Local Elections Forecast for Wales May 2017

My forecast for the Welsh Council Elections in terms of percentage share of the vote compared to 2012 are Labour -7%, Conservative +3%, Independents +1%, Plaid Cymru +1% and Lib-Dems +1-2%. In terms of seats, Labour -150 to -160, Conservative +80, with the others gaining 70 to 80 seats.

 

My previous two posts looked at a forecast for the forthcoming local elections in the English County and Unitary Councils. On 4th of May there will also be significant local elections in Wales and Scotland. With respect to Wales, there is good background in a briefing at Britain Elects. Of note

  • All 22 councils are up for election. In 2012 there were 21 councils elections, with Anglesey (Ynys Mon) having its last elections in 2013.
  • There are 1234 seats for election, of which Labour hold 46 per cent and Independents hold 24 per cent.
  • Plaid Cymru are next with 14 per cent of seats.
  • Labour are the biggest party in 14 of the 22 councils and control 10, all in the South.
  • Labour gained over 200 seats in 2012 and control of 8 councils.
  • Independents are the biggest grouping on 4 councils, and form majorities in Powys and Pembrokshire.

To put this in a little more context, consider Wikipedia’s summary of the 21 council results from 2012, reproduced as Figure 1.

Compared with 2008, 2012 was a very good result for Labour. Their percentage gain in seats was about twice the 9.4% increase in the share of the vote. The biggest losses were by the Lib Dems, losing over half their council seats, but the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru also lost significant numbers as well. To put this in context, from LGC Elections Centre Report  “Local Elections in Wales 2008” – Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher  I have reproduced two tables as Figure 2.

The Independents and Plaid Cymru appear to have fairly stable shares of the vote and numbers of seats. From 1999 to 2008 both Labour in Government slipped in its share of the vote, effectively regaining the 1999 in 2012. In the same period the Liberal Democrats held had the similar vote shares , but increased their number of seats. In 2012 they took a nosedive in both vote share and seats. The Conservatives made headway whilst in opposition, from a low base reached in the 1990s.

Recent Opinion polls

UK Political Info has General Election poll tracker going back to 2010. UK polls show fair stability from 2010 to 2016 when compared with the gap that has opened up after the EU Referendum. Labour were mostly ahead up to 2015, and regained the poll lead in the period around the Welsh Assembly elections in May 2016. At the time of the last elections in 2012 the Labour lead was 5-8% ahead of the Conservatives. After the Referendum Labour have trailed the Conservatives by an increasing amount. In the last couple of months that gap has been around 16-18%. It seems inconceivable that this huge should not have some impact on the Welsh local elections. ICM opinion polls for the Guardian split out the poll for Wales. This component is usually questioning less than 100 people, and shows highly variable results. However, in the six polls so far this year, the gap between Labour and Conservatives is far smaller than in the actual result in the local elections of 2012, yet there are no Independents. However, local factors may play a big role.

Forecast

In this forecast I will make some bold assumptions and give some fairly precise figures. In so doing any variances from my estimates can give a greater understanding of the underlying changes in a period of political turmoil. I will proceed in ascending order of impact.

UKIP are unlikely to gain any seats, despite grabbing 12.5% of the vote and 7 regional seats in the Welsh Assembly Elections just 12 months before. See Table 1. The party is in turmoil following the resignations of its only MP Douglas Carswell and AM Mark Reckless crossing to the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats slipped quite badly in 2012. They may gain 1-2% of the vote share and 20-30 seats. They may do quite well in Cardiff and Swansea, where they already have a few seats, and where there was quite strong support for Remain in the EU Referendum.

The Independents and Plaid Cymru  I expect to gain respectively a 23% and 17% share of the vote and 300 and 200 seats. These are small gains of about 25 seats each if Ynys Mon is included.

The leaves the two large Westminster parties to share just under half the vote, if the minor parties are included. Like in previous Welsh local elections I expect to the greatest volatility being between Labour and the Conservatives.

Based on the National opinion polls I forecast the best result for the Conservatives in over twenty years, achieving 16% of the vote and a gain of about 80 seats. This is only fractionally higher than in 2008.

By difference I forecast the Labour Party to see a reduction in their vote share of 7% to 29%, and the loss of 150-160 seats.

The Forecast in context

There are two ways to look at the forecast. First in relation to other forecasts and second in relation to opinion polls.

Conservative peer Robert Hayward has forecast across In England for Labour to lose 125 seats and Conservatives to gain about 100. I have forecast Labour to lose more and the Conservatives gain slightly less in Wales with half the number of seats being fought over. Yet in the context of the change between 2008 and 2012/3, the change is smaller. I forecast Labour to lose two-thirds of the gains they made in the previous elections. Yet the party is more unpopular than in 2008, and also quite split over policy and direction the party should take. In no other major political party would nearly 80% of elected representatives vote no confidence in the leader and then a few months down the line both those representatives and the leader still hold office, carrying on as if nothing had happened. Conversely the Conservatives are more popular than in 2008, and have a confidence, sense of purpose and party unity that is stronger than at any time in the last 30 years.

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

 

Stoke Central By-Election – Labour’s achievement in statistics

Yesterday’s Parliamentary By-Elections were quite significant. The number of firsts about the result in Copeland have been gone over in fine detail. But in Stoke Central the winning Labour Candidate, Gareth Snell, can point to some records and distinctions that he has achieved. Purely in the interests of balance, I would like to help out. 🙂

Of the 650 MPs currently in the House of Commons, he will have the distinction of being elected on the least votes cast. Snell, in winning with 7853 votes, has removed from bottom place Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan An Iar, who won with just 8662 votes. But this constituency covering the Hebrides has less than half of the Stoke-on-Trent Central electorate. Further, now 94% of sitting MPs are sitting in the House of Commons by virtue of winning with at least twice the numbers votes. In 2015 Tristram Hunt won Stoke Central with just 19.3% of electorate voting for him  – the lowest in England. Gareth Snell MP won with just 14.2% of the electorate voting for him, the lowest in Britain. Bottom place was previously held by Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP MP for Belfast South with 14.7% of the electorate voting for him. But in Belfast South six candidates saved their deposit, and seventh placed UKIP just missed out in getting 4.9% of the votes. In Stoke only four candidates saved their deposit and fifth placed Green candidate only got 1.4% of the vote. Whilst in Belfast South the majority was 2.3% of the votes cast, in Stoke Central it was 12.4%.

Another statistic is to look at the runner-ups in the General Election 2015. 560 of the 650 second-placed candidates received more than Gareth Snell’s 7853 votes. On average in GE 2015 the winners on average received and 23634 and the runners up 12121 votes, respectively 3 times and 1.5 times Snell’s mighty vote count. Although there were just 232 Labour MPs elected in 2015, 506 Labour Candidates received more than 7853 votes than Snell received yesterday. In the constituencies where they stood Labour received on average 14813 votes, nearly twice the votes received to win Stoke Central by a considerable margin. Of the 125 Labour candidates who received less votes than Gareth Snell, only 11 achieved the runner-up slot. The rest were lower-placed.

But this was a by-election, where turnout is usually much lower than at General Elections. Yet here Gareth Snell again sets records. You have to go all the way back to 15 July 2004 to find a winning candidate who won a by-election with less votes. That was Labour candidate Liam Byrne became the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill with just 7451 votes. There have been 44 by-elections in between. Yet back then on average people won by-elections with smaller number of votes.

In the current Parliament winning by-election candidates achieve 50% more votes on average than in the 2001-2005 Parliament. It looks like more people turn out to by-elections now, maybe due to more focussed campaigning by the parties, and the greater national significance of the result than when Labour had large majorities in the House of Commons. Maybe it is due to the fact that less people tend to vote in Labour-held seats than for other parties. Below I show the numbers of by-elections held, splitting the winners into Conservative, Labour and Other.

The Labour Party seem to win by-elections with about 40% more votes than they did in 2001-2005.

Data for the 2015 General Election can be derived from http://www.data.parliament.uk/dataset/general-election-2015

Kevin Marshall