UKIP: defeating the Conservatives?

Here’s a thought.

The Conservatives need 326 seats for a majority. They took 306; they get another eight from the support of the DUP, putting them on 314 and needing a mere twelve seats to govern. They almost certainly could have counted on the votes of any parties to the right of them which got elected – at least, not too far to the right – which, in practice, means UKIP. UKIP, of course, did not get any MPs.

But how many did they cost the Conservatives? In effect, had UKIP not run, the bulk of their voters could have returned to the Tories – would this have provided Cameron with any extra seats?

The answer, interestingly, is quite a few. There are 22 seats where the Labour MP’s majority is less than the number of votes polled by UKIP, and seven where the Lib Dem MP’s majority is less than the number of votes polled by UKIP. Of those, fifteen of the Labour and and six of the Lib Dem seats were marginals with the Conservatives – potentially, UKIP cost the Conservatives up to twenty-one seats, nine more than the critical number. and enough to govern (just) without needing the DUP.

Now, not all those voters would have returned to the fold. Some would have defected to the BNP – though it did not run in all those constituencies – and those primarily intent on casting an anti-establishment vote would have defected to the other minor parties or stayed at home. Let’s assume that half the UKIP voters defected and the other half cast a mixed ballot of minor parties or abstentions.

In this case, they would have taken three Lib Dem seats and nine Labour seats; enough to either put the Conservatives in power or in a minority position so near to it that a coalition to bring them down would be unworkable.

It’s a surprising result, I have to say – but if we end up with a Con-Lib coalition, a government of the Conservatives essentially tied down from doing anything too stupid by being dependent on a more moderate party for support… we might well have Nigel Farage and his friends to thank for the difference between this and a Conservative government ruling unhindered.

[See here for Part II]

7 thoughts on “UKIP: defeating the Conservatives?”

  1. Great article! now, if you could just post some graphs which show this, uhm, graphically, and link to your data sources, you could get picked up by journos who’ve run out of creative ways to say “minority government” without looking gleeful.

  2. If UKIP were generally taking votes away from the Conservatives, then I’d expect to see UKIP getting more votes in areas where the Conservatives also got more votes.

    This doesn’t appear to be true, though – if you plot Con vs UKIP for all the seats with both, there’s very little correlation (R2~0.27), and what there is pretty much disappears when you only consider seats with a majority < 10% (R2~0.06)

  3. Fair point. But can we properly decouple this from tactical voting effects? I’ll need to think about this a bit – but it seems at first glance that in both safe Con and safe not-Con seats you’d expect voters to defect from the Conservatives to UKIP (“my vote sends a signal and it is safe to do so”) whilst the effect would decrease in Con marginals (“better get the preferable party”)

    As such, you’d get increased UKIP defections with very high vote shares, low UKIP defections with middling ones, and then as the Conservative vote shrinks a higher proportion of them would defect again. Thoughts?

  4. I’ve just sent you a spreadsheet of the data. Chart 2 is the interesting bit.

    In Labour-held seats (and I haven’t broken this down by second party), the UKIP vote doesn’t seem to depend on the Conservative vote. The safer Labour seats have a lower Conservative vote but not necessarily a lower UKIP vote.

    In Conservative-held seats, there does seem to be some tendency for the safer seats (>10% majority) to have a higher UKIP vote, but not by a lot except for in a few outliers.

    If I plot Con/(Con+UKIP) – as a proxy for Con loyalty – versus percentage majority (regardless of for who), then that seems to give no real pattern until the majority gets above 40%

  5. I’ve now tried doing the obvious thing and plotting UKIP absolute vote versus the constituency margin. There is no trend whatsoever – R2~0.02

    UKIP vote rarely breaks 2,000 except in seats where the Labour vote is low and the Conservative vote is high. You could read this as Conservatives casting a safe protest vote, or as the right-wing of constituencies that far from the centre being sufficiently right-wing to genuinely prefer UKIP to the Tories. Neither really explains why in safe Labour seats the UKIP vote is basically the same as in the marginals.

    Another way to look at it: turnout in seats without UKIP was 63.2%, STDEV 5.0%. With UKIP, 65.6%, STDEV 5.7%. So, that’s on average about 2.4% extra turnout for constituencies with a UKIP candidate, or about 1,000 votes. But the mean UKIP candidate standing in a normal constituency only got 1634 votes, which suggests that about 60% of their vote, on average, would otherwise have stayed home. If we assume that half the rest would have voted Conservative, and none of the rest would have voted for the party that ended up winning, that’s probably only 20% that would transfer, which I think is only enough for these two:
    – Dorset Mid and Poole North (LD)
    – Dudley North (Lab)

  6. Ah, you were doing the same tests I was this evening :-)

    I tried as an experiment just comparing seats where the Conservatives were overwhelmingly low in the polls – 25% or more behind the leading party – and so there’d be no real penalty to voters defecting to UKIP; there was pretty much no correlation at all.

    I’m honestly surprised by the lack of relationship between the UKIP and Conservative voting patterns we’re showing up here. Your “extra turnout” model makes sense, though – the UKIP candidate standing draws out voters who would otherwise mainly have abstained, perhaps due to the personal stance of the local Conservative MP. (Note that UKIP tend not to stand against committed Eurosceptics)

    Transferring 20% of the UKIP vote would, by my reckoning, have edged the Tories to victory in:

    * Bolton West
    * Dorset Mid & Poole North
    * Southampton Itchen

    with >100 votes margin; another two seats likely:

    * Hampstead & Kilburn
    * Solihull

    (forty and sixty-five votes respectively)

    and we’re looking at a toss-up in

    * Dudley North

    …with a margin of about 650 and a UKIP turnout of 3267, so a four-vote margin after transfer.

    That’d be six seats – not enough to swing the election, but enough to make a more robust minority possible.

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