Tuesday, 22 April 2014

And where might UKIP's support go to?

At present UKIP are polling upwards of 12% in the general election polls. Can they maintain or even improve on this? Perhaps. But there is a widespread assumption that they will not do this well next May. This gives rise to an important question: who are the voters who might change allegiance from UKIP and where are they based?

Historically UKIP supporters have been seen as Tories on holiday, with their public image largely set by the stripes blazers of the Maaastricht rebels in the 1990s. But as I showed yesterday, this image is out of date. UKIP has more working class supporters than middle class supporters. More than half its current support did not vote for the Conservatives in 2010 (though 45% did). So far as we can tell, their supporters are disproportionately based in rural eastern England, the Thames estuary and along the south coast east of Bournemouth, but have significant strength through large parts of England.

That is now. But what might change in the future? What follows is speculation. But it is speculation based on what I hope is logic.

1. UKIP supporters in safe seats will be put under no significant pressure to change their votes. So relatively few will (unless they would have done anyway).

This is a mixed blessing for the Conservatives in particular. They can count on any Tories on holiday to return in their safe seats, but that won't make any difference to the outcome.

2. In marginals where UKIP are not perceived to be in contention,their supporters will be put under a lot of pressure to choose between one of the major parties. Most UKIP voters who have a decided preference between the parties on offer will be tempted to switch.

So UKIP should fade most in marginals where they are out of contention. But this effect may be limited. In 2010, the Lib Dems' support rose in most seats where they finished third (in a general election where their overall support went up only marginally); their voters proved resistant to squeeze. Many Kippers may still prefer to register their antipathy to the major parties.

There is some polling evidence to support the resilience of the Kipper vote:

It is unclear how these views would evolve in an election campaign and this polling was not specific to marginals.  Each gambler will need to form his or her own view on this.

On the one hand, the largest part of these voters were 2010 Conservatives, so that's bad for them. On the other hand, these disaffected voters aren't actively supporting Labour, so the damage done to the Conservatives is half what these voters could have inflicted in Labour/Conservative marginals.

3. Most Kippers who do switch between now and the election will probably do so to the Conservatives.

The question to ask, regardless of the UKIP voter's previous voting record, is why he or she is not supporting Labour now, while they are in opposition and not making the compromises of government. If they aren't tempted by Labour now, why should they be tempted in a year's time?  These are voters who have chosen to protest at the direction that the government has taken but have decided so far not to do that through the main opposition party. Given that to date UKIP has picked up relatively few 2010 Labour voters, few have a track record of voting Labour either. Whatever their views about the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, they seem to be turned off Labour.

Where the Lib Dems are in contention, they can hope to pick up some of those of their 2010 voters who are currently choosing to protest via UKIP. But the fact that UKIP supporters voted disproportionately Tory in 2010 suggests that they are much more likely to be receptive to a Conservative message than a Lib Dem pitch, and the 2010 Lib Dem voters who have simply transferred their party of protest will not easily be won back after five years of coalition.

It should also be noted that UKIP is particularly strong among readers of the Express, the Mail and the Telegraph:

UKIP poll above 20% with the readership of all three (any visit to the websites of the Telegraph or the Mail will leave you marvelling that the percentages are so low). Even in today's declining newspaper market, that's a large audience. The Conservatives will hope to be able to use those newspapers' traditional loyalties to reach these voters. It's a reasonable hope - more reasonable than hoping that the Mail might change many Labour voters' hearts and minds.

4. There must be serious doubts whether those voters who didn't vote last time will vote next time.

11% of UKIP's supporters did not vote in 2010, according to YouGov. I'm doubtful how many of those will in practice turn out next year.

5. In constituencies where UKIP are perceived to be in serious contention, their voters will not easily be squeezed.

UKIP will seek, in homage to the Lib Dems, to maximise this using dodgy bar charts constructed  from the local and EU elections and from the constituency opinion polls that Survation has carried out for the party. We can work out well in advance which constituencies that tactic is likely to work best in.

In those constituencies where Labour is in contention Labour is likely to do disproportionately well because of the differential way in which UKIP has drawn its support from the Conservatives and Labour. The Conservatives need to see UKIP decline substantially in the national opinion polls if they are to hope to counteract this effect.

This, however, is a small set of constituencies and this effect seems already to have been fully priced in. 


The rise of UKIP has been bad for the Conservatives, harming them disproportionately. That effect, however, is fully shown in their current poll rating. UKIP seem, so far as we can tell, to be performing particularly well in the east of England, the south coast and the Thames estuary. With the exception of the last of these, these contain few of the marginals that will decide the next election.

UKIP's vote is likely to be squeezed in Labour/Conservative marginals and where it is the Conservatives are likely to benefit (or rather, recoup some of the disadvantage that UKIP's rise has caused them).  It is unclear how successfully UKIP's vote will be squeezed and each gambler will have to form his or her own judgement on this. My view is that the squeeze will be most effective where UKIP is structurally weakest, so betting on Conservatives in northern marginals may offer better value than betting on the Conservatives in the Thames estuary seats (thus accentuating the pre-existing regional differentiation still further). We might reasonably expect to see the Conservatives pick up two or three points in the opinion polls before the next election off the back of any inroads into the UKIP vote lost.  I am doubtful that the Conservatives will squeeze UKIP much further than that.

Overall, it is my judgement that while UKIP's increased presence since the last election will be of some advantage to Labour, the effect is likely to be quite muted, at least in seat numbers.  

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