Confirmation that Labour cannot win a General Election

My previous post looked at the implications of the May European Election Results for a future General Election. At Capx Matt Singh takes a similar approach in Does first past the post still favour Labour and the Tories? https://capx.co/does-first-past-the-post-still-favour-labour-and-the-tories/
The conclusions are slightly different to my own but it is worth comparing and contrasting Singh’s analysis and my own.

Matt Singh just looks at the May results, whereas I also look at the 2014 European Election results and the following General Elections in 2015 and 2017. This is my Figure 1

Fig 1 : Vote share of major parties in four recent UK elections

Matt Singh concentrates on the current polling data showing the four parties on roughly equal voter share. I agree with his statement

(O)n current vote shares, no party would be anywhere near an overall majority. If we put all four main parties on 21 per cent, the assumptions detailed above would put Labour on around 180 seats, the Brexit Party on around 160 seats, the Lib Dems on roughly 130, the Conservatives down to about 100 and the SNP in the 50s.

That is on equal vote shares the Labour Party would gain the most seats, with the Conservatives the least. Further, I agree that for the two major parties …..

…. dropping too far into the teens could see Labour or Tories being decimated, with seat numbers dropping into the double digits. Labour would have a degree of protection, because its enormous majorities in its safest seats would save it in many cases. But the Tories really would be staring into the abyss.

I also looked at the council area results by four or five regions of Great Britain. That is Northern England, Midlands/Wales, Southern England, London, and Scotland. The latter two I lumped together as they had stood as out as sharing opinions on Brexit different from the other regions.

Matt Singh used data from Professor Chris Hanretty, who has estimated the European election results by constituency from the results by council. The two key tables, (under the banner of Number Cruncher Politics) are as follows

Fig 2 : From the Capx.co article
Fig 3 : From the Capx.co article

These two charts show why the Tories are more vulnerable to a complete meltdown than Labour, as the latter have much stronger support in the ninth and tenth deciles. Singh does not draw the corollary conclusion. That is, based in even swings, to form a majority Government the Tories need to achieve a lower national vote share than Labour to achieve an overall Parliamentary majority. This is important. Hanretty’s charts are with 2019 UK vote shares of 9.1% for Conservative and 14.1% for Labour. To win a General election majority it is important to be ahead of the major opposition in the 5th and 6th deciles. In these areas, Labour were behind the Conservatives in the EU elections despite the 5 point lead overall. In addition, I attempted to go beyond the numbers to look at the impact of positions on Brexit. Both the Conservatives and Labour were punished in the Euro Elections for their vague positions on Brexit. The Conservatives for failing to exit the EU due to the failure to obtain anywhere near majority on the Withdrawl Agreement. Labour for being nominally pro-Brexit, but putting on onerous conditions that would see Britain end up remaining in the EU. Both parties lost out to those Parties with much more strident positions on Brexit. The Conservatives lost out mostly to the Brexit Party. Labour lost out to the Pro-Remain Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, along with the Plaid Cymru in Wales and the SNP in Scotland. The Conservatives lost out to Remain parties less than Labour lost out to the Brexit Party. In the last week, Boris Johnson – likely the next Prime Minister – has come out with a strong pro-Leave position that would grab votes from the Brexit Party in a General Election. Conversely, the Labour Party leadership is divided over whether to make Labour a Pro-Remain Party. If it did, Labour might gain some votes from a number of Remain parties but would lose votes to the Brexit Party, or the Conservatives. The Tories are thus in a much better position to achieve the 30% vote share / 10 point lead to win an election than Labour.

Kevin Marshall

How the Tories can win a General Election and why Labour cannot win

Summary 

In the May 2019 European Elections the Brexit Party were clear winners, with the Liberal Democrats a respectable second with near 20% of the vote. The two major parties were both punished by the voters – the Conservatives for failing to deliver Brexit and Labour for sitting on the fence. Analysis of the results by council area indicate

  • Labour Party support is more concentrated that the Conservative support and has huge divides in terms of support for Brexit.
  • Conservative support is more thinly spread and concides with both Brexit Party and Lib Dem areas.
  • Strong anti-Brexit vote split between Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, whilst pro-Brexit support concentrated in the Brexit Party.
  • Change UK and UKIP had low support and have faded since.

The data strongly suggests that the Conservative Party are the most vulnerable to complete annihilation as a major player, but are the one’s who will be the net gainers with a clear Brexit policy. A No-Deal Brexit platform could see the Tories win a landslide, even with little over a third of the popular vote. A clear Remain platform for Labour could improve their current poll ratings, but is both unlikely under the current policy and would be insufficient overtake a Tory Party with a clear Brexit Policy.

Introduction

The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland is anything but united. The country as a whole and Parliament is deeply divided over Brexit, with a majority unable to be reached for any outcome. Prime Minister Theresa May has resigned the leadership of the Conservative Party with a large field of candidates vying to replace her. 

The Prime Minster, and others, have tried to patch together a majority through some compromise formula. The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the European Union will does not satisfy either the majority who voted to Leave the European Union, nor those who want to cancel the Brexit process. The new Conservative Leader will have a form a majority around a position, with a large highly disatified minority. In my view that will only happen after another General Election where one of the two major parties establishes a clear Parliamentary majority either on their own or in coalition. From my analysis of the data – mostly from the EU Elections in May – the only stable Parliamentary outcome is for the Conservatives to win on a platform of a no-deal Brexit. Under the current circumstances, the Labour Party cannot come close to a majority, primarily due to a revived Liberal Democrats, but also from the Green Party and the nationalists in Scotland and Wales.

Four recent UK elections & Failing to Deliver Brexit

The current context should be understood in the light of four recent UK-wide elections. 

Fig 1 : Vote share of major parties in four recent UK elections

The European Election in 2014 resulted in the United Kindom Indpendance Party (UKIP) achieving 26.6% of the vote and almost a third of the 73 UK seats in the European Parliament. The Conservative Party under David Cameron won the General Election in the following year with a promise of a referendum. Compared with the European Election of the previous year, the Conservative vote share increased 13.7% and the UKIP vote share decreased 14.0%.

The resultant European Union Referendum Act 2015 was supported by all major parties with the exception of the SNP. In the subsequent referendum on 23rd June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union, despite the vast majority of politicians and the greater financial resources being devoted to remain. Early the following day Prime Minister David Cameron accepted the result and resigned. Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn called on the Government to trigger Article 50 immediately. A few days later, Theresa May launched her leadership campaign with a key statement on Brexit.

 Brexit means Brexit. And we’re going to make a success of it. There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and as Prime Minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union.

On 7th December 2016, the House of Commons vote on respecting the
outcome of the referendum is passed 448 votes to 75.

On 29th March 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May notifys the EU of the UK’s intention to leave. The time period is two years, implicitly making the withdrawal date 29th March 2019.

On 18th April 2017 the Prime Minister calls a snap General Election to
for 8th June, to capitalise on the Tories clear lead in the opinion polls. The outcome is the Tories lose their majority. Yet compared to the 2015 General Election, the Conservatives vote share increases 5.6% to 42.4% and the UKIP vote share is down 10.8% to just 1.8%.

A House of Commons Timeline extracted the commitments of the two major parties in their 2017 manifestos. The Conservative manifesto stated

As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the
single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special
partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.

The final agreement will be subject to a vote in both houses of parliament. To agree the terms of our future partnership alongside our withdrawal, reaching agreement on both within the two years allowed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, parliament will be able to pass legislation to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law it chooses, as will the devolved legislatures, where they have the
power to do so.

The Labour Party Party Manifesto stated

Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.
We will prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’ rights and environmental
standards, provide certainty to EU nationals and give a meaningful role
to Parliament throughout negotiations.
To scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh
negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.
A Labour government will immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens who have chosen to make their lives in EU countries.

Both parties have commitments to leave the EU, but have quite different intepretations. The Conservatives guaranteed to leave on 29th March 2019, whilst Labour makes leaving conditional on obtaining certain guarantees. Neither Party has changed these commitments. It can be argued that neither Party respects the perception of leaving as exiting the single market and other institutions, as projected by both the Leave campaign and the Government’s Pro-Remain booklet sent to every household as part of the referendum campaign. 

The EU withdrawal agreement does not contradict the Conservatives manifesto, but does contradict the perception of what leaving the EU means.

On 15th January 2019 the EU Withdrawal Agreement is defeated “by a majority of 230 (with 202 voting in favour of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and 432 against).” Despite this, the Government won a no confidence vote the next day by 325 to 302. In a second “meaningful vote” on 12th March, the Government loses by 149 votes.

On the 13th March, “Dame Caroline Spelman’s amendment (moved by Yvette Cooper) – ruling out a ‘no-deal Brexit’ at any time – is passed by 312 votes to 308.” On the same day a motion “to seek permission from the EU to delay Brexit beyond 29 March 2019” is passed by 413 votes to 202.

On 14th March “Dr Sarah Wollaston’s amendment – requesting an extension of Article 50 in order for a second referendum to take place – is rejected by 335 votes to 85.” This is delayed first to 12th April, then to 31st October. 

It is interesting to note that during March the Conservatives were mostly leading in the opinion polls, but after 29th March Labour were leading. In April, after the launch of the Brexit Party and the announcement of European Parlimentary elections, both parties lost support. 

In the European elections the Brexit Party was the clear winner. The Brexit Party and UKIP combined reached 33.7% of the vote (30.5% and 3.2%), up 31.9% on GE 2019, whilst the Tories had 8.8% of the vote, down 33.6%. The Liberal Democrats and the Green, with their clear policies to stop Brexit,improved by 12.2% and 11.0% to 19.6 and 12.6%, whilst the Labour Party’s vote share declined 26.3% to 13.7%. Whilst not all the vote movement from the Tories to no-deal Brexit parties, or from Labour to the stop Brexit parties, a massive poll published by Lord Ashcroft on 27th May confirms that this was the majority case. The Tories saw greater losses to the Brexit Party, whilst Labour saw losses to both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The poll also showed that the Labour Party of who retained more supporters from the General Election 2017.

The EU Election 2017 as a General Election opinion poll 

Although there are clear differences in voting patterns between the European Elections and the General Elections, it is clear that from the above analysis for either the Conservative or Labour Parties to stand a chance of getting a majority, they must regain voters lost to other parties in the European Elections. Some voters will move back anyway, and much higher turnout in General Elections will have a role to play. But opionion polls in the last two weeks show that we may have four UK-wide parties in play, with the Greens making up a significant fifth. Fig 2, extracted from Britain Elects, summarizes these polls.

Fig 2 : Westminster Opinion polls in the three weeks following the European Elections 2019. Source Britain Elects

Britain Elects also summarized the EU Election Results 2019 by council area, with the change on 2014. For Great Britain (i.e. the UK excluding Northern Ireland) I have summarized these results by the YouGov opinion poll regions. That is (with number of MEPs) England North (17), England South (16), Midlands + Wales (23), London (8) and Scotland (6). This is only indicative as council areas vary considerably in number of voters. In the EU Referendum of 2016, the electorates for the Isles of Scilly, Orkneys and Shetlands were respectively 1,800, 16,700 and 17,400. At the other end of the scale Leeds had 543,000 voters and Birmingham 707,000. Also I have only covered just over 90% of councils. Due to re-organisations in areas like Suffolk and Dorest comparisons between 2014 and 2019 are not available.

Independence Parties Vote increase from 2014 to 2019

If the May European Elections had been a General Election I estimate the Brexit Party would have won a parliamentary majority of around 170 seats with just under one third of the vote. Combined with the UKIP vote, the two Independance Parties achieved a considerably higher share of the vote than UKIP did on its own in 2014. This is common across virtually every council area, as shown in Fig 3

Fig 3 : UKIP vote share by council in European Elections 2014 compared to Brexit Party plus UKIP vote share in European Elections 2019. Black line denotes no change.

There are very few council areas where the Independence vote did not increase. The variation by YouGov region is noticeable.

Fig 4 : Regional split of UKIP vote share by council in European Elections 2014 compared to Brexit Party plus UKIP vote share in European Elections 2019. Black line denotes no change.

It is in the North of England, the Midlands and Wales where some of the largest increases in the Indpendence party votes have occured. In the South of England the increase is more moderate. In both London and Scotland support for Independance parties is generally less than in the rest of the UK, with the outliers being in outer London. In 2014 the call was for a Referendum on the European Union. In 2019 the failure to implement the result of that referendum resulted in an even greater vote for the Independence Parties. In the sample councils in 2014 the unweighted average for UKIP was 29% of the vote. In 2019 the Brexit Party had an unweighted average of 33.9%. The Lib-Dems on a “block Brexit” platform achieved a more substantial gain, from 7.2% in 2014 to 19.9% in 2019. The Conservatives lost ground, from 25.0% average vote share in 2014 to 9.0% in 2019. The Labour Party also lost ground from 22.9% to 12.6%. 

Countering the Lib-Dems and the Brexit Party in a GE2019

In the 2014 Euro Elections both Labour (under Ed Miliband) and the Conservatives (under David Cameron) lost votes to UKIP, but both maybe gained votes from the Liberal Democrats. In 2019 the Conservatives and Labour Parties both lost more ground, this time to the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems, and to lesser parties like the Greens. In this section I look at the vote shares of the two major parties in 2014 Euro Elections with those of the Brexit Party in 2019.

Fig 5 : Labour and Conservative vote share by council in European Elections 2014 compared to Brexit Party vote share in European Elections 2019. Black line denotes equal share. To the lower left is where Brexit Party has larger share in 2019 than Labour or Conservative Parties in 2014.

In Figure 5 in the vast majority of councils the Brexit Party achieved a greater share of the vote in 2019 than either the Labour or Conservative Parties did in 2014. The scatter is somewhat different. The Labour party has a fair number of councils where their 2014 vote share far outstripped the Brexit Party’s 2019 vote share, but a far greater number of councils where they did badly in 2014 (i.e. much less than 20% vote share) and where the Brexit Party achieved over 30% vote share in 2019. For the Conservatives the biggest cluster is where they achieved greater than 20% vote share in 2014 and the Brexit Party achieved greater than 30% vote share in 2019. This indicates that the Conservatives have far more to gain from adopting the Brexit Party’s no deal Brexit position than Labour.  The regional split largely confirms this. 

Fig 6 : Regional split of Labour Party vote share by council in European Elections 2014 compared to Brexit Party vote share in European Elections 2019. Black line denotes equal share. To the lower left is where Brexit Party has larger share in 2019 than Labour Party in 2014.

Figure 6 looks at the regional fight between the Labour Party and the Brexity Party. Given that the current Labour leadership is dominated by London-based MPs (Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott) the perspective could be that there is little to be gained electorally from adopting a strong “Leave” position. Labour are strong where the hardline Brexiteers are weak. There are also councils in other parts of England (e.g. Liverpool, City of Manchester, Oxford, Bristol) where this pattern also applies. Conversely there are many councils in the Midlands and the South where the Labour Party has a very weak presence, but the Brexit Party gained over 30% of the vote in 2019. There are also quite a few councils where the Labour Party has considerable competition from the Brexit Party. This includes many marginal areas in the Midlands and North that Labour would need to win to form a Government. These include Barrow-in-Furness, Broxtowe, Bolsover, Dudley and Wrexham.

Fig 7 : Regional split of Conservative Party vote share by council in European Elections 2014 compared to Brexit Party vote share in European Elections 2019. Black line denotes equal share. To the lower left is where Brexit Party has larger share in 2019 than the Conservative Party in 2014.

Figure 7 shows a quite different position for the Conservative Party compared to Labour. They are strongest in the South and much of the Midlands. In these key areas the Tories have strong competition from the Brexit Party. 

Lib Dems and Brexit Party Head-to-Head 2019

In the Euro Elections the Liberal Democrats also made a strong showing, achieving second place behind the Brexit Party. Their “Stop Brexit” policy is the antithesis of the Brexit Party’s “No Deal Brexit” stance. There were other Parties with similar hardline positionsin the May elections. In Figure 1 the Green Party made a strong showing, as did the nationalist parties in Sotland and Wales. Change UK had a similar small share of the vote to UKIP. It is unlikely either will figure in a General Election.

The problem for both Labour and the Tories is that winning votes from either the Lib-Dems or the Brexit Party will mean losing votes to the other. Their attempts at straddling the polar opposites last month meant losing to both sides. In this context it is worth examining the vote shares of the Lib-Dems and the Brexit Party by council. 

Fig 8: Liberal Democrat and Brexit Party vote shares in European Elections 2019 for Great Britain. The black line denotes equal share. London and Scotland combined.

Of the 365 councils covered, the Brexit Party had a greater share of the vote in 297. The regional split gives more information.

Fig 9: Regional split of Liberal Democrat and Brexit Party vote shares in European Elections 2019. The black line denotes an equal share. London and Scotland combined.

In Figure 9 I have combined London and Scotland as they show a similar picture that is quite different from the rest of Great Britain. The North of England has a less widespread Lib-Dem support than in the combined South East and South West Regions. In the central belt from Wales to East Anglia there is quite strong Lib Dem support in a minority of places. In a good proportion of that minority Brexit Party support is stronger. In London and Scotland it is the Lib-Dems that are stronger. Scotland has most of the instances where combined Lib Dem and Brexit Party Support was less than 40% due to the SNP being the leading party.

Lord Ashcroft Polls

Lord Ashcroft published a massive Euro-election post-vote poll on 27th May looking the shift in vote from the General Election 2017 and the Euro Elections. With respect to the loss of votes from the two major parties the article states

More than half (53%) of 2017 Conservative voters who took part in the European elections voted for the Brexit Party. Only just over one in five (21%) stayed with the Tories. Around one in eight (12%) switched to the Liberal Democrats. Labour voters from 2017 were more likely to stay with their party, but only a minority (38%) did so. More than one in five (22%) went to the Lib Dems, 17% switched to the Greens, and 13% went to the Brexit Party.

That is, for every one of the 2017 Conservative voters who voted Liberal Democrat last month, more than four voted for the Brexit Party. For the Labour it is the other way round. For every one of the 2017 Labour voters who voted for the Brexit Party, three voted for the either the Liberal Democrats or the Greens.

If this is cast into the above analysis, a no-deal Brexit strategy for the Tories will draw back votes from the Brexit Party, but not lose them a whole lot more votes to the Liberal Democrats. On the other hand for Labour, a clear Remain strategy to win back voter share is less pronounced, as in May they retained a larger share of the 2017 voters, and have a less one-sided loss parties with a clear Brexit standpoint. From today’s announcement, the adoption of a clear Pro-Remain strategy is not likely to happen whilst Jeremy Corbyn is the leader.

Conclusions

In the South of England, much of Central England and in parts of Northern England and Wales the Conservatives were the strongest party in 2017 and where the Brexit Party support is considerably stronger than the Liberal Democrats. A clear No-Deal Brexit policy as the way of respecting democracy would, therefore, win more votes than it lost. It would mean losses of a number of constituencies such as Winchester and Richmond-on-Thames. On the other hand, it could mean winning constituencies from the Labour Party, particularly where the Liberal Democrat and Green share increased on 2017. For the Conservatives, it means a will to win a majority in the knowledge that fair number of existing seats would be lost in the process.

The Labour Party is unlikely to clarify its position on Brexit, despite many in the party such as Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson wanting this change. The reason is the danger of losing seats through betraying the Leave voters in the North, Midlands and Wales, with substantial numbers of Labour MPs being against the move. Yet sitting on the fence will lose votes to four parties, or for traditional Labour voters to stay at home. The Conservatives will the biggest winners here.

Kevin Marshall

Revoke Article 50 Petition being dominated by London Labour

There is currently an on-line petition

Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU

The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people’. We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU. A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now.

As of noon today it has reached 4.18 million signatures, up from 3 million yesterday morning and just a million two days ago. Guido Fawkes noted that there are a number of foreign signatures, some likely to be fake. A massive EU Second Referendum petition in July 2016 had large numbers of fake signatures created by bots, including large numbers from the Vatican and Antarctica, with at least 77,000 being removed. This might be happening with the current petition. This could be by bots, or by individuals making multiple signatures through using multiple email addresses. I have downloaded the data at around 8am this morning, when there were 3.78 listed signatures, of which 3.64 million were against the 650 UK constituencies.

Analysis By Constituency

I ran the 8am signatures by constituency against data from the General Election 2017, including for the sitting MP, the Political Party in 2017, the electorate and the valid votes cast. I have also used estimated Leave Vote figures by constituency from Politics Professor Chris Hanretty. Although they are estimates, I do believe it is very unlikely that they are more than a few percentage out. An estimated extreme Remain constituency would have been unlikely to have voted Leave. The Constituencies with the top 20 signatures are as follows.

Note that most of consituencies are Labour-held and in London. The constituencies of three key members of the Shadow Cabinet are included. Islington South and Finsbury (Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP) is number 21 on the list.

Chuka Umunna MP has left the Labour Party. But alongside Caroline Lucas MP and Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, is a non-Labour MP with an extreme pro-Remain stance. All constituencies voted very strongly to Remain in the EU.

I suspect that there is some multiple voting going on. In every single constituency the signatures on an online petition are over a quarter of the number of valid votes in the 2017 General Election. Cities of London & Westminster Constituency exceeds 40%. This is the prime target if you want to send a scam message to the occupants of the Palace of Westminster.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the bottom 20 constituencies for signatures.

None of the constituencies are in London or South of England. Note that 15 of the constituencies have Labour MPs and are located in the traditional Labour heartlands of the North of England, the Midlands and Wales. Na h-Eileanan an Iar is an exception in that it voted remain. But it is also by far the smallest constituency, so is an anomaly. On average there was a 67% Leave vote.

The dominance of the top 20 metropolitan constituencies had 358,560 signatures at 8am, or 10% of the UK total, compared to 355,526 of the bottom 156 constituencies. Yet in terms of a voice these top 3% of constituencies get represented in the media far more than the bottom 24%. That is a major reason a majority voted to Leave the EU. In many areas people were sick of being controlled by outsiders who have different perspectives, and will not listen to them. The EU Referendum was a big up-yours to the London-based Metropolitans.

Finally, here is a little pivot table of the bottom 156 constituencies by Region and by Party of the MP.

The constituencies represented are just 24% of the total, but around half those in the forgotten regions of Wales, North East, West Midlands and Yorkshire & Humber.

Kevin Marshall

Leave EU Facebook Overspending and the Brexit Result

Last week an Independent article claimed

Brexit: Leave ‘very likely’ won EU referendum due to illegal overspending, says Oxford professor’s evidence to High Court

The article began

It is “very likely” that the UK voted for Brexit because of illegal overspending by the Vote Leave campaign, according to an Oxford professor’s evidence to the High Court.

Professor Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, at the university, said: “My professional opinion is that it is very likely that the excessive spending by Vote Leave altered the result of the referendum.
“A swing of just 634,751 people would have been enough to secure victory for Remain.
“Given the scale of the online advertising achieved with the excess spending, combined with conservative estimates on voter modelling, I estimate that Vote Leave converted the voting intentions of over 800,000 voters in the final days of the campaign as a result of the overspend.”

Is the estimate conservative? Anthony Masters, a Statistical Ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society, questions the statistics in the Spectator. The 800,000 was based upon 80 million Facebook users, 10% of whom clicked in on the advert. Of those clicking, 10% changed their minds.

Masters gave some amplification on in a follow-up blog post Did Vote Leave’s overspending cause their victory?
The reasons for doubting the “conservative” figures are multiple, including
– There were not 80 million voters on Facebook. Of the 46 million voters, at most only 25.6 million had Facebook accounts.
– Click through rate for ads is far less than 10%. In UK in 2016 it was estimated at 0.5%.
– Advertising is not the source of campaigning. It is not even viewed as the primary source, merely bolstering other parts of a campaign through awareness and presence.
– 10% of those reading the advert changing their minds is unlikely. Evidence is far less.
Anthony Masters concludes the Spectator piece by using Professor Howard’s own published criteria.

Prof Howard’s 2005 book, New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen, also argues that we should apply a different calculation to that submitted to the High Court. His book says to apply a one per cent click-through rate, where 10 per cent “believe” what they read; and of that 10 per cent act. This ‘belief’ stage appears to have been omitted in the High Court submission’s final calculation. Using these rates, this calculation turns 25.6 million people into 2,560 changed votes – hardly enough to have swung the referendum for Leave, given that their margin of victory was over a million votes. If we share a belief in accuracy, this erroneous claim should have limited reach.

There is further evidence that runs contrary to Prof Howard’s claims.

1. The Polls
To evaluate the statistical evidence for a conjecture – particularly for a contentious and opinionated issue like Brexit – I believe one needs to look at the wider context. If a Facebook campaign swung the Referendum campaign in the final few days from Remain to Leave, then there should be evidence of a swing in the polls. In the blog article Masters raised three graphs based on the polls that contradict this swing. It would appear that through the four weeks of the official campaign the Remain / Leave split was fairly consistent on a poll of polls basis. From analysis by pollster YouGov, the Leave share peaked on 13th June – ten days before the referendum. The third graphic, from a statistical analysis from the LSE, provides the clearest evidence.

The peak was just three days before the murder of MP Jo Cox by Tommy Mair. Jo Cox was a Remain campaigner, whilst it was reported that the attacker shouted slogans like “Britain First”. The shift in the polls could have been influenced by the glowing tributes to the murdered MP, alongside the speculation of the vile motives a clear Vote Leave supporter. That Jo Cox’s murder should have had no influence, especially when campaigning was suspended as a result of the murder, does not seem credible.

On Twitter, Anthony Masters also pointed to a question in Lord Ashcroft’s poll carried out on the day of the referendum – How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why to a graphic that looked at when people had decided which way to vote. At most 16% of leave voters made up their minds in the last few days, slightly less than the 18% who voted remain.

The same poll looked at the demographics.


This clearly shows the split by age group. The younger a voter the more likely they were to vote Remain. It is not a minor relationship. 73% of 18-24s voted for Remain, whilst 40% of the 65% voted. Similarly, the younger a person the greater the time spent on social media such as Facebook.

2. Voting by area
Another, aspect is to look at the geographical analysis. Using Chris Hanretty’s estimates of the EU referendum results by constituency, I concluded that the most pro-Remain areas were the centre of major cities and in the University Cities of Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol. This is where the most vocal people reside.

The most pro-Leave areas were in the minor towns such are Stoke and Boston. Greater Manchester provided a good snapshot of the National picture. Of the 22 constituencies is estimated that just 3 has a majority remain vote. The central to the City of Manchester. The constituencies on the periphery voted to Leave, the strongest being on the east of Manchester and a few miles from the city centre. Manchester Central contains many of the modern flats and converted warehouses of Manchester. Manchester Withington has a preponderance of media types working at Media City for the BBC and ITV, along with education sector professionals.

These are the people who are not just geographically marginalised, but often feel politically marginalised as well.

Concluding comments

Overall, Professor Howard’s claims of late Facebook posts swinging the Referendum result are not credible at all. They are about as crackpot (and contradict) as the claims of Russian influence on the Brexit result.
To really understand the issues one needs to look at the data from different perspectives and the wider context. But the more dogmatic Remainers appear to be using their power and influence – backed by scanty assertions -to thrust their dogmas onto everyone else. This is undermining academic credibility, and the democratic process. By using the courts to pursue their dogmas, it also threatens to pull the legal system into the fray, potentially undermining the respect for the rule of law for those on the periphery.

Kevin Marshall

Did Brexit Influence the General Election 2017 Result?

In the year following the EU Referendum, I wrote a number of posts utilizing Chris Hanretty’s estimates of the vote split by constituency for England and Wales. Hanretty estimates that 421 of the 573 constituencies in England and Wales voted to leave. These estimates were necessary as the vote was counted by different – and mostly larger – areas than the parliamentary constituencies.

Politically, my major conclusion was that it was the Labour Party who could potentially suffer more from Brexit. There are two major reasons for this situation.

First, is that the Labour constituencies had a far greater spread of views than the Conservative constituencies. This is in both the divergence between regions and the disproportionate numbers of constituencies that are were either extreme Remain or extreme Leave in the referendum. Figure 1 is for the result for constituencies with Conservative MPs in 2016, and Figure 2 for constituencies with Labour MPs.

Figure 1: Constituencies in England and Wales with Conservative MPs in 2016, by estimated Leave or Remain Band. 

Figure 2: Constituencies in England and Wales with Labour Party MPs in 2016, by estimated Leave or Remain Band. 

In particular, London, where much of the current Labour Leadership are based, has views on the EU diametrically opposed views to the regions where most of the traditional Labour vote resides. Further analysis, from July 2016, is here.

Second, is the profile of the Leave supports. Based on an extensive poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft on EU Referendum day, Leave support was especially strong on those retired on a State Pension, council and housing association tenants, those whose formal education did not progress beyond secondary school, and the C2DEs. That is, groups that traditionally disproportionately vote Labour. Further details, from May 2017, are here.

Yet, the results of the snap General Election in June 2017 suggest that it was the Conservatives that suffered from Brexit. Despite their share of the popular vote increasing by over 5%, to the highest share in 25 years, they had a net loss of 13 seats and lost their majority. Labour increased their share of the vote by 10%, but only had a net gain of 30 seats.

Do the positions on Brexit appear to have had an influence? The Conservatives were seeking a stronger mandate for the Brexit negotiations, whilst Labour strongly avoided taken a firm position one way or the other. Chris Hanretty has revised his estimates, with the number of Leave-majority constituencies in England and Wales reduced from 421 to 401. The general picture is unchanged from the previous analysis. I have taken these revised figures, put them into the eight bands used previously and compared to the full election results available from the House of Commons Library.

The main seat results are in Figure 3.

Main points from Figure 3 (for England and Wales) are

  • Conservatives had a net loss of 25 seats, 14 of which likely voted Remain in the EU Referendum and 11 likely voted Leave. Remain seats reduced by 18% and Leave seats by 4%.
  • All 6 gains from Labour were in strongly Remain constituencies. This includes Copeland, which was gained in a by-election in early 2017 and retained in the General Election.
  • Labour had a net gain of 24 seats, 13 of which likely voted Remain in the EU Referendum and 11 likely voted Leave. Remain seats increased by 16% and Leave seats by 7%.

Figure 4 is the average percentage change in the constituency vote from 2015 to 2017 for the Conservative Party.

Main point from Figure 4 for the Conservative Party is

  • The estimated Referendum vote is a strong predictor of change in Conservative Party vote share from 2015 to 2017 General Election.

Figure 5 is the average percentage change in the constituency vote from 2015 to 2017 for the Labour Party.

Main points from Figure 5 for the Labour Party are

  • Overall average constituency vote share increased by 10% on the 2015 General Election.
  • In the 6 seats lost to the Conservatives, Labour’s share of the vote increased.
  • In every area, Labour increased its share of the constituency vote with one exception. In the 6 seats that the Liberal Democrats gained from the Conservatives, the Labour share of the vote was on average unchanged. This suggests some tactical voting.
  • In Conservative “hold” seats Labour’s increase in vote share did not have a “Remain” bias.
  • In Labour “hold” seats Labour’s increase in vote share had a strong “Remain” bias.

In summary, it would appear that the Conservatives in implementing Brexit have mostly suffered at the ballot in Remain areas. Labour, in being the Party of Opposition and avoiding taking a clear position on Brexit, benefited from the Remain support without being deserted by the Leave vote. I will leave it for another day – and for others – to draw out further conclusions.

Kevin Marshall

Update 23rd May

Whilst writing the above, I was unaware of a report produced by political pundit Prof John Curtice last December Has Brexit Reshaped British Politics?

Key findings

In the 2017 election the Conservatives gained support amongst Leave voters but fell back amongst Remain supporters. Labour, in contrast, advanced more strongly amongst Remain than amongst Leave voters.

That is pretty much my own findings by a different method. Both methods can produce different insights. My own approach can give regional analysis.

Russian Brexit Influence on Social Media a Loser’s Conspiracy Theory

A few weeks ago there emerged a new conspiracy theory about the Russians have funded a massive pro-Leave social media campaign. I part-prepared a post backing one at Cliscep emphasizing how ridiculous the so-called evidence was for these claims. Last week Facebook announced that the Russian Internet Research Agency had spent a grand total of $1 (73p) on six adverts and Twitter revealed that a total of $1,031.99 had been spent on six referendum-related ads during the campaign.

There are two parts to this post.

  1. Russian Social Media impact on Brexit in context of the wider campaign
  2. The circumstantial evidence that social media was likely to have had a bigger influence on the Remain vote than on the Leave vote.

 

Russian Social Media impact on Brexit in context of the wider campaign

The evidence for the success of the Russians on Twitter in influencing the Brexit result needs to be viewed in the wider context.

First is to check the data in support of the argument. As Geoff Chambers pointed out @ 

Second is to look at the other tweets. The bot accounts were not the only source of tweets supporting Brexit. Further, there were quite a lot of tweets in the support of Remain.

Third, is that there are other sources of news/information/propaganda in support of both sides in the campaign. What about the official campaigns? Or the support of international political leaders or International Organisations (e.g. IMF, EU) or businesses? Would a majority of the British public really prefer the opinions of a Twitter Bot over those of President Barak Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron, the British Treasury, celebrities like St. Bob Geldof, the majority of British MP’s or most British businesses?

 

Which side of the EU Referendum did social media influence more?

It is very difficult to tell the actual influence of social media on the vote, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that the influence will have been more towards increasing Remain vote rather than the Leave.

First is from the age spread of the vote. I believe that Twitter and other social media use is inversely related to age. Therefore, one would expect that if there had been undue influence, the young would have voted more for Brexit than the older folks. Lord Ashcroft’s Polls surveyed 12,369 on EU Referendum day and published on 24th June under “How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why“.  73% of 18-24 year olds and 62% of 25-34 year olds voted to remain in the EU. It would suggest that the Leave campaign as a whole failed to reach the Twitterati.

From How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why, is the following split by age band.

Second I believe that due to its transitory nature, social media is more likely to have had a bigger influence on in those who made up their mind at the last moment, than those who voted as a reflection of long-held beliefs. But whilst 25% of Remain voters decided in the last week, just 22% of Leave voters did so. So either social media made a bigger influence on the Remain vote, or it had no significant difference at all.

Third evidence that runs counter to a Russian influence through Twitter on the Brexit vote is in the geographical distribution of the Brexit vote. In England and Wales the constituencies that voted most strongly Remain were in inner cities, particularly London, Manchester and Liverpool. The strongest pro-Leave votes were widely spread. But the many of the extreme pro-Leave constituencies in the traditional Labour heartlands in the North of England and South Wales.

I live in Manchester. This encapsulates the divide. The City of Manchester has some of the most pro-Remain constituencies in the country, whilst much of the rest of Greater Manchester was pro-Leave. But as the City of Manchester folks has the most vocal people in the region, along with the most vocal twitterati, it would seem that Greater Manchester is full of Remainers. The estimated vote by constituency gives a quite different picture.

The Leave constituencies are on the margins of Greater Manchester and form the big majority. But the most vocal opinion formers are in central Manchester. Similarly, the most vocal activists nationally are those in London, along with the University Cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bristol.  Brighton and Manchester are also other centers of activism.

Following the EU Referendum, there was a major online petition to Parliament that wanted to nullify the result by having a 2nd Referendum on different rules.The petition was dominated by those in London and other centers of activism. This was a petition map extract of 00.30 26/06/16.

These same centres of activism dominated the “Prevent Donald Trump making a State Visit” petition at the beginning of this year. Compare the spread of petition numbers by political constituency with the rival petition supporting the state visit. The pale orange areas have proportionately very low numbers of signatories. The red areas have proportionately high numbers. The “Prevents” are mostly in the cities, the “Supports” have a much more even geographical spread.

 

Concluding Comments

The claims that Russian-sponsored social media presence helping tip the scales towards a Brexit vote does not stand up to scrutiny. The actual evidence of spending on social media is negligible; the other forms of media and major leaders were predominantly pro-Remain; the demographics of social media users are very much in line with Remain voters; and online activists are dominated by City-based virulently pro-EU types. The continued Russian conspiracy theory is predominantly from a bunch losers who cannot recognize that most people have different views from their own.

Kevin Marshall 

Jeff Smiths Brexit Denial in South Manchester

I received an election communication from Jeff Smith, the former Labour MP. This is the main message.

 

(Online here)

The middle paragraph forms the core of the unreality of the Labour Party.

Theresa May wants to pretend she called this election because of Brexit, but her real aim is to get a get a big Conservative majority so she can impose more cuts on our schools, NHS and public services. Only a strong Labour Party can stop her. A vote for Labour is a vote for investment in jobs, our local services and out childrens’ future.

Take the first claim

Theresa May wants to pretend she called this election because of Brexit

The Prime Minister is not pretending that she called the election because of Brexit. This was the major reason. To anyone who has followed the news in Britain over the last twelve months, leaving the European Union is the major and most pressing political issue facing this country. The timeline of events fits this narrative. The Prime Minister made the announced the snap election for June 8th on April 18th (Guardian, Independent, Telegraph), just three weeks after the Prime Minister’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk to notifying him of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. This followed a vote in the House of Commons on March 13th sanctioning the triggering of Article 50. On the face of it, Jeff Smith is failing to face reality by making a false claim against his opponent. This false claim is denying the important change to the British Constitution in at least 40 years.

Then the second claim.

..but her real aim is to get a get a big Conservative majority so she can impose more cuts on our schools, NHS and public services.

There is a secondary aim of the Conservatives to balance the eliminate the budget deficit inherited from the last Labour Government. Rather than rapid reductions, the date of balancing the books has been continually put back. In 2010 it was 2015, now it is around 2022. Phillip Hammond takes a more relaxed view of deficits than George Osborne.

Jeff Smith’s biggest fantasy follows

Only a strong Labour Party can stop her.

A strong Labour Party does not exist at the moment. To be strong, the Parliamentary Labour Party need a leader they can unite behind. Jeff Smith, in common with nearly every other Labour Candidate (bar Diane Abbott), does not once mention the leader in his literature. Last June 172 MPs voted Yes to a no confidence motion in Jeremy Corbyn against 40 who voted No. Nearly all of the most experienced MPs refuse to be in the Shadow Cabinet. Further, the leader has always been opposed to some policies in the Labour manifesto, such as renewal of Trident Nuclear Weapons, or anti-terrorist legislation. Corbyns’ closest allies include closet Marxist John McDonnell and a Shadow Home Secretary who is unrepentant about her past support of IRA terrorism. A strong leadership would discipline MPs who defied a party whip, Under normal circumstances anybody who defied a three-line Whip on the most important vote in years would be disciplined. In particular, any member of the front bench team or party whips who defied the Whip would be sacked. Jeff Smith, a party whip. defied the whip on Article 50, did not honorably resign and was not sacked. Jeremy Corbyn is too weak a leader even to control his own MPs.

Why Brexit denialism?

Why should a Labour candidate, who is acutely aware of the wider political realities, blatantly deny those realities by making false accusations? The answer lies in the results of the EU Referendum. In 2015 Labour won 22 of the 27 constituencies in Greater Manchester. Using Chris Hanretty’s estimated referendum results by constituency, I have created a graph of the referendum results for the 2015 Manchester Labour Constituencies, with the most pro-leave on the left descending to the least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 16 of the 22 Labour constituencies in Greater Manchester. the estimated Leave vote was greater than the 51.9% National Result. The three most anti-Leave constituencies are in the centre of Manchester. It is Manchester Withington, where Jeff Smith is seeking re-election, that most anti-Leave in the area. Geographically and politically within Manchester, the pro-Leave constituencies are on the periphery, whilst the three most pro-Remain are at the centre. This is a metaphor for the Labour Party itself over Brexit. The current visible leadership team of the Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott) are all from London, one of three regions to vote to Remain in the EU. The other nine regions, with three-quarters of the UK population, voted to Leave. Yet a disproportionate proportion of the Labour Membership are both virulently pro-EU and London-based.

A Yougov survey looking at the how people voted in the EU Referendum, estimated that 65% of those who voted Labour in 2015, voted for Remain in 2016. These results seem to contradict the results in the Greater Manchester Labour constituencies. But this is not the case. Even with the possibility that a smaller proportion of Manchester Labour voters supported Remain than nationally, there is still the fact that in many Labour constituencies, the non-Labour voters were massively pro-Leave. This puts the Labour Party candidates in a quandary. Support Brexit, going against their beliefs and alienate the Labour Party membership and many of their core voters. Disrespect the result of the Referendum, and the majority of their constituents will be strongly motivated to vote for someone else. Either way they lose. So Labour Candidates can either, like Jeff Smith, openly deny the reality of Brexit, or deliberately exclude any mention that is happening. 

Kevin Marshall

 

 

Why Labour is alienating most of its traditional core support on Brexit

Since the EU referendum, the Labour Party has been split asunder. Most Labour constituencies voted to leave the EU. But the current leadership, and many of the supporting activists, are from very pro-Remain areas, particularly London. The draft Labour Manifesto, that was widely “leaked”, shows how this split in its support has been circumvented. First, the key issue of the the country at present is downplayed. The section Negotiating Brexit is only the ninth item in the manifesto. Second, is to stop some laws being passed from EU control to UK control. Third, is to give Parliament the final say at the end of the process, including the possibility of remaining in the EU, or applying for re-admission. In so doing, Labour is alienating the majority of its traditional core support. 

The Impact of EU Referendum on Labour Constituencies

On the day of the EU Referendum, Lord Ashcroftsurveyed 12,369 people after they had voted to help explain the result – who voted for which outcome, and what lay behind their decision.

In terms of voting, the groups with the biggest proportions voting to Leave were

  • 60% of those aged 65+
  • two-thirds of those retired on a state pension
  • two-thirds of council and housing association tenants
  • more than half of those retired on a private pension
  • a large majority of those whose formal education ended at secondary school
  • 64% of C2DEs

That it is the poorer and more marginalized in society – where traditionally the Labour Party draws its major vote – that disproportionately voted to leave the EU.

Lord Ashcroft then asked for people to rank in order a number of factors in people’s decision. His graphic is reproduced below.

For both Conservative and Labour voters, the principle reason for voting for Leave was

The principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK

An analysis of the Leave vote by political party shows that of around two-thirds of those voted Labour in 2015 a year later voted to Remain in the EU. Yet around two-thirds of those who traditionally formed the bedrock of the Labour vote voted for Leave. This is not a contradiction in the figures, but the fact that the Labour Party is no longer reaching most of the core group that it has traditionally represented. Geographically this is illustrated in by my breakdown from last July  of Chris Hanretty’s estimates of the EU referendum results by constituency. With respect to Labour-held seats the proportions by region were as follows.

In London, Labour constituencies included some of the most pro-Remain areas of England. Yet Labour seats elsewhere included a disproportionate number of some of the most pro-Leave constituencies in the country. In terms of proportions, 40% (231 of 574) constituencies in England and Wales were Labour after the 2015 General election. Yet over half of the constituencies with a greater than 60% Remain vote (34 of 54) were Labour. Also over half of the constituencies with a greater than 60% Leave vote in England and Wales (89 of 168) were Labour. But, for the Labour party the extreme “Leave” seats are over 2.5 times the extreme “Remain” seats. To tip the balance even further, for Labour to progress on their poor showing in the last election, they must win target seats. Of those seats where Labour came second by less than 12% of the vote, there are 17 seats that were over 60% “Leave” and just 4 seats over 60% “Remain”.

Since the EU Referendum, opinion has changed. The most recent poll by YouGov on Brexit, published at the end of March, found that overall the public think Brexit should go ahead by 69% to 21%. This includes people who voted Remain, but think that the expressed will of the British people should be enacted.

So, if the Labour Party is really wanting to maximize votes, it would provide a manifesto that provided

  • an emphasis on Brexit.
  • an emphasis on its core voters.
  • an emphasis on returning decision-making powers back to the UK.
  • a geographical targeting of the Midlands, the North and Wales, where its power base lies.
  • trying to represent the opinion of the vast majority.
  • discrimination towards the people the Labour Party was formed to serve (the working class and the marginalized) over the middle class intellectuals.

The Draft Labour Manifesto on Brexit

The draft manifesto was widely circulated. The best available format is at Guido Fawkes.

The title of the manifesto slogan – “For the many not the few” – seems to be a good start. If Labour is looking towards the vast majority, it will surely not favour the opinions of the minority over the much larger majority? This is not the case. Despite being the major issue facing Britain today, and the major reason the General Election was called, the section Negotiating Brexit is only ninth. The authors give greater priority to Industrial Strategy, A National Investment Bank and Sustainable Energy. So rather than concentrate on the pressing issues of the day, we are taken back to the disastrous ideas of the 1970s, along with a country unilaterally trying to save the planet from fictitious threat of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

The content is worse.

They manifesto proposes changing the approach to Brexit, despite the tight timetable. Further, in talk of protecting certain laws, the manifesto is of activist protesters wanting to stop changes in the post-Brexit process. The Great Repeal Bill is inaccurately named as it is just quickly converting EU law into British law within a tight timetable. It is afterwards that laws deemed harmful to Britain by the democratically-elected Government will be scrapped or radically altered. Maybe crackpot Marxist conspiracy theorists, or those who view reality through the distorted prism of received collective opinion, think otherwise. But then in a truly independent United Kingdom, there is the opportunity to win power and reenact laws and policies that have been scrapped. That is no different from many areas today, as is seen by the draft manifesto sections on Nationalisation and Industrial Strategy. But the draft manifesto is implying that certain contentious areas of law that the Labour leadership value highly should remain beyond the remit of UK lawmakers.

However, the most important is final sentence in the section.

A Labour approach to Brexit also means legislating to guarantee that Parliament has a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.

This means that it is Parliament who have the final say on that deal. But what if the majority of MPs decide to reject the deal negotiated at the end of the budget process? Well that will mean either leaving the EU without a deal; or trying to stay in the EU; or reapplying for membership. This latter option will not in the real world actually happen, but neither the manifesto, nor Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a recent interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuessenberg, have categorically excluded this scenario.

Indeed, given Labour would slow down the process, there would be insufficient tine for meaningful negotiations to take place. The “deal” will be little altered from the negotiating stance the EU starts out with. This will be unacceptable to Parliament, and the WTO terms are clearly unacceptable to Jeremy Corbyn. Therefore, there would be a hurried reversal of the process, with the UK having to grovel to be re-admitted on worse terms than before.

 

Why not state Britain is leaving the EU?

The reason for Labours’ evasions is that the leadership of the Party, the activists that support it and the unions that finance the Labour Party all want to remain in the EU. The strongest support for Remain in England and Wales is concentrated in London. This is also where the disproportionate number of hard left activists reside and where the key four leaders – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbot and Emily Thornberry – were MPs in the last Parliament. By leaving open the possibility of remaining in the EU, despite the vast majority now accepting the opposite, Labour are trying to have it both ways. They can both appear to be opposing Brexit to their core supporters and appear to be enacting Brexit to their traditional base. But in so doing abandoning most of their traditional core supporters in Wales, the Midlands and the North, the people will either not vote, or (if the latest opinion polls are anything to go by) vote Conservative.

Kevin Marshall

Is the Rawlings and Thrasher English Elections Forecast a bit timid?

At the weekend I posted my forecast for the English council elections to take place on May 4th, using a comparison with opinion polls both now and 2013, along with the forecast made by Harry Hayfield at Political Betting.

On Sunday, The Times published a forecast from Colin Rawlings and Michael Thrasher, both Professors of Politics at the University of Plymouth.

Again they use local by-election results a a basis for their forecast, and come up with similar results to Hayfield for the Lib-Dems (+9%) and UKIP (-12%). The biggest difference is with Labour, predicting no change, as against -4% for Hayfield. More relevant is the forecast for seats, where they predict Conservative +50, Labour -50, Lib Dem +100, UKIP -100

Despite these chaps having considerable experience of election data, having written a number of post-election reports for the Electoral Commission, I believe that their forecasts might be somewhat out. This I have split into share of the vote and seat predictions.

Rawlings & Thrasher share of the vote prediction

I have summarized some data in figure 1.

Rawlings & Thrasher base their forecast on the Notional National Change, so I have shown the difference between those figures and the General Election Opinion Polls. There are reasons why the local council elections are different from the opinion polls, aside from the fact that opinion polls may not fully reflect actual decisions.

In 2013 UKIP benefitted in the local elections as people used their vote as a protest against the Coalition Government and/or in support of an EU Referendum.  That no longer exists as Brexit is underway; whilst UKIP is in disarray and has fund-raising issues. In this I would agree with Rawlings and Thrasher in a huge drop in support for UKIP, swinging from outperforming the opinion polls, to underperforming.

With the Liberal Democrats, I would agree that they should not only outperform the opinion polls, but do so by a greater margin than in 2013, when being in Coalition Government damaged their brand as being the alternative to the Conservatives in the non-socialist areas. This year they may also benefit as being the Party of those most opposed to Brexit. But the actual share of the vote was 20%. For the notional share of the National Vote to rise nine points would indicate a larger rise to over 30% of the actual vote. It would effectively make the arch-Remainers effectively the biggest beneficiaries of the fall in support for UKIP. That is possible, but would imply very large underlying switches in effective party support. Also, this large net increase in Lib-Dem vote share would be despite no net movement in the general election opinion polls in the last five years. Even if local by-elections results indicate such a swing, when voting for full councils I do not believe that this will replicate this result.

The forecast for Labour to have no change from 2013 is perhaps the most out of line with reality. Just four years ago Labour seemed likely to be in a position to be win the 2015 election. Now they are 13 points lower in the opinion polls. Most of the councils concerned are in the Conservative heartlands, with Labour traditionally trailing in third place. They thus have less far to fall than nationally, but barring a miracle in the next four weeks, they will lose vote share.

By difference, this leaves the Conservatives making much larger gains that 5% of the Notional National Vote.

Rawlings and Thrasher seat change predictions

This I think is the most timid part of the seat changes to repeat they are

Conservative +50, Labour -50, Lib Dem +100, UKIP -100

Prof John Curtice on the Sunday Politics thought, based upon a 12 point swing in the opinion polls, Labour could suffer a much bigger loss of seats than the 50 forecast by Rallings and Thrasher. (hattip Guido Fawkes)

But to get an idea of the likely level of seat changes, it is worth looking at the changes in the similar (but not quite identical in terms of seats and councils) council elections in 2009 and 2013. These, from Wikipedia (here and here) are shown in Figure 2.

Please note that the numbers do not quite stack up due to (a) one more council in 2013 (b) boundary changes (c) by-elections. But broad comparisons can still be made.

UKIP gained 139 seats in 2013. The swing from 2009 to 2013 was probably greater than the counter swing they will likely suffer next month, so the loss of 100 seats is a reasonable estimate.  Similarly the Lib Dem estimate of 100 seats gain seems about right, despite the likely net change in fortunes maybe be less at a National level not likely nearly countering the loss in popularity between 2009 and 2013.

When it comes to Labour, they are nationally in a worse position than in 2009. So their loss of seats could be greater than then suffered in 2009. A reduction of 300 seats, or nearly 60% of the defended seats, seems a reasonable forecast, with a 200 seat loss or less being a relatively good night for Labour with their current unpopularity.

The Conservatives should easily be the biggest gainers. Most of the councils are in Conservative Heartlands. Others, like Lancashire and Derbyshire, are where they have managed majorities in the recent past. Yet in 2013 the Conservative share of the vote was below that achieved in the UK as a whole in the General Election just two years later. Two years after the General Election, the party is in a considerably stronger position, so should gain considerably. A gain of 300 seats is my forecast.

Final points

An aspect to consider in local elections is the impact of turnout. In their report on the 2013 English and Anglesey Council Elections, Rawlings and Thrasher noted that turnout was 31%, compared with over 39% in 2009.

In the similar 2009 report they note that this turnout was higher than in the previous three years.

Could the relatively high turnout be due to the confidence of Conservative voters? In 2009 the Conservative vote was 44.5%, 10% higher than in 2013. Labour had a 12.7% share (over 8% lower) and Lib-Dems were at 24.9% (5% higher). Then the Conservatives were a year away from going back into Government. In 2013, they looked like reverting to opposition. In 2017, there is a new sense of optimism among Conservative supporters, not seen since the end of the Falklands War – or at least with their Brexit supporters. These are concentrated in the middle-aged and older people, among whom turnout is usually higher than in the population at large. On the other hand, the Labour-supporting Remainers might stay at home, being doubly-demoralised. The change in seats could be even bigger than in either 2009 or 2013.

These are of course my forecasts compared with those of others who have more experience in these matters. What is crucial is how analyzing the difference between forecasts and actual results can deepen our collective understanding of what is happening in an interesting period in British history.

Kevin Marshall

 

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