My Welsh Local Elections Forecast proves to be pretty accurate

When the ITV / University of Cardiff (YouGov) Opinion Poll was published on April 24th showing Conservatives well ahead of Labour for the first time, I was tempted to revise my forecast for the Welsh Council Elections. After all, I was assuming that the Conservatives would gain about 80 extra seats, and Labour lose about 155 seats. This was based on vote shares of 16% and 29% from 13% and 36% shares in 2012 (which did exclude Anglesey, one of the smallest of the 22 councils). In 2012 GE voting intentions were over 50% for Labour and below 25% for the Conservatives. So the switch in fortunes from the opinion poll was dramatic, as shown by the YouGov graph below.

I stuck to my forecast, as can be seen from Figure 1 of my summary of the three forecasts for England, Wales and Scotland on 25th April.

Comparing with the BBC scoreboard after 22 of 22 councils gives the following:-

Although quite accurate for overall, the party where I was most inaccurate in the forecast was with the Liberal Democrats. I expected them to make some sort of recovery from the poor showing in the 2012 election, but still be behind 2008. Given that they also had a small loss of 28 seats in England when then were expected to make gains, this might dent hopes of their regaining some the Westminster seats lost in 2015.

I over-estimated the Labour Party seat losses in Wales, like I did in Scotland and England as well. In Wales the 472 seats compares to the 340 seats gained in 2008. It seems that in Wales Jeremy Corbyn is turning out to be less of an electoral liability than Gordon Brown. Although the financial situation was worsening by May 2008, the real start of the credit crunch was the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15th 2008.

The Other & Independents (mostly the latter) are fairly easy to forecast.  As I noted in my forecast, the number of seats has been fairly stable since 1999, though this time there was less change than from other elections.

It is with the Conservatives forecast that I was most accurate. Across Wales, Scotland and England I forecast 530 seats gained, against 563 actual. I was fortunate in ignoring the YouGov poll, which may turn out to be a rogue one. Even though the poll showed for the Local Elections the Conservatives still behind Labour, they were only 2% behind. By my rough reckoning from seat numbers Labour gained 31% of the vote (down 5% on 2012) and Conservatives 16% (up 3% on 2012), thus 15% behind. The changes are far short of the poll (ITV’s graph reproduced below), so indicates that the headline forecast that the Conservatives will get more Westminster seats than Labour in Wales (21 to 15) is incorrect.

Kevin Marshall

Implications of the Forecast Local Council Elections Results in England, Wales and Scotland for GE 2017

Summary

I bring together Local Election forecasts for England, Wales and Scotland made over the past few weeks, before the General Election announcement a week ago. In the three countries I forecast that the Labour Party would lose 700 seats, and the Conservatives to gain over 500 seats. The most dramatic changes I forecast are in Scotland, where the Conservatives should end up with more seats than Labour, firmly cementing their place as the second party of Scotland. The SNP I forecast to have a net gain of 100 seats, despite likely losing seats to the Conservatives.
The impact of the snap General Election is likely to reinforce the dramatic exchange of seats that I forecast, with the additional impacts of (a) confirming the collapse in UKIP support; (b) highlighting the re-emergence of the Liberal Democrats as the major alternative to the Conservatives in much of England; and (c) providing a signal that the peak SNP dominance in Scotland has passed.

 

In the last few weeks I have made some results forecasts for the forthcoming local elections in England (here and here), Wales and Scotland occurring on May 4th. I was forecasting some big changes in numbers of seats. Since then a snap General Election has been called for June 8th. This may affect the forecasts, although given I have used mostly GE opinion polls, maybe not quite so much as local election forecasts based more upon recent local election by-election results. Rather than try to reforecast based upon widely fluctuating opinion polls (such as in last Sunday’s papers ), I will try to evaluate the impact of my forecasts being correct in the context of the narrative for the parties for the last few weeks of the General Election campaign.

In England, only a small proportion of councils are up for re-election. The 35 councils are a mixture of shire counties and unitary authorities. They are predominantly in areas with Conservative members of parliament, although there is also the Labour stronghold of Durham, along with Lancashire and Derbyshire where Labour managed to regain council majorities in 2013. In terms of councils involved, this is a very low number. There were 124 English councils with elections in 2016 and 279 in 2015. Entirely absent are any council elections in the major English cities.

In Wales and Scotland all council seats are up for re-election. Although with similar numbers of council seats in the two countries as the English councils, these are far more significant politically.

Figure 1 summarizes my forecasts of seat changes for each country both against the last elections in 2012 and 2013 and the previous round of elections in 2007 and 2008.

I believe that a major influence on the UK local election results is the state of national opinion. This is in general direction of opinion and not the percentage share of the vote. For instance, in 2007 and 2008 the Labour Government was trailing the Conservatives by quite a long way in the opinion polls – possibly as much as 15 points. By 2012 and 2013 the situation was reversed, with Labour in opposition being around 8 points ahead of the Conservatives. Proportionately, Liberal Democrats as the junior partner in a coalition government, suffered greater reversals than the Conservatives.  This is strongly seen in the English council results, with the exception of the UKIP factor. The 2013 council elections demonstrated a game-changing http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22382098 rise of UKIP outside of elections to the European Parliament.  In Wales, the National Opinion influence is less marked, but it is still there. Scotland is the least influenced by National Opinion trends, as there are strong factors unique Scottish factors, such as the replacement of the Labour Party with the SNP as the major left of centre party.

Before looking at the likely consequences for the General Election, I have shown the approximate forecast council seat numbers in figure 2.

Political Implications of the English Council Results

With hindsight my UKIP seat estimate is probably too high. But even if they retain 40 to 50 seats it will still be a major reversal on 2012. It will be very hard to convince voters in England – especially in the pro-Leave areas of the country – that they are a credible alternative political party, whether on Brexit or populist issues such as immigration.

The Liberal Democrats fell into third place behind Labour in 2013. I will be very surprised if that they do not regain second place. Expect to see a lot made of being in most of Britain the only credible alternative to Conservative pro-Brexit juggernaut.

The Labour Party will excuse the results as being in Tory areas, claiming that there is a different picture in the rest of England, particularly in London. They will try change the conversation to winning the mayoral elections in Manchester and Merseyside.

 

Political Implications of the Welsh Council Results

Plaid Cymru might only make small gains, and it will be in a limited number of areas. They will use this to persuade voters of being an anti-Brexit and pro-Welsh voice. By softening the Welsh language aspects, they might seek to extend their reach beyond the West Coast.

The Liberal Democrats will look at actual council successes to drive home their Pro-Remain message, particularly in the capital, where they will be looking to regain Cardiff Central.

For the Conservatives, coming in third place behind Plaid Cymru, despite large gains, may give confidence to other parties. If they come second (and/or regain control of the two councils lost in 2012) then this will be a landmark achievement. A YouGov opinion poll for Cardiff University and ITV on 24/04/17 of voting intentions for the Welsh local elections gave Labour 28%, Conservatives 26% and Plaid Cymru 19%, against my assumptions of 29%, 16% and 17%. The main inaccuracy of the poll I believe is that it calculates Independents plus minor parties at 12%, half the level of 2012. I assume a 1% gain. Given such varied support across the councils, along with first asking General Election opinions, it is easy to understand how this discrepancy might arise. However, it will be the actual results that will decide who has the greater accuracy.

 

Political Implications of the Scottish Council Results

It is in Scotland that the results will reverberate most strongly if my forecasts are correct. There are a couple of points to remember about the peculiar Scottish context.

First is that Scotland is embarking on the third set of council elections using the single transferable vote system (STV), with council areas divided into supersized wards of three or four seats. It means that if a party selects too many candidates in a ward, they may end up with less Councillors elected as candidates of the same party compete against each other for votes. They parties therefore try optimization of candidates based on forecasts. As I found, the Labour Party, instead of optimization based on a dramatic forecast fall in their vote, chose to largely match candidates with existing Councillors. They are therefore likely to lose proportionately more seats as a consequence of this quite rational decision.

Second, is the growth in the SNP means that the change in the vote from council election to council election does not strongly reflect the swings in the UK-wide opinion polls over the same period. For instance, although the Labour share of the vote in 2012 was higher than in 2007, the rise was much smaller than the SNP rise in vote share. However, I still forecast SNP vote share to increase, resulting in a net gain in Councillors. But these net gains will include very large gains in Labour councils, such as Glasgow, alongside loses elsewhere, especially to the Conservatives. There will be a strong message for those who oppose independence that the SNP juggernaut might have peaked and could signal the turning of the tide on the Independence issue.

Lib Dems may not have a significant showing, as in many areas where they are strong in the Westminster elections, are where there is a strong representation of Independents. Indeed, the councils of Orkney and Shetland, where the Lib Dems have their only Scottish MP, are all Independents. Whether they will win over some votes as the party of double-Remainers, remains to be seen. An extensive Scottish Yougov poll  published in January, but based on sampling in late 2016, showed that the double-Remainers were 28% of voters. That includes 21% who voted in one or none of the two referendums.

From my forecast the Conservatives will easily replace Labour as the second political party represented on Scotland’s councils. Due to Labour having too many candidates, they could pick up seats in unexpected areas. Conversely, if the Conservative surge continues, then Ruth Davidson may end up apologizing for having too few candidates, as vote share in some wards might easily elect the available candidates.

 

Implications for the UK General Election

A loss of 700 seats across three countries would be a huge message that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was heading for an even worse result than in 1983. The benchmark in England and Wales would be the woeful results of 2007 and 2008, which were 530 seats lower than the last set of elections, compared to my forecast of 455 seats lost.

The Conservatives will want to downplay strong gains in England and Wales in case complacency reduces turnout on June 8th. But they will want to emphasize their confirmed position as the opposition in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats will announce that they are back, and concentrate on gains made in particular areas where they are clearly the main opposition to the Conservatives Hard Brexit. They will emphasize any gains they might make in the council areas where they had Westminster MPs until 2015.

UKIP may lose more than the rounded 100 seats I forecast. It will show that, unlike in 2015, they are no longer the protest vote of the disaffected. Given that their main cause has been achieved, and supporting the Conservatives is the surest way to ensure Brexit is enacted in full, this may signal the end of the UKIP as a national force on June 8th.

The biggest losers could end up being the SNP, despite their likely winning control of a number of councils and destroying the Scottish Labour Party. Their demonisation of the Conservative and Unionist Party as the subjugators of the Scots will not hold as much sway when the spread of their Councillors is much broader than in living memory and the Conservative voter is more likely to be your own neighbour.

Kevin Marshall

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