National opinion in turbulent times and also how it impacts at the local politics. What I would note is that the Counties are mainly Conservative territory; has a large Independent / Other representation (though this has been declining for decades); and is predominantly Remain voting, but not extremely more than the UK average.

But that said Harry Hayfield’s forecasts seem to be at odds with the opinion polls. Taking the UK Polling Reports opinion poll figures for (a) 28/04/13 to 10/05/13 and (b) 05/02/17 to 19/02/17 (the latest available) the change in voting intention is about

Con +11%, Lab -13%, Lib Dem +0%, UKIP -2%, Greens +2%.

Since then the Conservatives and Lib Dems at improved slightly at the expense of UKIP and Labour. The latest YouGov figures, for 25-27 March,  are

Con 43%, Lab 25%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 10%

And the change on 2013 are about

Con +13%, Lab -14%, Lib Dem +1%, UKIP -4%

The actual share of the vote – skewed by being counties – was

Conservative 34.3%, Labour 21.1%, UKIP 19.9%, Lib Dem 13.8% and Green 3.5%

therefore – Other 7.4%

In terms of the County Councils, perhaps 85% were for Leave in the EU Referendum, on the basis that maybe three-quarters of Parliamentary Constituencies in in England and Wales voted for Leave, and most of the Remain vote was in the Metropolitan areas. So why should the Conservatives only improve by 4% in most of the Council areas on 2013 when they are 13% up in the opinion polls nationally?

Harry Hayfield’s assumptions diverge from the opinion polls from being based upon recent by-elections nationally. That is upon a maybe half a dozen by-elections a week, These one-off events usually have low turnouts, and are highly impacted by protest votes.  The biggest reason for protest votes at the present time is the Brexit issue. It will have an impact on the local elections, with the Remain protest vote being stronger than the Leave support vote. But this will be much less than in by-elections due to (a) higher turnout due to area-wide elections (b) higher turnout on average as the counties tend to have higher turnout than the Metropolitan areas (c) the protest vote is concentrated in the cities, especially London. The latter is evidenced by the two recent very large petitions to change the referendum rules after the EU referendum and to cancel the State Visit of President Trump.

That said, using by-election results is a as good as any considering the political landscape has changed dramatically in the past four years. By using clear assumptions on forecasts it is possible to understand where they go wrong. But that understanding will be only on the empirical differences between forecast and actual. What I will now do is to give a forecast based on reasons (maybe my unfounded opinions) with some notes on the parties. This might muddy the waters a bit, but here goes.

For UKIP 2013 elections were a “game-changer“, to use Nigel Farage’s term. UKIP then got nearly double the share in the County vote as in the National opinion polls. A party campaigning on a single national issue made huge gains on votes at local government level. The 20% of vote share was a precursor to the 26.6% in the European Parliament elections achieved in 2014.  This impact is now gone, and the grassroots support needed to field and promote thousands of candidates may have diminished due to internal strife. Local by-elections may not fully reflect this impact, as they can concentrate their much reduced resources. UKIP’s share may go below the National Opinion polls. On these grounds I will go for a -13% change on 2013, giving UKIP 7% of the vote.

The Liberal-Democrats, are usually the main opposition to the Conservatives in the Counties and also usually perform much better than in General Elections. In 2013 they were in Coalition with the Conservatives, which severely damaged their standing as a local opposition. The 13.8% of the vote was 3-4% ahead of the opinion polls. This margin might not be much more than in previous 20 years, but in those years the Lib-Dems were doing much better nationally. Any bounce I believe will be mostly due to being the respectable face of hard-line opposition to Brexit. This could be bet positive, but put some folks off voting for them on local issues. I would guess at an increase of 5% giving the Lib-Dems 19% of the vote.

The Labour Party cannot fall nearly as far in the English Counties, where support is much lower than the national average. At the end of April and beginning of May 2013 they were polling 38-39% nationally, but achieved 21.1% of the vote. Will they still fall? In 2013 they managed to overtake the Lib-Dems with 538 to 352 seats, as against 247 to 476 in 2009, so the 21.1% was actually an improvement. Nationally Labour are doing worse (or at least no better) than in 2009. What is more, they have lost a lot of their working class base, which would have formed some of the core support in the Counties. I would estimate a 5% fall.

The Independents were once a major contingent in local politics, but only achieved 7.4% of the vote in 2013. How will this go? I would hope for an increase as people vote again for local representatives based on local issues. With the decline of UKIP, and maybe the Lib-Dems tarnished in the eyes of some for going very anti-Brexit, I think they may gain ground to around 10%. The Greens maybe the same.

By difference, the Conservatives will have a 11% increase in the vote share to 45% of the vote share. This is fairly similar to the change in national opinion polls over the last four years (from 30 to 41%). Indeed, it might be a low estimate, as in 2013 the Coalition Government was suffering from normal mid-term blues. At present, the Government is in the unusual position of being significantly more popular than when elected.

So, in conclusion, Harry Hayfield’s estimate was as follows

In the local by-elections, areas that voted REMAIN saw the following change:
Con -9%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +12%, UKIP -12%, Greens 0%, Ind -10%, Others +23%
Where as areas that voted to LEAVE saw the following change:
Con +4%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +7%, UKIP -9%, Greens +1%, Ind +4%, Others -3%

The LEAVE areas are at least 5 times more than the REMAIN areas. My estimate, for all English areas with a complete council elections in 2013 & 2017 is as follows.

Con +10%, Lab -5%, Lib Dem +5%, UKIP -12%, Ind/others +2%.

It is the actual results that will matter, and possible lessons to be learnt during a time of massive change in British politics.

Kevin Marshall

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2 Comments

  1. Is the Rawlings and Thrasher English Elections Forecast a bit timid? | ManicBeancounter
  2. Implications of the Forecast Local Council Elections Results in England Wales and Scotland for GE 2017 | ManicBeancounter

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